One day in 2006, Homewood Studios owner George Roberts started chatting with a man sitting on the bench on Plymouth Avenue alongside Homewood Studios. The man, named Terrance, asked Roberts if he loves what he does. Roberts said that he did.
“I’m Terrance the computer man, and I fix people’s computers and I don’t charge anything for it,” Terrance said to Roberts. “I just do it because I love to do it. I think everyone should do what they love.”
Roberts loved that answer so much, he asked Terrance if he could immortalize his words into a letterpress broadside, or a poster with words artistically printed on them. Terrance agreed, and his broadside was the first in a 17-year work called the North Minneapolis WHAT WE WANT project.
This project is on display at Isles Bun & Coffee in East Isles through the end of January with an artist talk with George Roberts on Dec. 5.
Roberts made the project by asking strangers on the bench what they wanted for their community and worked with them to organize their thoughts into a broadside, which came naturally to Roberts as a former North High English teacher. He made letterpress printings of the words with a press similar, although more modern, to the Gutenberg Press and gave one copy to the community member and kept one for the project.
The project communicated what Northside neighbors wanted from their communities, which Roberts said is too often overlooked. They wanted a grocery stores, places to invest money into their own community, a nice and affordable place to live. Once he made a handful of the broadsides, Roberts approached community members to display the broadsides in their businesses. That’s how he met Isles Bun & Coffee co-owner Catherine Veigel, who owned Kenwood Cafe at the time.
“When George came in to talk to me, this was a project that resonated with the idea of building community and supporting community and so I really wanted to participate,” Veigel said.
She displayed the broadsides at Kenwood Cafe back in 2006, when there were about six of them, and bought a few of the broadsides for herself. Nearly two decades later, Veigel has continued to support Roberts and was eager to display the completed WHAT WE WANT project at Isles Bun.
“It’s like [the broadsides] are alive in a way,” Veigel said. “When you go in and see the show, you’ll see how George as a former teacher was able to support ideas and develop them into really cool artistic statements.”
Roberts was inspired by writer and actor Anna Deavere Smith’s play “Fires in the Mirror” in which she interviewed community members in Crown Heights about the Crown Heights riot in 1991 and turned the conversations into a one-woman show. Like Smith, Roberts strived to hear all sides of the issue of what people want in North Minneapolis so he could capture the whole picture.
“I’m not a guy who wants to protest or walk in parades and carry signs or write angry letters and so on,” Roberts said. “I hope that people read the colophon and say ‘oh this is from North Minneapolis. This doesn’t sound like what I hear on the news. So maybe I’ll investigate a little more.’”
The display at Isles Bun has a book where community members are encouraged to share their reflections about what they want from their community. People have written “a million dollars,” “world peace,” and “free Palestine.”
“I want people to just take a moment and see it and think about themselves in that place, not North Minneapolis, but in that place of what I really want in myself, in the community,” Veigel said.
The artist talk with George Roberts is on Dec. 5 from 7 - 9 p.m. at Isles Bun & Coffee. The broadsides are on display at the coffee shop, which is open from 6:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.