While serving in Americorps, I wrote for the Corservation Corps MN & IA Blog. During that time I also wrote and edited articles for the MN Scientific and Natural Areas Program newsletter, you can read two supervisor profiles I wrote, an program anniversary feature, and a nature preserve site highlight.

The two articles below I wrote for a reporting and writing class.

New Minneapolis Green Apartments to Begin Construction This Fall

By David Minor
12 Feb 2017

A new apartment building to be built beginning this fall in the Prospect Park neighborhood will be part of a collaborative storm water management while also contributing to the creation of a new park in the area.

The Minneapolis City Planning Commission approved on Feb. 6 an application to build a new, six-story apartment building near the Prospect Park light-rail station. The Green on Fourth Apartments project is being built in unison with the Green Fourth Street initiative to redesign a short stretch of Fourth Street that will have trees and greenery and make the area more bicycle and pedestrian friendly.

Since the METRO Green Line was first being planned, Prospect Park Association and other neighborhood groups have been planning for the developments that are now occurring around the Prospect Park Station. Prospect Park 2020 is an organization that has been working with developers to ensure that the needs and wants of the community are taken into account, Prospect Park 2020 President John Kari said. “It’s a new way of doing things,” Kari said. “Rather than just waiting for developers to come and say, ‘this is what we’re going to build here, we want you to approve it,’ we are saying ‘these are the things we would like to have here.’” They then worked with the developers to make sure they met their economic needs as well as the community’s needs, Kari said.

The city has been pushing for higher density in the neighborhood, Kari said. However, residents, he said, like the mix of student housing, homeownership, and renting that Prospect Park has to offer. The new building will have a mix of 66 affordable and 177 market rate apartments and will be across the street from another new building that will contain what will be the only grocery store in the Prospect Park neighborhood. The Green on Fourth Apartments will keep with the mix of the neighborhood, Kari said, and is part of the larger plan for the area that includes senior housing along with more possible developments to the north of the University of Minnesota Transitway. Prospect Park 2020 has been advocating for a mix of housing, retail and public spaces in the area. “We wanted to create an urban village,” Kari said.

Residents said they wanted more open, public greenspace where community meetings and events could be held, Kari said. The property owner, Prospect Park Properties, came to an agreement with the Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Board to sell a portion of the land at a discount to be used as a park, the president of the company, Jeff Barnhart said. Specific plans for how the park will be developed have not been finalized, he added.

Between the new building and the park, a public green area has already been completed. It is not just a green space though. An underground water storage tank for the storm water management system is included. The Green on Fourth Apartments as well as the surrounding properties will channel their runoff toward the system, where it will be filtered through plants and soil before being stored in the 206,575 gallon tank for reuse.

A Minnesotan artist, a Syrian artist

By David Minor
2 April 2017

Essma Imady, a Minnesota artist, moved with her parents to Syria when she was 5-years-old. She returned to Minnesota 20 years later with her husband, intending to move back to Syria after finishing school. After violence in Syria escalated, they realized they could not go back.

Essma, now 29, is a practicing artist in Minnesota and has just received several artist grants to travel and make work.

Growing up in Damascus, Syria, there were no art programs in school, Essma said. She had to find other ways to use her creative energy. That came in the form of elaborate gifts for her family and friends. Essma told a story about a friend who said she wasn’t enjoying the poetry she was studying. Essma saw a problem and wanted to fix it, so she made a 30 minute video about poetry along with an accompanying book with the poetry from the video and gave it to her friend. Looking back on it now, she said, it’s clear that the gifts she made for people were her way of expending creative energy.

Her sister, Nusaiba Imady, said she worked hard to become a good artist as a child. She would ask their grandmother to bring art books from the United States when she would visit, she said.

Essma moved from Damascus back to Minnesota with her husband, Bashar Shehadeh, when he received a Fulbright scholarship to study in the U.S., she said. He was on a J-1 visa, which required him to return to Syria for two years. After he and Essma decided that they could not go back and they needed to stay in Minnesota, they applied for a waiver for the two-year requirement. This was a traumatic process, Essma said, because they needed to compile a list of all the reasons why he would personally be in danger if he returned to Syria.

Only once he got the waiver, she said, did she truly believe they were not going to be able to go back. “Once America stopped being a transitional space, I had to reconfigure my future,” Essma said. It was then, she said, when she started trying to be an artist in Minnesota.

The artwork Essma creates is often about the war in Syria, but she can only speak from her own perspective, she said. “I’m not speaking for the Syrian people, I’m speaking for my Syrian, individual self,” she said.

One of her pieces involves the daily emails she receives from her grandmother in Syria. Every day, she would get an email from her grandmother, but she said she would only skim it quickly to make sure everything was okay. For her piece though, she printed off thousands of these daily emails and bound them in a large book, about 3 inches thick, with gilded edges. She created a pedestal for the book to rest on and during the exhibition, she stood at it, reading the emails aloud. She read a portion of an email while in her studio Thursday evening. “There is the sound of all kinds of weapons. From machine guns to mortars to rockets. I just can’t face yoga today,” Essma read from the book. She explained that people don’t think about how people in Syria are living their daily lives, with war happening around them.

While the work she creates is personal, it connects to a broader audience. “It encapsulates how the very personal can be universal,” said Essma’s sister, Nusaiba “You can read case study after case study on something but never really get it, until you see one of her pieces – and it hits something inside of you.”

Essma said that she uses her work as a means of processing the sort of “survivor’s guilt” that she feels for being able to be in the United States while other people, like her best friend, cannot.

The process of creating work was explained by Essma in three steps. If she feels like she needs to make work about something or give a voice to something, which is often about a tragedy or attack that recently happened in Syria, she said she will first inundate herself with media, forcing herself to read many news articles. After going through this first step, which she described as a “self-flagellation process,” she will sit with those feelings and process it for a few days, she said, forming an idea. When she starts the final step of making the piece, she said she cuts off herself from the news, “almost as though in my head I’ve said, ‘You are now forgiven, you don’t have to don’t have to expose yourself to this anymore.’”

Essma recently moved into a house in Woodbury, Minnesota, and is in the process of moving everything from her old studio to her garage, where she can create her art while taking care of her 3-year-old daughter, Tamara.

Right now, Essma said, her daughter thinks of Syria as the resting place of the sun, because that’s where it goes at night. She said she wondered how she will eventually explain her home in Syria to her daughter. “How do I [say], ‘I want you to be connected to this country that you’re genetically and historically from, and that I’ve had a completely different experience of than you can ever really have ­– how do I connect you to it without telling you a really sad, horrible story that might make you not want to have anything to do with that?’” she said.

Essma explained this while in her studio, with 3-year-old Tamara watching Dr. Seuss in the background. “Hopefully she’s not listening right now, because she’s watching ‘The Sneetches,’” she whispered.

Essma received an $8,000 Emerging Artist Project Grant this year that she is using to install a light fixture in a Minneapolis mosque, intending to create a connection between communities, she said. She also received the Travel and Study Grant from the Jerome Foundation. She will travel to Istanbul in May where she will study Islamic art and patternmaking. While in Istanbul, she will start making a documentary about how connections to tradition, religion, friends and family change after a disaster, she said. She is also set to open an exhibition next year at the Minneapolis Institute of Art through the Minnesota Artist Exhibition Program, she said.

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