Little Africa Promotes Sustainable Economic Growth

Scooch over Midtown, the Twin Cities have a new cultural business district in town and it’s called Little Africa. Last August, over 500 people attended the Midway Art Festival in St. Paul’s Hamline-Midway area, a cultural business district known as Little Africa. A reflection of the community’s boom in African owned businesses, the Little Africa Business and Cultural District of Minnesota co-hosted the Midway Art Festival with Midway Murals.

Funded in part with support the African Economic Development Solutions (AEDS) received from the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), U.S Bank, NEXUS Community Partners, and local business owners, the festival took place on Saturday, August 29th at Hamline Park and included a diverse array of interactive art and poetry activities for families to participate in.

Throughout the festival, a showcase of cultural drumming, singing, and dancing from a number of local artists of diverse African immigrant communities sustained the celebratory energy of the event. One performance by African cultural dancer Indy Jay, even went viral on Facebook. The video had over 15,000 views in just three days.

A highlight of the festival was the culturally inspired murals painted along the exterior of Pizza Market Shop, the African Plaza, and Snelling Cafe. Each mural “station” had food representative of the individual business owner’s African heritage; the food was free of cost to festival goers.

“Our desire is to use art and culture as a catalyst for economic development within the community,” said Gene Gelgelu, Executive Director of AEDS, and one of the main organizers of the Midway Art Festival. Gelgelu stressed the importance of including emerging artist to participate in the creation of the murals, two of which were African artists who AEDS created paid apprenticeships for with Midway Murals.

With between 50 to 60 African owned businesses in the Hamline-Midway neighborhood, Little Africa offers the promise of revitalization and economic gain, in a community struggling to rebrand itself as more than the neighborhood you pass on your way to the State Fair.

“We want to create a sustainable impact in the community,” said Gelgelu. He went on to explain why the role of AEDS in co-hosting the Midway Art Festival was critical. Gelgelu believes in the potential for Little Africa to create sustained job growth in the community and in the prospect of attracting tourism, thus furthering the economic growth of the area.

Overall, the festival was a lively display of cultural exchange. Residents of the Hamline-Midway neighborhood brought their families to partake in the festivities. Community leaders further energized attendees with impassioned speeches. Everyone came together to celebrate their shared love of the arts and of the diverse African cultures represented, cementing the neighborhood’s rightful status as one of the Twin Cities cultural business districts.


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