Juxtaposition Arts has designs on a bigger, bolder future

Roger and DeAnna Cummings pose for a portrait in front of a mural.
Roger and DeAnna Cummings founded Juxtaposition Arts in 1995. Here, they pose for a portrait in front of one of their murals outside the JXTA gallery in Minneapolis on May 30, 2018.
Lacey Young | MPR News

When Roger and DeAnna Cummings founded Juxtaposition Arts, they were creating something that they wished they'd had access to when they were young: A place where they could put their creativity to work and learn the skills they needed to thrive financially. Juxtaposition Arts teaches young people to use their creative skills while earning cash, designing products for clients across the Twin Cities.

In the early 2000s, they moved the nonprofit into an old dry-cleaning business on the corner of Emerson and Broadway avenues in north Minneapolis. They converted it into classrooms and studios.

Now, JXTA, as it's known, is embarking on a major expansion of its offerings, which it hopes will allow its students to not only design their products in-house, but to build them, too.

Junior art director D.J. Bryant, 17, works on a vinyl mural design.
Junior art director D.J. Bryant, 17, works on a vinyl mural design for one of Juxtaposition Arts' clients during lab time in a temporary workspace nicknamed "The Annex."
Lacey Young | MPR News

JXTA offers free classes to 500 young people each year in its Visual Arts Literacy Training program. It brings in $400,000 annually in contracts, working with the funeral home across the street as well as Twin Cities giants like Thor Construction, the Guthrie Theater and the Minneapolis Parks Foundation. The annual budget has grown from $100,000 to $1.5 million.

But JXTA's buildings have shown their age, so the organization is launching a $14 million campaign for a new center that will provide students with not just computers but a carpentry shop, welding tools, a sewing studio and a kiln.

Roger Cummings calls the future campus a mini-Wakanda, which would allow the JXTA team to "fabricate the things locally and keep the money in the community and in the households here, as opposed to outsourcing it and having that opportunity leave the community."

Young apprentices at Juxtaposition Arts are designing a public plaza.
A rendering of the art plaza design.
Courtesy of Juxtaposition Arts

The Cummings plan to raise the $14 million over four years. DeAnna Cummings said they decided to go public with the campaign right away so that the students and the community can be a part of the process.

"I think, too often in working communities, folks get by with good enough," she said. "And that's what JXTA's done for many many years. And we feel like we're at a point where it's time to really invest in the future of the work, and the building is just one way that we're doing that."

Already students are designing a public space where the old classrooms used to be, and where JXTA hopes its new design center will be built in a few years.

"We've been looking at how we can make a skate-able art plaza that also has a space for music and performance space, because we've noticed that's also a need in North Minneapolis," said Dara Crawford, an apprentice on JXTA's environmental design team. "And also drawing attention to the corner in an artful way, so adding a mosaic and murals and art pieces."

Senior designer Patricio Delara, 19, poses with a portrait.
Senior designer Patricio Delara, 19, poses with a portrait of junior art director D.J. Bryant during lab time.
Lacey Young | MPR News

Crawford is planning to attend college next year. Her time at JXTA, she said, has taught her many valuable skills: communication, attention to detail and self-confidence.

Her Environmental Design team leader, Sam Ero-Phillips, remembers when he was a kid and would get in trouble at school for thinking outside of the box. He says JXTA rewards students for that kind of creativity.

"It's everything I wish the school system was but isn't," he said. "I think the kids here are problem-solving and they're learning in ways the school system should take note of. I think this model of education does better to close the achievement gap and help people feel like they can contribute to something."

Senior designer Avahnii Lewis, 16, works on a brochure design.
Senior designer Avahnii Lewis, 16, works on a brochure design for one of Juxtaposition Arts' clients.
Lacey Young | MPR News

Ero-Phillips says JXTA is a perfect blend of an educational institution, rigorous art school and youth development non-profit. The Cummings hope, once they've successfully completed the new expansion, JXTA will also be a world-class production house and economic engine for North Minneapolis.