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Channeling a Vision for Peace into a Collective Space 

Date: May 20, 2024

Upon relocating Nonviolent Peaceforce's main office in Minneapolis, our team knew that they didn’t just want to open a regular old office, but wanted to cultivate a space for the community. 

Vibrant shades of pinks and reds evoke feelings of passion, energy, and excitement to stimulate conversation, interaction, and collaboration. Tones of blue and purple were used to promote creativity, tranquility, and calmness, while also providing a sense of welcome and inclusivity. Warm hues of yellow encourage joy and optimism, while energizing the space.

To bring life to the the Hub for Nonviolence and Safety, our team worked with a local creative agency, Modern Day Me (MDM). Before long, a space that sat empty for over four years was transformed into a welcoming environment for the community to gather and reimagine safety.

Will Wallace, NP US Director for Community Peacebuilding shared, “We wanted something that we can look at and be inspired to think, ‘Man, this is what we are all about!  Unity and belonging. Ultimately, it’s the kids we are trying to save. How do we connect elders with these youth leaders?  There is a disconnect, but we need each other to build something that will work.” 

The Minneapolis team collaborated with Jared Hanks and Simone "Mona" Alexa to envision art for their new location. Hanks shared, “the process began by casting an overall vision for the project with NP’s (North Minneapolis) Leadership. We collaborated in a discovery session that set the tone for the project. The team then transformed their creative input into mini collages that explored their individual perspectives on these themes.” 

Through discussions and creative sessions, two murals were crafted that balance vibrant colors with tranquility, aiming to engage all generations. At an opening event for the Hub for Nonviolence and Safety, community members were able to share their visions of peace and hope. During the event Mona created a live art piece based on these visions, and then incorporated the imagery into the final steps of the two large-scale murals. You can find the words joy, belonging, peace, unity, trust, love, and other moving words as additions to the murals. 

Q&A with Simone Alexa, a Community Muralist in Minneapolis 

Mona's partnership with Nonviolent Peaceforce aligns with her belief in art as activism and hopes to inspire positive change and hope in North Minneapolis. She’s excited to see the energy NP brings to the community in North Minneapolis, co-creating safety. 

Before joining the staff as the Community Coalition Coordinator, Kelly Mielke, was a volunteer with NP and has witnessed the progression of the US Programme. Kelly spoke with Mona to learn more about the inspiration for the mural at the Hub.  

Can you share a bit about yourself?  

Answer: I’m originally from Hawaii and moved to Minnesota to go to the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. Growing up in the 90s and 2000s, there wasn't a whole lot of representation of people of color, especially not in fantasy and sci-fi, which is what I was really drawn to as a kid.  And so, my origins of becoming an artist came from making a lot of art for myself that were of these beautiful and powerful black and brown women. 

Another thing that really disturbed me was looking at art history and noticing that of the art that features people of color, they’re mostly depicted as like maids or minstrels and like, you know, these not very empowering figures — and they're always in the background. 

 As a result, I became interested in creating art with more representation of people of color in very empowering, healing ways and to talk about some of this generational trauma in a non-re-traumatizing way. This was something that spoke to my heart. 

How did you find your way into becoming an artist and community muralist? 

Answer: After the murder of George Floyd, I was going out into the community and seeing how I could make art that truly connected with people with what they wanted to see and not just what I wanted to see.  And that's how I became a muralist, I was just donating my time and my skills to my communities here. And over two years, I got many great opportunities to do even bigger murals and be paid to do them.  That's when I learned spray paint and how I ended up where I am today. 

Was there something that motivated you while working with Nonviolent Peaceforce on this particular piece? 

Answer: When I learned about the Nonviolent Peaceforce mission and how you guys are not just showing up to the North Minneapolis community, but you have members of the community like Will Wallace, who are already here and established. I also like that you're equipping leaders of the community with tools for de-escalation and conflict resolution. Just hearing about that work was so heartwarming and encouraging. 

Because I'm morally aligned so much with what NP does, I promote (these values) in my personal politics as well as the politics in my art. It just felt so special to be in that space, to connect with you guys, and to connect with the community members that attended the opening event. 

Were there any messages or emotions that came up for you during the process? 

Answer: Personally, I believe in defunding the police but not necessarily abolishing the police, but definitely like abolishing what we have today. I also consider myself an art activist at times. When my work can assist in anything that’s for activism or awareness, then that's where I want to put my energy. In Hawaii, we call it [this energy] your “mana”.  It's like your essence, your spirit.  And art for me is a very spiritual practice. So I feel the emotions that I'm feeling — the energy and the love that I put into my artwork — people receive that when they see the artwork.  So even though I'm not there, they're still receiving the love that I put into the mural into themselves. 

Following the visionary exercise, were there any main elements you heard from NP staff that you really wanted to make sure that you captured in the mural? 

Answer: Community artists (as opposed to gallery artists) react almost like mediums or vessels for the vision and mission you guys are trying to promote.  I consider myself more like a composer and I'm taking what you guys are giving me.  

Each mural piece around the Hub office depicts a different image. Is there anything you want people to know about each of them? 

Answer: This was one of the first opportunities I’ve had to paint people on such a small scale.  I’m especially proud of the way the entryway mural turned out.  

My favorite image is the one I painted of the Black mother holding her daughter, in part,  because I was raised by a single mom. I think whenever I'm dealing with that familial content, that's always very special to me because in a way, I'm able to honor her in that way.  Although I didn't draw my mom and me in that painting, I still felt really connected to that imagery.  I hope there's a single mom and just moms in general that see it and they feel my love for my mom in that part of the piece. 

I’m also pleased with the way I painted her face—it’s just so perfect. And it's a very responsive way of painting.  Because I was using straight edges.  Spray paint is one of those mediums where it's very impressionable.  With spray paint, it might not be right, but you can't take it away, you have to add and massage the paint.  Unlike brush paint where you can just paint over stuff really easily, you have to work in layers [with this medium].  It turned out super successful and very sweet, especially in working with hard edges for some of the facial structures. While working on the mural, it was the first time I used this specific style of painting people— it's definitely something that I'll be bringing with me for the rest of my art career.  

* * * 

Mona acknowledged her incredible art mentor, Thomasina TopBear, who she met in the Minneapolis community, and taught her the unique spray paint techniques that she often uses for murals. Thomasina TopBear is a self-taught Santee Dakota & Oglala Lakota muralist. Another artist, Tom Jay, helped spray paint graffiti text. You can stay up to date on Mona’s artwork around Minneapolis by following her on Instagram

Enjoy more views of the artwork around the Hub, as well as photos from the opening event below. Feel free to drop by and see the space in person! The Hub for Nonviolence & Safety is located at 2143 Lowry Avenue North. Enter on Lowry Avenue, and the Hub is on the second floor. 

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