How do we make art, publishing, and performing part of the everyday life of the whole Saint Paul community? How do we make writing and reading and performing relevant to a new generation of Saint Paulites in the context of their needs within their city and built environment?

Between January and May 2012, spearheaded by Saint Paul Almanac and Roger Cummings, artistic director at Juxtaposition Arts, an ethnically diverse group of poets, writers, visual artists, designers, booksellers, spoken word artists, and Saint Paul Public School students met weekly at Gordon Parks High School, located at 1212 University Avenue—in the African American Rondo community and the center of the tear-up of streets for the city’s new light rail—to explore those questions.

In March 12, 2012, we held a one-hour listening session at Gordon Parks High School with over 80 students. The session was led by writer and spoken word artist Tish Jones—who is also from the Rondo neighborhood. 

What do youth need?

We had over 80 responses from students, including:

“be heard”
“place to perform spoken word, poetry, rhymes, and beats”
“money, job”
“stop the gang violence”
“a home”
“feel safe”

The Saint Paul African American community was literally bulldozed through its heart to make room for the I-94 freeway in the late 1950s and early ’60s during “urban renewal.” As a consequence, over 56 African American businesses were eliminated. Now the Central Corridor Light Rail has been built parallel to the freeway just five blocks north, squeezing half of the Saint Paul African American Rondo community neighborhood between the two largest transportation projects conceived in Saint Paul in the last 100 years. For Saint Paul’s African American community, the I-94 freeway debacle fifty years ago continues to generationally affect the community inequitably—particularly in the areas of health (freeway pollution) and economic prosperity (freeway traffic and noise impacting house values being just one example)—these many generations later.

Storymobile will hopefully act as a bridge, linking the I-94 segmented Rondo neighborhood by traveling and working on both sides of the I-94 freeway. Youth from Saint Paul Public Schools and community members from Saint Paul’s African American community will be leaders of the Storymobile experience, teaching their Saint Paul neighbors how to create their own stories as it navigates through the many streets of Saint Paul.

Together we have imagined and built a Storymobile—transported by tandem bicycle with a solar panel on top to generate the energy for speakers and other amplification and power needs. The Storymobile, reminiscent of kiosks near train stations in the early part of the twentieth century, is a place to gather in community to create, perform, work, sell, and exchange ideas across generations and cultures. The Storymobile will combine the stories of our lives in Saint Paul with state-of-the-art recording and computer technology. Participants have the option of having their stories archived at the Saint Paul Public Library.