This winter, in tandem with Adiós Utopia: Dreams and Deceptions in Cuban Art since 1950, the Walker Art Center is partnering with four community centers to host free screenings of Cuban films. The series aims to remember and revisit the Neighborhood Media Project and highlight its similarities to revolutionary projects in Cuba.
In a self-published brochure, the Neighborhood Media Project described itself as:
A non-profit organization that was formed in 1979 to introduce Twin Cities neighborhoods to film and video tapes which explore a variety of social issues. The Media Project encourages appreciation of alternative media as an art, and as a medium of education. In addition to showing and discussing films, the Project conducts seminars and workshops. The project strives to supply members of Twin Cities neighborhoods with media resources for their efforts to build community strength.
The project ran from 1979 until about 1982 and in this time organized more than 60 screenings and concerts across the Twin Cities and the upper Midwest. What set the Neighborhood Media Project apart from other screenings, ordinarily held at theaters or museums, was the organizers’ intention to host film events at community centers and intentionally partner with minority groups and filmmakers to show documentaries and conceptual films.
Generally, community centers house gyms, meals, quilting groups, maybe a daycare or a night class. They are points of access, making resources available to their surrounding communities and, more often than not, serving low-income communities or folks with other barriers that bar them from accessing these services elsewhere. Hosting the screenings at community centers granted access to films and artistic content for folks who ordinarily would be denied a seat due to the cost of a screening or who might be hindered by assumptions that connect art appreciation with an elite, white, upper class. The Neighborhood Media Project privileged artists, filmmakers, and audiences of color from indigenous backgrounds and the Global South. As a project brochure states, the aim is to use “exhibition in a central location [to] provide a showcase for racial and ethnic minorities, senior citizens, and other South Minneapolis residents. This allows members of the community access to high-quality entertainment in their own neighborhood.” Using community centers—spaces that folks already use regularly—as a screening space meant that the audience already felt ownership and comfort in the setting, rather than visiting museums, which could easily feel oppressive. The project bucked stigmas that aligned art appreciation with class and whiteness, while providing a platform and an audience for minority filmmakers to share work; and in doing so, they put representation and identification before profit and clout. As the project’s original organizer, Gary Cunningham, puts it, “A group of us got together and said, ‘Hey, you know, what if we were using film as a vehicle so people could tell their own stories about taking control of their media?’”
This article is part one of Walker Education’s exploration of the Neighborhood Media Project’s successes, tactics, and place in guerrilla media organizing. Following this, the series will explore the founding and scope of the Neighborhood Media Project, while placing it in the Twin Cities media-sphere. Additionally, these articles will discuss the similarities between the Neighborhood Media Project and Cuba’s mobile cinemas, concluding with a look at why the Walker is doing all of this in the first place.
As there is no formal archive of the project, the Walker has collected oral histories with Neighborhood Media Projects founding members Gary Cunningham, Neil Sieling, and Denise Mayotte. Excerpts of the interviews will be featured in sections of Remembering the Neighborhood Media Project. This collection of information will hopefully serve as a way to both revisit and honor the organizing efforts that created the Neighborhood Media Project and cement its place in Twin Cities arts and organizing memory.
Please join the Walker Art Center in enjoying Cuban films in community and celebrating the Neighborhood Media Project’s legacy.