Artists bring the experience of race to Hudson, 30.1 miles from George Floyd Square

Artist Geno Okok poses for a portrait at the Project 30.1 mural February 9, 2021 in Hudson, Wisconsin. Photo by Nicole Neri/Minnesota Reformer.

In this predominantly white suburb, artists have been arriving since last summer to memorialize what happened 30.1 miles away, outside Cup Foods in south Minneapolis. 

Geno Okok was among a group of muralists who set out to create a lasting art piece in a place that can seem a world away from George Floyd Square.  

Okok, who is from Western Nigeria, currently resides in Brooklyn Park. The mural panel he completed for a series in Hudson called “Project 30.1” was different from his typical work in the Twin Cities. It was about starting a discussion, he said, whereas his art in Minneapolis is bigger and louder. 

“I know sometimes these conversations are uncomfortable for people, but let’s say you break a leg — you don’t fix it by ignoring it, or it gets worse,” he said. “You have to address it. It’s the same thing with the protests that happened in the cities.” 

The project was started by local artist Liz Malanaphy, who felt like the best response to what happened in south Minneapolis was to create. After visiting the site at 38th Street and Chicago Avenue and seeing all of the art derived from pain and trauma, she decided that is what Hudson needed — a visual reminder that suburban escapism is not the answer. 

With the help of the Phipps Center for the Arts in Hudson she put out a call for muralists who would create something lasting. 

Hans and Joan Friese donated their cobblestone wall on Second Street for the project. They also bought the land above the mural, which is now called the “Bee Happy Garden” and will be a place for community gatherings. 

Many people were supportive, but opposition arose, too. 

“People viewed the name of the project as too political and did not want George’s face on it,” Malanaphy said. “They wanted it to be called the ‘diversity mural,’ or something like that, but the name was non-negotiable to me.”

Some Hudson residents wrote to the Phipps Center — which, along with Hudson Inclusion Alliance and Sustain Hudson, were helping promote the project — threatening to pull their donations.  

Malanaphy persisted, with the help of allies in the community like Hans and Joan Friese and the Phipps Center.

Below are images of the mural and more about some of the artists. 

Artist Ron Brown poses for a portrait Project 30.1 mural Monday, February 8, 2021 in Hudson, Wisconsin. At top: His contribution to the mural project. Photos by Nicole Neri/Minnesota Reformer.

Afro anime illustrator Ron Brown of Minneapolis wanted to focus his piece on the community, and he titled it “The People’s.” His work is typically more political than his work in Hudson, he said. 

“I wanted to share something that was open and welcoming more than anything,” Brown said. “As an African-American artist, I usually go super political, but this time I was a bit more geared toward the philosophy of community, and I hope it sparks real conversations in Hudson.” 

In Brown’s past pieces, he has used acrylic that was found on wood from boarded up businesses after Floyd’s killing. 

Artist Lissa Karpeh poses for a portrait with the art she created for the Project 30.1 mural Thursday, February 18, 2021 in Hudson, Wisconsin. Photo by Nicole Neri/Minnesota Reformer.

Liberian-American painter Lissa Karpeh was new to doing outdoor murals, but she said she was happy to have something to take her out of her studio. 

Karpeh is a graduate student in art therapy at Adler University and founder of “Free in Color,” a non-profit organization in the Twin Cities that helps get children creating art. When she heard of Project 30.1, she knew she had to apply. When she got accepted, she started her research on Hudson. 

“I looked at photos to see what was so significant about the area,” Karpeh said. “I wanted to play on the concept of slavery and Black women being housekeepers and have people ask themselves where they were during times of slavery and Jim Crow.”

The Project 30.1 mural Thursday, February 18, 2021 in Hudson, Wisconsin. Photo by Nicole Neri/Minnesota Reformer.

Project advisors, Ta-coumba T. Aiken and Moira Villard worked with the seven artists selected to curate their ideas. Two of the artists reside in Wisconsin, Stephanie Howell, who is a senior at the University of Wisconsin Stout and David Markson. 

Markson grew up in north Minneapolis and painted the only panel with Floyd’s face on it. He wanted to focus on geography, so he created a bridge between Minneapolis and Hudson to visualize the link between Floyd’s killing and a city like Hudson. 

Sebastian Rivera and Thomasina Topbear also created. Rivera is a north Minneapolis based artist. Topbear is one of the founders of City Mischief Murals, an art collective in the Twin Cities comprising Black, Indigenous and other people of color.