Controversial road project blamed for cancellation of Uptown Art Fair

After shutting down in 2020 due to the pandemic and the following year by concerns over crime and “civil unrest,” the Uptown Art Fair in south Minneapolis appeared to be back on track the past two years. Dozens of artists and sponsors had already signed up for the August extravaganza.

So it came as a shock this week when the organizers abruptly announced the event’s cancellation. Not only because it would have marked the art fair’s 60th anniversary but also because of the reason behind it — the city’s controversial bike-friendly reconstruction of Hennepin Avenue.

“This decision stems from the significant road construction and closure of Hennepin Avenue, which would render half of the event footprint inaccessible,” organizers said in a news release posted on FaceBook. “Exhaustive analysis and consideration of alternatives have led to the conclusion that maintaining the event’s integrity would be compromised by relocating within the Uptown community and downsizing to a smaller venue solely on Park Board property at The Mall.”

In previous years, the art fair attracted hundreds of thousands of visitors to the area. But Uptown’s image has suffered significantly in the years since the pandemic, riots following the death of George Floyd and increased crime. The cancellation represents a lost opportunity to help rehabilitate the area’s tarnished reputation.

“This was a challenging decision, especially during the 60th anniversary of our event,” Uptown Art Fair Director Jill Osiecki said. “However, we believe it is essential to be transparent with our artists, vendors, sponsors, and participants, acknowledging that we cannot meet their expectations for a world-class event under these circumstances.”

Businesses along Hennepin Avenue have been saying the same thing for months about the detrimental impact of what’s expected to be a two-year long construction project. Many commenting on the art fair’s FaceBook announcement clearly view the cancellation as a setback self-inflicted by the city.

“I’ve recently been on Hennepin and all I can say is that the shop owners should get together and collectively sue the pants off the Minneapolis City Council. Since the fall of last year they have been systematically choking small business on Hennepin and Uptown. By all appearances they are killing the city. Bad planning …. Really bad planning.”

“Thank you to the “Our Streets” Lobbyists for ruining a timeless event in Uptown. A Hennepin Avenue project that most of do not want, do not want to pay for, will cause damage to businesses in Uptown, and the bikers who will not spend more money than pedestrians and drivers.”

“Uptown use to be great place to go shopping and there were amazing restaurants. It was safe place to live and hang out. Now every morning news report gun violence and people are getting robbed left and right. Uptown is not safe place anymore. it is a place to avoid. So sad what has happen since it is beautiful place and located close to the lakes.”

Art fair organizers hope to offset some of the loss of business and fun with smaller pop-up exhibits and events throughout the summer. Anything to try to change the Uptown narrative.