Violent crime wave forces cancellation of popular Minneapolis art fair

At least the organizers of the Uptown Art Fair could blame the popular event’s cancellation last year on COVID-19. But now one of the highlights of the Minnesota summer has been called off for the second consecutive year due to a another deadly pandemic — violent crime.

Organizers held out hope that rampant mayhem, vandalism and gunfire in Uptown would diminish in time for the fair’s opening in early August. But they were forced to face the reality that they could not guarantee vendors’ and customers’ safety.

We remained committed to making this year’s 57th annual event a great success for our artists and community but were unable to overcome several unanticipated challenges and events that are beyond our control.

Considerable time and work were put in to navigating the challenges our city is facing to ensure a safe and welcoming space for our artists, vendors, sponsors and guests…However, despite our collective best effort, we were unable to reach a consensus among the many stakeholders it takes to successfully put on an event of this size and scope.

There was a time when the story would have merited front page coverage. Yet the Star Tribune buried news of the significant setback for a city attempting a comeback from a year of rioting and looting in the B section.

Part of the reason the fair was canceled, Jill Osiecki [Uptown Association executive director], said, was that “things had continued to escalate, with instigators blocking streets, setting dumpsters on fire and drag racing.”

“Bringing in 300,000 people at this time is not something that we can feel comfortable with, for safety reasons and for our artists,” she said.

The paper’s underplaying of the art fair’s cancellation was belied by hundreds of readers offering scathing comments on the decline in public safety. This reader’s assessment was seconded by dozens of other commenters.

The city government does not have control of the city; the Lake & Girard area has joined 38th & Chicago as another lawless zone. Those who get their news only from mainstream local media will not be aware of the ongoing vandalism, barricading of thoroughfares, setting of fires, intimidation and threats of violence in the area, because the majority of it is unreported. Where is the reporting of the roof of Stella’s being set on fire?

It’s just the latest in a never-ending series of blows to a commercial hub that’s no longer under complete control of law enforcement.

Recently, Juut Salon Spa, a fixture on the corner of Hennepin Avenue and Lake Street, announced it would be pulling out of Uptown, citing social unrest, crime, street closures and other stores closing.

The Uptown Art Fair was canceled in 2020 because of COVID-19 restrictions. When limits on gatherings were lifted this spring, organizers announced that the Art Fair — one of the largest in the state — would take place.

Now, Osiecki and others are scrambling to see if it might be possible to stage an arts-related event or exhibition in the fall.

“I’m feeling terrible about the artists and the businesses in Uptown,” she said. “With the artists, they’re a small business and we were excited about this year.”

With the cancellation of the Uptown Art Fair, the closest thing to art on public display will continue to be the widespread graffiti vandals inflict on the area, largely whenever and wherever they choose.