It is apparent Minnesota has a lot going on. Last year has been filled with unrest, from rising COVID-19 cases to being the forefront of the Black Lives Matter movement. The MAAHMG co-founder Coventry Royster Cowens discusses how the museum was able to bring individuals in the area together last year to connect despite the chaos.
Minnesota is home to many amazing historical, scientific, and art museums. From the Minneapolis Institute of Art to the Mill City Museum, it seems like this state has it all. However, unlike most states, Minnesota was missing a key element to showcase. Currently, there are over 370-thousand African Americans living in Minnesota. However, it wasn’t until two years ago that Minnesota opened their first African American historian museum. This is all thanks to the co-founders Coventry Royster Cowens and Tina Burnside.
It all started nearly three years ago when Cowens was working on a museum project. Unfortunately, the project didn’t end up being successful; however, it didn’t stop Cowens from wanting to build her own museum. During this time, she met Burnside, an author, playwright, and civil rights, attorney. The two decided to join together to preserve the history and stories of Minneapolis through this museum.
The process began with the two ladies walking door-to-door surveying locals in the Minneapolis area. For a museum to be built, people in the area needed to support the idea and help in the process. Luckily, they did. After meeting with Thor Hq Holding Company, Cowens and Burnside were not only accepted but were also offered a space. In September of 2018, the Minnesota African American Heritage Museum and Gallery, MAAHMG, opened on Penn Avenue, North Minneapolis.
The museum is located in one large room on the fourth floor of the Regional Acceleration Center. The admission is free; therefore, the museum’s staff is entirely volunteer-based. Cowens is the interim operations coordinator. In this position, she not only opens the museum and runs the front desk; she also is in charge of the finances, outreach programs, and reports to the board. Burnside is the curator, who finds and collects the art, history, writings, and more to create new displays.
Within the two years, the museum has featured over ten exhibits, typically changing each one in a four-to-five-month period. There is one permanent display, “Unbreakable” that features the lives of early African American settlers in the 1800s. “Unbreakable” discusses the troubles African Americans faced during the Great Migration and their fight toward freedom.
While it takes Burnside a great deal of time and effort to create inspiring historical displays that feature works from hundreds to thousands of years ago, last summer was the first time the museum was able to showcase modern history.
In May of 2020, Minneapolis became the forefront of the Black Lives Matter campaign after the tragic death of a Minneapolis local, George Floyd. While Cowens explained that she thought that morning seemed like another typical day, it became a very emotional and shocking one for all.
Within a few hours, the eight-minutes 46-second video of George Floyd’s arrest and death was revealed to multiple news stations and social media outlets around the globe.
While Burnside already had other ideas planned for the upcoming exhibit, she knew that between his death and the protests, in addition to last year being the 100th anniversary of the Duluth lynching, they needed to create an exhibit that would present current history.
Minneapolis has many amazing artists in the region; luckily, it only took one to lead a movement. Burnside found artist, illustrator, and muralist Melodee Strong to become the head of the “Black Lives Matter” mural. She collaborated with 15 other local artists and assigned each one a letter to create their own impactful and unique design.
On July 18th, each of the 16 artists gathered on Plymouth Ave. to create the letters of the“Black Lives Matter mural.”Within eight hours and a rising temperature of 100-degrees, the mural was complete. The usual traffic that evening came to a screeching halt as the drivers and walkers observed the artwork that covered the road. The “Black Lives Matter” mural became a very popular piece and remains impactful today. While the weather is getting colder and snow is beginning to fall, the mural is diminishing. However, the museum is continuing to show these artists’ works by allowing visitors to purchase photographs of the mural.