The University Avenue Project

June 2, 2010

I’ve had the privilege this spring of doing some pro bono work on a remarkable undertaking: the University Avenue Project, sponsored by Public Art Saint Paul.

This six-mile public art installation is the largest such project in the nation this year. It displays the photography, the reporting skills and the sociological instincts of Wing Youg Huie, who amazes me more each time I talk to him. Wing is a native of Duluth, the youngest of six children and the only U.S.-born member of his Chinese immigrant family.

Growing up in Minnesota, Wing became fascinated by the role of culture and ethnicity in American life. A journalism major at the University of Minnesota, he later turned to photography and is largely self-taught. About 15 years ago, he launched his first major photographic examination in St. Paul’s  Frogtown neighborhood. Later, he chronicled life on Lake Street in Minneapolis.

Now he’s undertaken his most ambitious work yet, spending more than three years gaining the confidence of the residents of the neighborhoods along University Avenue, from the Minneapolis border to the state Capitol. The University Avenue Project opened May 1 with more than 450 photographs displayed in stores, public buildings and bus stops along six miles of the avenue.

Every night between now and Oct. 31, Wing’s photos will be projected on a giant, 40-foot screen in a vacant lot at 1433 University Ave., accompanied by a recorded soundtrack featuring more than 70 area musicians. It’s a tremendously moving experience, and one you should definitely take in during the 152 remaining days of the project. The first book in a two-volume series on the project, published by the Minnesota Historical Society Press, is now available for the ridiculously reasonable price of $12.95.

Our thanks to Christine Podas-Larson, president of Public Art Saint Paul, for her work in getting this complex and insightful project off the ground, and for allowing us the opportunity to be involved in promoting it.

For a little more info, watch the segment above from Matt Peiken’s 3 Minute Egg.