Jamie Schumacher Q&A

September 27, 2021
Jamie Schumacher loves the West Bank more than anyone.

“I love writing and there has been an undercurrent of obsession in most of my projects, including my next one. I’m currently interviewing folks for a book tentatively titled On Culture. I’ve interviewed my parents, family members, and other immigrants and culture-bearers on how they’ve maintained, or lost, connections to their culture. How do they continue to find cultural connection? There’s a lot that has changed from generation to generation. my hope is that as we evolve as a country, we can be much better about how support and preserve culture in communities, instead of whitewashing it away or commodifying it for the sake of profitability.”

Your book is a poignant love letter to the West Bank. What attributes did you want to emphasize about the neighborhood?

I think there’s a variety of perceptions about the neighborhood. But just like a person, it can hold many truths at once. Some see the West Bank as definitively one thing or one way — but part of what makes it such a great neighborhood is that it has so many layers to it. It’s a music neighborhood, it’s a sanctuary for immigrants, it’s full of wonderful places to eat, it’s incredibly walkable. Businesses have told me that one of their biggest pet peeves is that people think there is no place to park or people think it’s patently unsafe. Both are demonstrably exaggerative and rooted in a lot of fear and misperception.

I loved reading about the haunted buildings of the West Bank. It almost seems like New Orleans with its mysticism. 

I totally agree, and talk about that a bit in the book also. There are a lot of parallels between the West Bank and New Orleans, and I think the access to a deep history of art and culture is a big one. They are also both destination neighborhoods, walkable, with buildings are full of history and dark secrets — enough to fill another book.

Do you feel like it’s a shame the West Bank’s folk music scene is not considered up there with Greenwich Village in reputation?

There are pros and cons to that neglect, and I do mean neglect. Minneapolis has definitely been impacted by the flyover country mindset. But in some ways, that has been a protective force. Capitalism can be extractive. Neighborhoods that have been held up in that iconic way have seen epic displacement and inflation, making it unaffordable for those that built up those neighborhoods — or anybody else that wants to live there that isn’t Fancy. The average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Greenwich Village is currently $3,750 – that’s wild! My heart breaks with the venues the West Bank lost over the years, but I also couldn’t imagine how the West Bank would look if it had the same rates of inflation Greenwich Village has seen. Would it still be a safe and accessible sanctuary for immigrants and refugees? Would a glut of high-priced developments steamroll historic buildings and rob the neighborhood of hit’s history and charm? We’ve seen some of that happen in small ways already. I’m grateful for folks like Cyn Collins, who commemorated this West Bank’s musical history in her book West Bank Boogie. I also really appreciate institutions like Palmer’s and Cedar Cultural, who continue to keep that history alive while also building pathways for emerging musicians and artists. Long may they remain.

Today the area is so global and diverse, which you can see in the bookings at the Cedar. Do you have a favorite show at the Cedar?

Oh there are so many! I have had a spectrum of memorable moments at The Cedar, it will have a special place in my heart forever. I took my daughter to her first concert there — a matinee when she was just a toddler. I went to see Dengue Fever — on my birthday! — one of my first big nights out after having a baby. And I probably shouldn’t share this but… I absolutely embarrassed myself after seeing Gretchen Rubin give a talk there in 2019. After the show ended I was chatting on the plaza with some neighborhood friends when I glanced over and saw Gretchen and her sister waiting outside the venue. I remembered that she said she wanted to learn more about the Somali community so I went over, thanked her profusely for the show, and invited her to have some Somali tea with me and my friend. I could see a look of horror splash across her face before she course-corrected, graciously thanked me for coming to the show, then politely declined the offer of tea. I’m sure she must have been thinking “who on earth is this strange person inviting me to tea this late at night, does she have no boundaries?” Well, welcome to immigrant culture Gretchen, we eat late at night and will never not offer tea.

You have a master’s in non-profit management and work with cultural corridors in Minneapolis. What are some of the ingredients for a thriving cultural corridor?

Some of the key features I see commonly in awesome cultural corridors are: a high percentage of locally owned and operated businesses, a unique history or cultural connection, and access to culturally relevant and significant venues and cultural institutions  It’s also common in cultural districts to have a high percentage of rental businesses – which makes them at risk when rents go up. The very assets that made a district special, when used in an extractive way and without intentional policies and efforts, can wind up being a displacement factor. I think it’s something we have to be wary of in the Twin Cities. It’s imperative that in the effort to support and highlight cultural districts and assets as destination-drivers, that they remain accessible and helpful to the residents and constituents that built them. With the impact of Covid, this has taken on a new degree of urgency.

You also have a book about running non-profits, which features your trademark breezy writing style. Are you working on another book?

I love writing and there has been an undercurrent of obsession in most of my projects, including my next one. I’m currently interviewing folks for a book tentatively titled On Culture. I’ve interviewed my parents, family members, and other immigrants and culture-bearers on how they’ve maintained, or lost, connections to their culture. How do they continue to find cultural connection? There’s a lot that has changed from generation to generation. my hope is that as we evolve as a country, we can be much better about how support and preserve culture in communities, instead of whitewashing it away or commodifying it for the sake of profitability.

What is next for you?

In alignment with this next book, I’m exploring how we can do a better job of supporting diaspora communities. So much of this work centers around districts, and we need to be doing a better job of supporting communities not just in place, but those that have been displaced as well. Especially when they’ve been displaced as a result of western imperialism, wars abroad, the changing climate. I’m trying to learn more about cultural preservation and how we can do so when communities have been scattered as a result of these external forces and lack the means and ability to build up geographic concentration and political power for themselves.  Every community has a right to sustain and maintain access to its culture.