Lake Street Initiative bridges students and community

By Anna Waugh

Two years ago, Benjamin Filene, the Senior Exhibit Developer at the Minnesota Historical Society, met with Macalester’s Community Service Office staff and George Latimer of the Urban Studies Department to develop civic engagement projects that would benefit both institutions and the greater public.
This conversation has turned into the Lake Street Initiative, which so far has produced approximately seventy-five student research projects over the past two years, which have focused on topics ranging from histories of local Lake Street businesses to biographies of women who live and work in the Lake Street community.

“It takes a lot of energy to get out of the classroom,” said Paul Schadewald, Associate Director of the Civic Engagement Center. He said that is why he has a lot of respect for the professors who have taken on the Lake Street Initiative.

Twelve classes have focused on Lake Street over the past three semesters, with topics ranging from history to art to environmental studies. In some of the classes students worked directly with Lake Street community organizations, while others researched a particular aspect of Lake Street and presented a display.

Projects from Adrienne Christiansen’s “Women’s Voices in Politics” class were displayed at the Blue Moon Café last December. Projects completed last spring in classes for Chris Wells and Paul Dosh are on display right now at the Resource Center of the Americas. These projects have also been displayed in the communities that students studied.
President Brian Rosenberg said that he believes that the Lake Street Initiative has been valuable to students, and said that often he thinks that off-campus experiences are the “most educational.”
Schadewald agreed, saying he thinks that the project has been a “bridge builder between professors, students, and the sites [that students research.]”
Next spring, the Minnesota Historical Society will combine the information from all of the projects to create a large-scale exhibit that incorporates the student work.
Lake Street is a major thoroughfare connecting Minneapolis and St. Paul. It declined during the ’80s and early ’90s when it was known for its high drug and crime rates. However, the past few years have seen a major revitalization of the neighborhoods along Lake Street and an influx of new immigrant populations.
“So many of the larger stories if you grow up on Lake Street are about the challenges that Lake Street has faced,” Schadewald said. “This project tried to build on the good sides as well.”

These projects are part of a broader goal of the college to connect students with the Twin Cities. “We aren’t in a cornfield,” Rosenberg said. According to the President, projects like this one connect what is going on in the community with what is happening in the classroom, and he says that many curricular grants have been given to faculty members this year who have developed courses that involve aspects of the city.