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In the last five years there has been a tremendous influx of immigrants into the Lake Street neighborhoods, including: Latinos, Africans (Ethiopians, Nigerians, Sudanese, Somalians), Russians, Bosnians, and Asians (Cambodians, Hmong, Laotian, Vietnamese, Koreans, Tibetans) into the Twin Cities, and into the neighborhoods connected by Lake Street. On one end, West Lake, is the Uptown area, a trendy enclave of upscale shops and restaurants. In the middle, East Lake, is one of the highest crime areas in the city, and also the most diverse. Farthest east are the more blue-collar and middle-class neighborhoods. From Old World to Third World to modern world, Lake Street seems to include the gamut of the evolving American experience.

Lake Street USA makes photographic sense of the realities that lie behind this experience, showing Lake Street inhabitants going about their daily lives--on the street, in the stores, during worship, at play, at work and at home. Some examples of the variety of subjects Huie has photographed include: a woman getting a facial, a young man getting his tongue pierced, a Tibetan Buddhist temple in a one-bedroom apartment, a Jewish circumcision ceremony, a Somalian prayer group, a Hmong Pentecostal service, the Sons of Norway, a gay, Lesbian and transgender church, a Mexican gang, families sitting on their front steps, teenagers in their bedrooms, weddings, funerals, the Miss Lake Street contest, a quinceañera, festivals, fights, couples kissing, a homeless Vietnam Vet and his friends, joggers, goths, punks, bikers, Samis, witches, shamans and just people of all kinds hanging out.

Huie's photos will be hung in store fronts, bus stops, sides of buses and buildings, and billboards. The entire exhibit will be visible from the sidewalk. It will become part of the everday consciousness of Lake Street. Competing with advertisements, it will reflect the ordinary reality of Lake Street inhabitants. Besides magnifying Lake Street's function as a transportation corridor, Lake Street, USA will also reveal Lake Street's hidden function as a cultural corridor.

Huie is drawn to photographing diverse communities. In the summer of 1993 Huie started photographing the ethnically diverse, inner-city neighborhood of Frogtown in St. Paul, where the Southeast Asian Hmong are the largest ethnic minority. Huie spent two years photographing residents on the street, in their homes, backyards, at barbecues, on their front porches, at play and during worship. Huie also tape recorded interviews with residents about their lives and the neighborhood. The results--173 photographs, many of which were accompanied by quotes from the more than 100 interviews he conducted--were displayed in May and June of 1995 in a vacant grass lot on the corner of Dale and University in Frogtown.

One of the tangible effects of the Frogtown exhibition was that it helped change people's perceptions of the neighborhood. In a notebook laid out for comments one person wrote, "I kept seeing people walking by or driving by that could have come right out of the pictures. They are people very unlike me. They are the kind of people, I admit, who I'm normally a little afraid of. Your humanistic art has helped me a little bit to not be afraid."

Changes in perception also led to economic development. Kenrie Williams, a District VII Council employee, said that District VII had had a difficult time getting banks to invest in housing redevelopment in the Frogtown neighborhood. But after the extraordinary widespread media attention that the exhibition received, "the banks came a running."

In 1996 the Minnesota Historical Society Press published that exhibition in a critically acclaimed book titled, Frogtown: Photographs and Conversations from a Neighborhood. It is used in many school classrooms and this year is required reading for a Hamline University course.

But the most energizing feature about the Frogtown project remained its public display--the quirkiness of its 24 hour access and the way it attracted different people to a neighborhood they otherwise might never have visited. That possibility is continued and expanded in Lake Street, USA.

Though the Frogtown exhibit was hugely successful, Lake Street, USA is much larger in scope and much more ambitious. Besides the larger number of photographs and interviews, Lake Street, USA will depend on an extremely complex network of public spaces. Each space--bus stop, store front, building wall--will require individual negotiation with a wide variety of Lake Street residents, merchants, and public officials. These negotiations are the social infrastructure of the exhibit and represents another opportunity for the Lake Street community to shape its own representation.

Lake Street, like Frogtown and other inner-city neighborhoods, suffers from perceptions that are usually beyond community control. Because of these perceptions the people who live in these areas become somehow different, separate from the rest of American life. Lake Street, USA will help close the gap between perception and reality and the gap between "us" and "them" by providing revelatory glimpses into the lives of thousands of its residents.

Much of what comprises a community is hidden from public view. And what is publicly seen is often ignored. Minorities, recent immigrants, and other disenfranchised groups especially become invisible. The hope of this exhibit is to show not only what is hidden, but what is plainly visible and seldom noticed.

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The Southwest Journal

Essay by Michael Finley

Star Tribune, July 16th

Star Tribune, July 9th

St. Paul Pioneer Press

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