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home : commentary : shesaid October 18, 2017

Art as magnet, art as compass
" I found myself reminded to notice other smaller things in the everyday world, too - the tread of tire imprints on the sidewalk from a certain angle became the image of a fish."
- Tami Mohamed Brown

by Tami Mohamed Brown


My friend Mia and I set out one day last summer to look at a mural on a fence that I'd heard about.

It was midday, and it was hot, and I like to believe that it was my excitement and surprise in discovering a new place that kept us walking and talking. We meandered on the trails and along the river path - much further and longer than we planned, stopping to chat with the few other walkers we encountered, to take in a lovely view, to wonder where the off-shoot trails might take us on another day if we returned.

It was only after we got back to the car that we realized we hadn't seen what we came for.

"We didn't find the mural," said Mia. We had to laugh. Not only did we not see the mural - we almost forgot we were looking for it.

Truth be told, though, I don't know that either of us was disappointed. We'd missed the art, but we'd gotten out and explored a new place, seen new things, because of the pull of that large-scale painting. It was a good walk. We'd spent good time together. Had good conversation. Things that art has the power to do - engage the senses, bring people together, allow for connections to be made, to look at things in new ways.

We decided it merited another walk to try to find the mural, now something of a suburban holy grail, lying in wait for us somewhere in the wilds of Bloomington.

In the meantime, I noticed other murals (I mean, how do you miss them?). They loomed up as I walked to work in downtown Minneapolis, as I drove along Snelling Avenue, appeared on Lake Street and in the Cedar Riverside neighborhood. I noticed how they transformed their respective spaces, a range of visual pleasures that brightened the world around them, clearly contributing to physical, place-based improvement.

I found myself reminded to notice other smaller things in the everyday world, too - the tread of tire imprints on the sidewalk from a certain angle became the image of a fish. The light on the brick building across the street slanted shadows that appeared just a little differently each day. Abandoned shoes, everywhere, if you are looking, if you are paying attention.

The second time we went looking for the mural, we showed up prepared to search.

It was colder, a little darker at late afternoon, the parking lot not quite as crowded, the trees holding the last bit of autumn color. This time, though, we were purposeful, consulting that great

Oracle of the Internet, then a paper map.

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"No wonder we couldn't find it," I said. "We weren't even in the right place."

We drove to another parking lot entrance, a short distance away.

The mural appeared, larger than life, as we expected, on a fence, its blues and greens blending into the landscape of the bass ponds, the tall grasses, the lingering wildflowers. It was kind of glorious. We admired it, and then we tried to catch the reflection of the dark clouds in the water. We picked up interestingly shaped pieces of wood and talked about recruiting friends and neighbors to pick up trash that had blown in from the nearby freeway.

We noticed all of these things in service of being observers, to understanding how we encounter our daily worlds, and one another.

Tami Mohamed Brown lives in Bloomington with her family.





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