Community Arts Caucus Column for NAEA News Fall 2019
Written by Eunji Lee, CAC President 2019-2020
Youth performance at the Indigenous Roots Cultural Arts Center in St. Paul, Minnesota. Courtesy of Mary Anne Quiroz.
We have prepared an exciting opportunity for our 2020 tour at Indigenous Roots based in St. Paul, Minnesota. Established in 2007, Indigenous Roots (IR) is a community art organization dedicated to creating space and opportunities for indigenous people and people of color from different cultural backgrounds. IR facilitates workshops and events to promote holistic wellness through ancestral knowledge, art, and activism.
IR was founded by the married couple – Sergio Quiroz (Mexican immigrant) and Mary Anne Quiroz (Filipino immigrant) who both immigrated from their native countries to East Side St. Paul in 1989. In 2006, they first established a traditional Mexica/Aztec dance and drum group called Kalpulli Yaocenoxtli. However, experiencing the strong need of culturally relevant platforms to further promote and practice the art of immigrant artists and artists of color, the dance project eventually evolved into a larger collective — Indigenous Roots. IR began as a community of artists striving to meet the growing needs to re-connect as well as preserve ancestral knowledge systems—communities whose roots reach from Indigenous communities in Minnesota to Mexico, Asia, the Caribbean, and West Africa.
With the support of the community and years of hard work, IR opened its Cultural Arts Center in the Dayton’s Bluff neighborhood of East St. Paul in 2017. Hundreds of artists and community members donated their time and work to renovate the building, and have been carrying out numerous arts and cultural programming since its opening. The center became a bustling hub to various community arts organizations in partnership with IR. The front space of the center serves as a gallery for emerging artists, while the rear space is used for events, classes, and workshops. Kalpulli Yaocenoxtli dance classes, comedy nights with the Funny Asian Women Kollective and Blackout Improv, Hmong soup cook-offs, and coming-of-age ceremonies are just a few examples. The center also hosts social justice, creative place-making, and neighborhood revitalization events for the community.
After a stellar year of operation, unfortunately, like many other grassroots organizations, IR was affected by a financial crisis that had confronted the Dayton’s Bluff Community Council. In addition, IR faced displacement when a private developer wanted to purchase the property for commercial development. IR was on the verge of losing their space which was a result of the collective’s years of devotion. However, the community members did not sit still. The Twin Cities’ Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) who had heard about IR’s commitment to community work, strongly advocated for IR to the Land Bank Twin Cities, a community-based entity that specializes in assisting organizations with acquiring property. Miraculously, IR was provided with the funds from the Land Bank, which enabled IR to formally acquire the property from the previous owner. Along with the help of a small grant from LISC, IR was able to purchase the building over the next three years. Indigenous Roots Cultural Arts Center is a living token demonstrating the power of community collectivity. The Center continues to play a key role in the growth of grassroots through arts and activism in the rapidly changing cultural scene of the Dayton’s Bluff neighborhood, East St. Paul.
For those who are interested in culturally responsive pedagogy and identity work grounded in a non-western belief system, come join our tour to IR’s Cultural Arts Center. We will meet IR’s Co-Founders/Co-Directors Mary Anne and Sergio Quiroz and engage with interactive activities of dance and healing movement, creative place-making walking tour, and a community mural. For more information, please visit IR’s websites:
Olson, M. (2018). The blessing. Pollen. Retrieved from https://www.pollenmidwest.org/stories/the-blessing
Moritz, K. (2018). Indigenous Roots is claiming space for artists of color. Rewire. Retrieved from https://www.rewire.org/our-future/indigenous-roots-artists/
Moritz, K. (2016). Why youth take a stand at standing rock. Rewire in Twin Cities PBS. https://www.tpt.org/post/why-youth-take-a-stand-at-standing-rock/
 Kalpulli Yaocenoxtli means “warriors of the first cactus flower” In Nahuatl language.
 According to IR’s co-founder and co-director Mary Anne, the organization’s name “Indigenous Roots” was designated as a term to respectively honor our own heritages.
 Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) is a national organization committed to finding equitable ways to Invest In the people, places, and projects that strengthen communities. As one of LISC’s local offices, LISC in the Twin Cities provides capital, strategy and know-how to Twin Cities community development partners. Retrieved from http://www.lisc.org/twin-cities