Third annual Bridging Festival honors Murial Simmons

Categories: Art, Theater
Courtesy Dallas Johnson Jr. 
The third annual Shenanigrins and Bridging Festival is back this Sunday, offering an afternoon of arts and activities for kids. It will take place along the 24th Street Pedestrian Bridge before heading over to the vacant lot next to Open Eye Figure Theatre. Headed by neighborhood organizer Dallas Johnson Jr. in partnership with Joan Vorderbruggen and Artists in Storefronts, this year's festival is dedicated to Murial Simmons, a community organizer and activist who passed away earlier this year. 

Courtesy Dallas Johnson Jr. 
Simmons, who was born on the East Coast, moved to Minneapolis in the 1990s. She was the founder of the Phillips West Neighborhood Association. According to an article in Southside Pride, she built partnerships between her community and large institutions such as Wells Fargo and the Shriner's Center, who provided space for the annual Winter Social that Simmons created with her son, Brian. She was perhaps best known for her old-fashioned snow-cone machine, which she used to set up as a way to meet neighbors. 

In 2011, neighborhood organizer Johnson Jr., along with artists from In the Heart of the Beast, created a skit for the first Bridging Festival that celebrated Simmons and her work, and Simmons appeared along with her grandchildren. This year, the skit will be performed again, this time put together by Simmons's children. 

The Bridging Festival is inspired in part by Johnson's Shenanigrins, a monthly event that encourages children to play along the pedestrian bridge. The Shenanigrins program aims to forge connections between the communities of Whittier and Phillips, which were divided in the 1960s by the construction of 35W. The 24th Street Pedestrian Bridge was built in 1971 in response to community lobbying.
Courtesy Dallas Johnson Jr. 
This year, the bridging festival will include free pizza, a public-art component created by Vorderbruggen using hearts made of yarn, as well as music, dancing, and theater. It all starts at 1 p.m. on the Whittier side of the bridge, where kids will be greeted with lots of dress-up clothes to play in. Then, the event moves up on the bridge where there will be a classic R&B dance party. Finally, the festival will move to a vacant lot next to Open Eye Figure Theater, where there'll be games and activities like a potato sack races and a limbo contest, as well a visit by the Blue Lady, who will perform throughout the day. 

Vorderbruggen says one of the reasons she wanted Artists in Storefronts to be involved in the Bridging Festival was to "extend a hand to our neighbors. I felt like Whittier has a lot, and Phillps doesn't have as much," she says, "so I wanted to do something to support [Johnson Jr.]."

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