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Giant mural of Prince to enliven downtown Minneapolis

10 April 2022

Prince vetoed a statue, too concerned that people might deface it. But the unpredictable, controlling music icon was OK with somehow being commemorated in his hometown. Well before he died, he approved a mural that will finally come to fruition next month on a downtown Minneapolis parking ramp.

“This has been long, arduous, tedious process,” said Sharon Smith-Akinsanya, the force behind the project. “We actually started figuring out a way to give him his roses while he was here. Of course, we had no idea that in 2016 we would lose him. We’ve been working on this for seven years. We’re going to get it done.”

The painting is scheduled to begin on May 16 on Ramp A, on First Avenue N. and Eighth Street, with a dedication and block party set for June 2. The public can view the progress on the exterior wall opposite the Hampton Inn & Suites.

The $500,000 Prince mural project involved the city of Minneapolis, Minnesota Department of Transportation, the Minneapolis Downtown Council and the Prince estate, not to mention Smith-Akinsanya lobbying the state Legislature and various corporations for funding.

“It’s the hardest money I’ve ever had to raise, and I’ve raised millions of dollars in this town,” said Smith-Akinsanya, a longtime entrepreneurial marketing executive who worked for Prince in the mid-1990s and founded the People of Color Career Fair in the Twin Cities. “We still have a little ways to go to get it over the finish line. But we will get it over the finish line.”

After being turned down at the Legislature in 2019, Smith-Akinsanya eventually lined up such sponsors as U.S. Bank, which contributed a six-figure donation, as well as Target, Best Buy and the Minnesota Twins.

Costs include equipment, insurance, licenses and rights with the Prince estate, which is excited about the mural.

“Downtown Minneapolis is family to Prince and me,” Tyka Nelson, Prince’s sister, said in a statement. “Our parents met there. This mural means so much.”

Discussions for the Prince project began the year the Bob Dylan mural was painted on Fifth Street and Hennepin Avenue S. by Brazilian street artist Eduardo Kobra.

At first, it was proposed that the Prince mural would wrap around the side and back of the Cowles Center on Hennepin Avenue. That was eventually rejected because there was concern that another building might someday block the view of the mural.

Project leaders Smith-Akinsanya and Joan Vorderbruggen, an arts consultant formerly with Hennepin Theatre Trust, settled on Ramp A, which is owned by the state and run by the city of Minneapolis.

More than 60 artists considered

After considering more than 60 artists including Kobra, the Prince estate and a nominating committee chose Hiero Veiga, 33, a Black Florida street painter known for painting the exterior wall of Miami’s Museum of Graffiti.

The Massachusetts native started as a graffiti artist, and he has taken his hyper-realist style to not only building walls but in museum galleries throughout the United States, Canada and Jamaica.

“He has really incredible technical skills and abilities that are very rare in the graf world as far as how he can make hyper-real, photo-real portraiture,” said Vorderbruggen, who has overseen creation of six murals, including the Dylan mural.

Creating images of Prince from multiple photographs, Veiga will spray-paint with one or two other artists with the public welcome to watch. Preparation of the vertical painting surface — 40 feet wide and 100 feet tall — will start May 12.

“I have worked my entire life for an opportunity like this,” Veiga said in a statement. “I understand the full weight of this responsibility. This is Prince’s legacy, and I will make sure that this mural makes Prince’s family, fans, Minneapolis and the world proud.”

Organizers hope the mural will become a crucial symbol — and Instagrammable icon — for a city that needs an image reboot.

“We needed something to look forward to in this region and something else to be known for other than the place where George Floyd was murdered,” said Smith-Akinsanya, who lives in downtown Minneapolis. “This begins to change the narrative, it begins to bring us together, it begins to bring people back downtown.

“It’s just a new chapter,” she said. “Prince was born here, he lived here, he died here. He’s a real Minnesotan. He deserved this honor.”

Jon.bream@startribune.com Twitter: @jonbream 612-673-1719

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