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By Xena Goldman | December, 19 2023

Xena Goldman (she/her) is a painter, illustrator, muralist, comic artist and educator. In her work, she explores how we move through the modern world and continue redefining our place in it. She believes that drawing upon vulnerability and raw emotions through the framework of art is a powerful tool to allow the public to find common ground, a common language, and a means of tapping into their own experience. More of her work can be found at or @xenastuff on Instagram.

About a year ago I received a grant, along with eight other local artists through the Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Board. Each artist was assigned a different park goal as a theme, a different wall, and instruction to do community engagement with whomever we considered to be significant stakeholders.

The location: a retaining wall on West River Parkway (between Franklin Ave and 4th Street).

The park goal: to operate a financially sustainable enterprise.

I don’t know much about financially sustainable enterprises, but I do know that the Mississippi River/Haha Wakpa is sacred for many Indigenous people and I knew that their perspective, particularly on the topic of sustainability, would be indispensable for this project. One of the groups I had the pleasure of talking with was with the native-led group, Friends of the Falls.

Some of the concepts that stood out in conversation were:

  • the importance of forming deep relationships rather than transactional ones,

  • connecting with the teachings of the past to build towards a stronger future, and

  • being present and giving thanks for the day.

What I heard was how sustainability is not possible without inter-connectedness and harmony, how healing from past wounds depends on acknowledging them and practicing moments of intentionality and reflection. All of these themes were key in putting together the design for this mural.

What I didn’t expect during this project was how much I would be confronted with questions about the sustainability of my art practice. This was the first mural project I had received, myself, and I started with the notion that I would paint the 85-foot-long wall alone. I found myself humbled by the magnitude of the project and had to confront battles with my pride, individualism and work mentality. To my surprise, people continued to step in and provide the help I deeply needed. Friends, community members and strangers supported me while in the production phase of this piece, without whom I would not have been able to complete the mural. The bottom line was clear: no one ever creates anything alone. As individuals, we can create, but we also have limits— limits to our physical abilities as well as to our perspectives. As a community, we have the power to make a greater impact, to be more reflective and considerate. Also, working together we have the gift of moving slower as individuals, in order to give thanks and savor the rich colors of the present.

Hopefully the title of this mural, “What will sustain us?” will invite those who pass by on the parkway to think about what sustainability looks like to them, too, and the future that they wish for.

My deepest gratitude goes out to Friends of the Falls for taking the time to share a conversation and explore these important topics through art.

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