Since the events surrounding the murder of George Floyd last spring, the Twin Cities (and our nation as a whole) has experienced a powerful social movement and change – highlighting the importance of Black representation, celebration and business ownership. Last summer, Team Tunheim had the pleasure of chatting with entrepreneur Houston White to discuss the importance of Black representation and his work developing the vibrant community of Camden Town, a North Minneapolis neighborhood which was designed specifically for the desires and needs of the Black community.
What inspires you in your daily work as a businessman, designer and developer?
I think it’s personal; as for the development piece, I was raised in North Minneapolis, and there were so many things that I felt like my community lacked, for instance, a café where we could all sit outside and have happy hour; we were missing all kinds of amenities that I saw throughout the city and weren’t represented in my neighborhood.
And as for the design element, I have the desire to build modern, cool, futuristic, Black-centric stuff. I remember when I was growing up, my family would basically put on a fashion show when going to church. We had an innate desire to look fly. And I think style is one of the things that you can control and allows you to non-verbally express who you are. I always had an immense love for fashion and style, and how it makes you feel.
As a community leader here in the Twin Cities, what are your greatest challenges?
There are a lot of barriers and obstacles. For instance, non-belief, and when I’m talking about non-belief, I mean people who just feel like there’s been so many efforts, so many failures, that it begs the question, is it even possible to make a change? Folks don’t get as excited or aren’t as apt to just jump on board, because there has been some misappropriation. There are gatekeepers, people who don’t necessarily want a young guy like me, to start to ascend. And there’s just a lot of work to be done. There’s a mountain and sometimes you just get discouraged personally, like is it even worth it?
What do you believe the importance of art culture is to the Twin Cities community?
Art is a bridge. It’s a way to celebrate yourself, it is a way to learn about other people. It is all encompassing and inclusive. For instance, street art is becoming fine art, like kids in the ‘80s getting arrested for writing graffiti, which soon became something that inspired an artist that made it to the MoMa. I think art is just that, it’s the basis of American culture and self-expression. And people can communicate frustration, joy and all kinds of things. It’s a good way to unify people and it’s an identifier of culture.
What was your overall mission when designing Camden Town?
To design a place of Black joy, Black vibrancy, an authentic celebration of Black culture; and really building on Black ownership.
2020 has been a transformative year for the Twin Cities, what is next for you and Camden Town in the next year?
There is a development project that we are working on, and it’s basically a reimagining of our current space. It is a $1.2 million project, of which we’ve secured 50%, so we’ll be doing some crowdsourcing and different fundraising campaigns to secure funds. It’s kind of a project that will be catalytic in nature; as this project goes, it will inform, and it will keep peace and restore economic justices. We’re about 2-3 weeks from getting our building permit. If all goes well, we can break ground this fall.
Take a look at Houston’s work at https://houstonwhite.co/.
Designer, entrepreneur and community leader Houston White