Imagine Heal Resist: May Day in Minneapolis, 2017


Jessiena Lake

MayDay performers and parade goers shout “Happy MayDay!!” to each other in greeting. Photo by Jessiena Lake

Warm weather in Minneapolis reminds of us just how many people live in this city, and just how many people enjoy their community’s events and activities. Even more so, once again we get a glimpse of just how creative and resilient we as Minnesotans are, as we emerge vibrant and eager from the bitter winter. This is seen especially when we gather for outdoor festivals and community-wide activities.

One of the most well-known and widely visited events is the May Day Parade and Festival that kicks off springtime on the first Sunday in May. This is a Minneapolis tradition that has been active since 1975, faithfully and fully delivered by our very own In The Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre. Greater than the sum of its parts, the parade and festival is a time when members of the Twin Cities community can come together creatively and actively, in a welcoming and inclusive space.

The day consists of the parade that stretches over ten blocks in south Minneapolis, arriving at Powderhorn park where people can enjoy vendors of food and information, as well as the highly anticipated Tree of Life ceremony.

Every year boasts a different theme for May Day, and this year’s theme was “Imagine Heal Resist”, a nod to not only the tumultuous political climate, but as a reminder that community is about unity.

Six sections made up the bulk of the parade this year, with the tail section being open for members of the community to join. Each section of the parade concerned itself with bringing awareness to the many voices that make a community a cultural chorus.

The 2017 MayDay parade takes over Bloomington Avenue, filling it with dancers, musicians and costumed performers. Photo by Jessiena Lake

“It’s art that comes from a unified voice. All of these stories come from somewhere, and they’re all respected stories, including ours,” said Gracie Horne, co-lead artist for the Mni Wiconi-Can Wiconi (Water of Life-Tree of Life) section of the parade, consisting of Lakota, Dakota, and Nakota themes of the sacredness of water.

The co-lead artist with Horne is Jacob Ladda, shared his perspective on what Heart of the Beast is for the community, and why May Day is so important.

“The process of elimination… I think that’s what we’ve been neglecting as a society; to know how things function on a real level… When you dive into this deep pool of art, you enhance your process of elimination and problem-solving skills,” said Ladda. “And then you’re [working] with somebody and connecting dots; someone’s building the body of a horse, and you’re bringing over these legs that you’ve been sculpting all day, but you’ve been watching them make the body! So when you meet up and put those things together… It can be very magical.”

The Heart of the Beast artists create walkable performances for the 2017 MayDay parade. Photo by Jessiena Lake

In the month of February, preceding May Day, Heart of the Beast holds space for public brainstorming to decide the theme for that year’s parade and festival. In April, they hold workshops that are open and welcome for members of the community to assist artists with making puppets and floats for the parade and ceremony on the first Sunday of May.

The Tree of Life ceremony is the heart of May Day. Thousands of spectators gather on a hill that looks down on the spectacular efforts that are months in the making from members of the Twin Cities dedicating time and energy for that very day.

Intricate and beautiful puppets with their skilled puppeteers tell a story of the theme of the year, and the overall joy collectively felt as the sun is welcomed back after its long departure. The crowd, fully engaged in the performance, cheered very often, and booed only when appropriate, as the puppets that represented the spirits of the Earth pushed and pulled against corporate greed, and overcame the near-corruption of the innocence of the children that represent present and future generations. Ultimately, the performance ended with the sun coming across the water in decorated canoes of bright-red, and a song that everyone was encouraged and inclined to join in.

MayDay parade theme is: Imagine, Resist, Heal “At this time of great upheaval, we come together to IMAGINE a just and joyous future for all; HEAL personal, cultural and historical wounds; and stand as a circle in RESISTance to false myths of separateness that perpetuate violence and inequality.” Photo by Jessiena Lake

“When we teach each other, we grow with each other. When we create with each other, we grow with each other… We can create with our children, and create that space to create. It’s all about community. That’s what it takes to heal. And here we are together. It’s a beautiful place this time of year, and that’s why I’m here,” said Ladda.

Horne expresses her perspective on what the parade means, as well. “It’s freedom of expression. It’s the truth about how everybody’s doing, in the climate of our world that we live in.” Horne said that in the midst of all of the things that negatively affect our communities, “This is the only place that we’re going to be able to create things like this and have it out there for the public to see. I can’t think of any other forums that let you express yourself creatively in that way. That’s what’s different about May Day.”