A mural to honor the man
Rock Martinez listened to Prince hits while working in the sun on Saturday, spray-painting a mural of the musician on the side of a property management company in Uptown.
Drivers honked in approval. A giant purple head is hard to miss. Pedestrians snapped photos and asked to shake his hand. Some even tried to tip Martinez for the artwork, but he politely refused.
“It’s my present to Minneapolis,” he said time and again.
After only seven hours of work, the mural seemed complete: Prince with a dove in his classic short hair, his Love Symbol above the years of his birth and death.
But Martinez, a graffiti artist from Tucson, Ariz., said he probably will spend a few more days at the corner of 26th Street and Hennepin Avenue sharpening his detail work.
Martinez, 35, moved to Bloomington about a year ago. He learned his craft on the streets of Tucson as a kid and has been doing commission work on buildings for almost 15 years.
The owners of 10th Floor Property Management, who hired Martinez to do occasional murals on their front entrance, gave him permission to create a more permanent piece on the side of the building, he said. When the business moves, Martinez said he hopes to open a gallery and art boutique in the same location.
Why was it so important for an out-of-towner to commemorate Prince?
“There’s a few legends left and he was one of them. He was so different from everyone and that’s what made him special,” Martinez said. “The mural helps with the grieving process.”
A steady stream of purple-clad people funneled through the halls of the Minnesota History Center in St. Paul to catch a glimpse of Prince’s costume from his 1984 film “Purple Rain.”
Fans skipped the museum’s other offerings, opting to examine the dazzling purple trench coat, ruffled, high-collared white shirt and black pants on display inside a glass case. For some, it was just the first stop on a Prince pilgrimage.
Rose Griffin, a doctor from Wassau, Wis., drove 2.5 hours to Minneapolis for a Prince-themed day trip with her friend. After a lifetime of listening to his music, and watching her mother geek out over him, Griffin said she felt compelled to come see the costume.
“I don’t remember a time when Prince wasn’t playing in my house,” said Griffin, who was raised in Washington, D.C.
She wrote a message thanking Prince for his service and wishing him well in the afterlife, then stuck it on a wall of Post-it note memories.
Prince stayed true to himself in an industry not quite known for its honesty, she said. “That’s a lesson everyone can learn.”
The Current’s Prince catalog played softly from an old-school stereo as Demetris Christou posed for several pictures in front of the costume, just one of several memorial stops he’ll make this weekend.
Prince’s albums were some of the most popular dancing tracks in Cyprus, an island in the eastern Mediterranean where Christou grew up in the 80s. He moved to the United States in 1992. A preplanned trip to visit a friend in Minnesota would be his first time in the Midwest.
When his plane landed late Thursday night, First Avenue was his first stop.
Pete Voth, of St. Paul, took his buddy straight there to join throngs of people dancing in the street. “Prince was edgy, he wasn’t mainstream,” Christou said. “It was cool to be there.”
Inquiring children at the museum got a lesson in musical history from their parents, struggling to put in words the impact Prince made on the state and the world.
Families took the time to write individual messages. One, in a child’s distinctive scrawl, read: “My mom said he was the only thing that made her feel at home.”
Prince’s charitable side
Just 2 miles from Paisley Park, a Chanhassen elementary school principal sent a letter to area businesses asking for their support and got a surprising response: a $30,000 check from Prince.
“In Prince fashion … he did it with, ‘Here’s the donation and I don’t want publicity,’ ” Chanhassen Elementary School Principal Greg Lange said. “He was the neighbor down the road.”
You don’t have to go far in the Twin Cities to find a place where Prince bestowed his generosity like that 2004 donation, which funded art field trips, art equipment for special needs students, art supplies and a full-size electric piano used by music classes. Prince had a huge but quiet and usually anonymous impact on places in need.
According to federal tax forms, one of his charities, Love 4 One Another, gave more than $1.5 million from 2005 to ’07 to dozens of charities across the country — from New York City to Atlanta and Seattle, and several in the Minneapolis area.
In north Minneapolis, he sent a check for $200,000 to Seed Academy and Harvest Prep, which has 1,300 students, almost all of whom live on the North Side. The unsolicited gift just as the school was trying to open in 1993 helped school leaders buy an old building to turn into their school facility.
“The value of the gift is priceless,” said Karen Kelley-Ariwoola, the school’s chief officer of external relations. “He created a ripple effect [for us] to build a firm foundation. I can’t even count the lives that gift has now touched.
Across the city, Prince also gave $80,000 to the south Minneapolis nonprofit Urban Ventures for its recording studio.
Founder Art Erickson had met Prince in elementary school, stopping by the school as a youth director and seeing Prince eating lunch alone in the cafeteria. Prince joined the nonprofit’s basketball team and camps before pursuing music in 10th grade.
“He came from a very dysfunctional family,” Erickson said, relaying the story Prince once told him of being locked in his room for six weeks and turning to a piano to pass the time. “He was a very hurt kid. He was quiet and angry and he smiled — a smile to cover a lot of hurt.”
Perhaps it was the extra support he got as a kid that motivated Prince to give back to other kids in need so many years later.
In 2005, he gave $7,000 to the Bridge for Youth, which helps homeless kids, and $20,000 to Yo! The Movement, a former youth leadership nonprofit, in 2005 and 2006, according to tax reports.
Then in 2007, he donated $50,000 to the fund set up to help victims of the Interstate 35W bridge collapse. And after becoming a Jehovah’s Witness in 2001, he gave $130,000 to Jehovah Witness Kingdom Hall in Minneapolis in 2006 and $10,000 each to Chanhassen and St. Louis Park Jehovah’s Witness congregations.
It wasn’t just in cash, though, that he quietly supported the community, but through his performances. In 1984, a string of St. Paul shows drew 23 tons of donated food to local food shelves. In 1988, a Paisley Park Studios benefit supported the Minnesota Coalition for the Homeless.
And a 1983 First Avenue show where he debuted “Purple Rain” drummed up $23,000 for the Minnesota Dance Theater. He had been a student there as a teen, learning to dance at its then Dinkytown studio. Years later, the rock star used the school’s facility to rehearse his dance moves.
“He never forgot his experiences there,” said Artistic Director Lise Houlton, whose mother had worked with Prince years ago. “We probably wouldn’t be here today if he hadn’t made that significant contribution.”
She had hoped to reach out to Prince soon to reconnect him with their programs. So did Kelley-Ariwoola, wishing her school could have thanked Prince for the kind gift he gave two decades ago.
Instead, he leaves behind a legacy and a great lesson, she said, in giving back without seeking attention or praise.
“You don’t need that to do something good,” she said. “And I think that’s a lesson for all of us.”
Sabathani shows film
Sabathani Community Center (formerly Bryant Junior High School, which Prince attended) will join the list of locations offering free showings of “Purple Rain.” While most venues will only run the film through Sunday, Sabathani will hold showings in the auditorium at 6 p.m. Monday through Friday (April 25-29). The movie is rated R, so all children under 16 must come with an adult.
Free popcorn will be provided. The community center is located at 310 E. 38th St. in Minneapolis.