Free Arts 2012

Free Arts MinnesotaFree Arts Minnesota Year-end Grant Report September 2011 to May 2012

In 2011, In A Perfect World Foundation granted Free Arts Minnesota $10,000 to launch a Weekly Mentorship program at a new facility partner. The work to be supported included these steps.

  • Develop a new agency partnership by identifying mutual goals.
  • Recruit and train new volunteers. All volunteers complete a comprehensive screening and training process before being placed. The screening and placement process includes an application form and references, a criminal background check, an interview, completion of a full-day training session, and attendance at two annual in-service training sessions.
  • Interview and assign volunteers to facilities in a manner that matches their interests and the needs of the youth in the facility.
  • Design nine months of curriculum and art projects that fit mutual goals of Free Arts, In A Perfect World, and the new partner.
  • Provide necessary support to facility staff and volunteers to ensure consistent results throughout the program year.
  • Make regular site visits to ensure that quality arts programming is being provided and trusting mentor relationships are being developed.
  • Maintain the new partner relationship on an ongoing basis.

In spring of 2011, Free Arts Minnesota began the process of developing a new facility partnership with The Bridge for Youth in Minneapolis with a primary objective to inspire and empower the youth to become compassionate, socially conscious and responsible leaders in our community.

During the spring and summer, we worked on volunteer recruitment and curriculum design. We started off the mentorship program in October with a team of five mentors. The Team Leader, Carrie Scott, had been a mentor with Free Arts since 2007 and was instrumental in making this relationship at The Bridge a success. Although there were a few bumps along the way, we know we had an impact on the 13 youth we had the privilege to mentor.

Esther, Lead Program Coordinator, performed regular site visits to monitor the program, and was instrumental in bringing in guests, adjusting the curriculum as needed, working to ensure the mentors were well trained and the facility staff in the know, even with all the staff transition at The Bridge.

CHALLENGES for the 2nd half of the mentor year

We learned in the first half of the program year that we needed to find more challenging projects to engage the youth and KEEP them engaged. This was addressed for the spring session and was accomplished, in part, by asking the young adults at The Bridge for more of their leadership in deciding what types of projects they would like to do. This approach was especially used with the four week CommUNITY Mural project, where they were a part of deciding each and every step.


We also learned from the youth that we needed to raise engagement levels by including more complex, multi-week projects and using guest teaching artists. From that time, we brought in different guests that inspired the youth to engage more in and out of the sessions. Guest teaching artists included:

  • Brian Van Tassel, a local Djembe/African Drummer
  • Katherine Werner, puppet maker and a past employee at In The Heart of The Beast Puppet Theater
  • Hip/hop dancer Bridget Higgins, former director of North End Outreach Program in St Paul
  • Ben Brockman, screen printing teacher at the University of Minnesota.
  • Michael Minick, Graphic Designer and Owner of Mincorp
  • Michele Coppin, Muralist

“I have been teaching dance with the St Paul City Ballet since 2005 as the Bruce Larson North End Outreach Youth Program Director and Lead Dance Instructor. I have had a lot of time working with high school students, but this was a new and powerful experience for me to work with these young adults. They did not want to dance at first. They even asked, “What can this white girl show us?” It was so interesting to watch how intently they participated once the music started and I showed them some of the ‘hard’ dance moves to prove myself to them. It was a challenge to stop after just one hour, so we didn’t! I was grateful to see the work the mentors and mentees are doing together and the real relationships that are being built. Such an important part of your life is having caring, trusted adults to show you the way!”

Bridget Higgins- Dance Instructor

“The project was centered around thinking creatively to use the elements in our environment for art (re-using trash). We broke up into two teams. Each team had 3 minutes to look at the pile of recycled supplies. Then a team captain was chosen for each team. The captain from either side was given 3 minutes to run into the pile and grab/carry as many supplies as they could back to their team. Then the creativity began! We weren’t given any guidelines other than to create something with the supplies your captain could carry (sculpture, etc). Our team decided that we wanted to utilize the glue and markers we had. The ink from the markers was utilized to dye the glue. Then we decided to use the bottles and box as a mountain and water fall. Everyone got really into it and had a great time figuring out how to add on to the piece from the supplies our captain grabbed.”

Jill Nordahl – Weekly Mentor

“Mike Minick, a graphic designer, graduate from the College of Visual Arts, and 10 year business owner of Mincrop, came to work with the youth. He is actually a third generation designer – he still works with his dad (who is known for pin- striping cars, signs, etc). He was invited to come to The Bridge to teach the youth about logo design and help them design their own logo. He paid one-on-one attention to the youth, as if they were a paying client coming in to design a logo. The youth were enthralled with the conversation about logo design, logo placement on various items and the use of computer software to create their designs. All the art was compiled onto a t-shirt that was professionally printed for them.”

“When I saw the designs that the kids had done, I was impressed by the skills of many of them. They had really thought about the best way to represent themselves in a logo design, and clearly took it very seriously. Many people jump at the opportunity to design their own t-shirt, but what struck me was the general enthusiasm about the printing process. They were so engaged that they were looking for things to print on, even after they had done their shirts, and the session lasted until well after dark. We ended up printing in the dim street lights outside The Bridge, but they were a determined group, and made the very best of it.”

Benjamin Brockman – Screen Printer

“Working with Free Arts on the Bridge for Youth’s mural was fun, gratifying and rewarding on many different levels.
My interaction with the youth, the volunteers and the Bridge’s staff was enriching and inspiring. With a brush in hand, we all found common ground and came to know each other through discussing imagery, comparing ideas, choosing colors and cleaning up spills. I observed friendships, mutual respect and a true sense of community — the theme of the mural — develop and blossom during the five week period of the project. I enjoyed this project and I look forward to doing more murals in the future.”

Michèle Coppin – Muralist

The Bridge for Youth is the only 24-hour runaway and homeless youth program in a residential setting in the metropolitan region. To know that we at Free Arts Minnesota are able to bring caring mentors and a quality arts- access program to the displaced youth in their transitional housing unit is a wonderful gift, for us and for them.

We were able to provide the young people access to mentors, community artists, as well as community organizations like The Walker Art Center, which none of them had ever visited and which they are excited to go back to on their own and with their friends. We have seen our success by repeatedly being asked by the staff and the youth at The Bridge to keep providing this program. And we have been repeatedly thanked by the youth for caring for them in a way they didn’t know existed, and for opening their minds to a world that has new meaning to them.

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