How Minnesotans Work(shop) - by Kara Larson -
When I set out to tap into the wonderful world of workshops across the state of Minnesota, I expected to talk to passionate individuals with lofty goals of building strong, vibrant, and creative communities. I expected their insights into the world of making in Minnesota to expand my knowledge on where and how creativity happens. However, I didn’t expect to be so genuinely inspired by their efforts, their ideas, their mission. In speaking with various individuals from a creative workshop group, an art colony, a community makerspace, and a community arts center, I not only gained understanding and knowledge on the current environment for artists, makers, workshops, classes, and residency programs around the state, but I also came to learn how closely connected the arts are to the strength and cohesiveness of a community.
There are opportunities for all of us to learn new skills, explore our own personal journey through art, and form relationships with people we might never have met otherwise. These places give us the opportunity to connect. Connect to abilities to be self-sufficient, connect with the artist inside, connect with humans different than yourself, connect with a new art form—these places inspire us to be vulnerable and honest while engaging in art that invites us to let go and relax into the present.
Let’s get right into the genuine ideas, goals, and insight of the wonderful organizations and businesses in this article. In the sections ahead, you will read about four uniquely inspiring places that foster, encourage, and facilitate interactive creativity in different ways. Spoiler alert: they’re all delightful.
LAB MPLS Unleash Your Inner Creative
In the eyes of Jessica Moriarty and Mollie Windmiller, the co-founders of LAB MPLS, creativity resides within everyone—it just takes the right atmosphere to unleash it. And so, they have built just that.
“We started LAB because we knew there was a need in the Twin Cities community to create an inspirational place where people could come together, learn a new skill, and get creative,” begins Mollie. “It’s about getting away from your Pinterest board—something you’re inspired to do, but instead of pinning it—you can actually create it.”
The workshops take place at LAB headquarters, a beautiful downtown Minneapolis space made aesthetically inviting by Jessica’s trained design eye. Set up as a space that peacefully calls for workshop attendees to get creative, LAB began with creative workshops like Photoshop LAB and a writing workshop called Paragraph Party, but today, with more than 70 creative workshops complete, their range is impressive. A few of their most popular workshops include a Cocktail LAB with Far North Spirits, a Beauty LAB with green beauty expert Nicolle Mackinnon, and a Calligraphy LAB with Hooked Calligraphy, among many others.
This range is important to Mollie and Jessica. For them, creating doesn’t look like one particular thing or one art form; it comes in different workshops, instructors, people, ideas. “We never want to put LAB or our audience in a box,” Jessica starts. “There are so many unique makers and artists and things to learn out there and we really want to offer that for everybody. And it’s fun that you can keep coming back and it’s not the same thing.”
The workshops are about unveiling process—appreciating the work, the time, and the love behind the world of making. Mollie warmly speaks of the importance of the process and knowledge gained at Beauty LAB. “There is always a greater appreciation for something when you understand the process behind how it’s made. For example, Nicolle Mackinnon is the green beauty guru and the instructor for Beauty LAB, and she provides exceptional knowledge of the benefits of green beauty. When you are creating the beautiful products for your skin, you also gain the knowledge and appreciation of the many benefits as well.”
Within the variety of workshops, LAB has become a creative home to all kinds of people interested in trying something new. Mollie shares, “We see people who are interested in DIY and engaging their creative side often, but we also see people who have maybe never touched watercolor paints. And that’s really fun—seeing people who don’t get creative often really get out of their comfort zone and create.”
Ultimately, LAB MPLS is offering something fresh, unique, and genuine—something that calls for people to enjoy a more dynamic approach to a night out with friends (or strangers). “I think people enjoy getting out and actually doing something. They want learn something new, be inspired and get creative, so it’s really fun to create that outlet here at LAB,” says Jessica.
Beyond the creative workshops, LAB also engages in collaborations with local businesses and brands that pull the LAB experience outside of their downtown space. The connections and collaborations Mollie and Jessica have made through LAB include significant brands like Madewell at the Mall of America, Kit and Ace, Mia, Shinola, Wilson & Willy’s, Macy’s Flower Show, Ampersand, and more.
Later this month, Mollie and Jessica are looking forward to expanding the LAB reach in one more way through an event called The Collective. This modern marketplace event is free and open to the public and is to be held at Loring Social on April 23rd. Beyond the marketplace for makers and their products, there will also be an educational component. The event features a series of speakers including Mary Jo Hoffman, Seven Sundays, Bēt Vodka, Sota Clothing, Tandem Made, and more, that will share their process and story as modern makers.
This new trajectory for LAB feels like a natural expansion to Jessica and Mollie. In addition to creative workshops and collaborating with like-minded brands, LAB MPLS hopes to make The Collective an annual mainstay to support artists and makers in the Twin Cities community.
Grand Marais Art Colony A Rejuvenating Northern Sanctuary
The Grand Marais Art Colony has a powerful, imaginative past. In 1947, nearly 70 years ago, a charismatic MCAD professor by the name of Birney Quick began the Art Colony as the Outdoor School of Painting. This style resonated with the landscape of Grand Marais—an area well suited for a meaningful dialogue between landscape and artist. With a bold vision of building a place that would facilitate artistic expression, provide space for one’s journey of self, and allow artists of all kinds to thrive, the Grand Marais Art Colony was born.
As an individual who was very involved in the Twin Cities arts scene, Birney continued to establish the Art Colony as a place for diverse expression as he brought jazz musicians, painters, dancers, and students up to Grand Marais to share their art with the community. In doing so, he was furthering the idea of Grand Marais becoming a visitor’s community—a creative home for anyone to share art and passions and skills.
Amy Demmer, Executive Director, believes these incredible beginnings have deeply impacted the present and future of the Art Colony. And since Cook County, the county in which Grand Marais resides, has the highest number of artists per capita in Minnesota, it’s important to consider the role of arts in this small, vibrant community.
“This is a very rejuvenating, reflective place—it’s got a bit of a retreat aspect to it. That’s what Grand Marais does best. This is a place to get away from the white noise and traffic and the daily quotidian. With our golden Northern light, nature sounds, the fresh lake air, and the quiet—it is restorative.”
This sort of atmosphere contributes to the direction in which the Art Colony influences its artists, visitors, and community. In their three-prong mission, they focus on art education, artist services, and community outreach. At the base of these three is respect for the creative journey. From beginner to intermediate to professional artist, Amy believes the whole journey to be really valuable.
The first component of their mission is art education. This learning of artistic expression comes through the process-oriented classes offered at the Art Colony. Amy shares, “Because of the emphasis on the lifelong journey, it’s not necessarily about producing something to take home; it’s more about investing in your technical skills or in nurturing your creative spirit so it increases your ability to express yourself.”
Beyond a full calendar of over 200 evolving classes every year, the Art Colony also puts on a symposium made up of smaller classes, one day or a half day in length, that is meant to build relationships with self and community. This year, it is a creative self-care symposium. Amy reveals, “It’s really about that resiliency of your self. As a society, I think we often toss our self-care out the door and it is so important in art. One facet of self care is paying attention to your inner compass, expressing yourself, and taking time for yourself, but also, it’s a very powerful way to heal.”
The second part of their mission is about artist services. The Art Colony offers both individual residencies and mentorship residencies for artists. These programs range in subject matter—from writing, painting, printmaking, clay, glass, jewelry, and more. Artists can access the Art Colony’s studios on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis to make work independently. Amy imparts, “The residency series really speaks to artists building a relationship with themselves and their work. It’s about devoting time and space for an artist to focus and to be able to communicate themselves through their art.”
In addition to the residencies, other artist services include professional development classes, art sales opportunities, a resource library, and grant writing assistance. Amy shares, “Artist services connect artists with a vibrant creative community and vital resources in order to help them grow their practice, advance their career, and develop sustainable lives as artists.”
In the third aspect of the Art Colony’s mission, they focus on nurturing art in the community. Events throughout the year make a trip to the far reaches of Northeastern Minnesota a worthwhile roadtrip. The Grand Marais Arts Festival in July is their largest event, while in September, an outdoor painting competition called Plein Air Grand Marais serves as an ode to the Art Colony’s beginnings, and several more exciting fundraisers, celebratory events, and beyond call for curious minds to visit the valued Art Colony.
Nordeast Makers A Community Makerspace for Urban Innovators
Nordeast Makers was founded three years ago as an offshoot of a short-lived makerspace called The Mill that closed in 2013. Micah Roth, along with five other founders, had a goal of building an operation that was sustainable from day one. With slow, steady growth, Nordeast Makers is now in their second space in Northeast Minneapolis, at 451 Taft Street, serving as a great resource for urban innovators with a yearning to get their hands dirty.
From the beginning, their mission was simple. They aimed to open a space that had premium, top of the line equipment—equipment that they would know inside and out. Beyond the machinery, the space is a big part of the appeal of Nordeast Makers; the building is rugged and filled with numerous other workshops and talented individuals, a prime source for inspiration. Their membership numbers fluctuate from season to season, but all the while, with each new member comes new opportunities. Members join with a monthly membership fee that gives them access to everything Nordeast Makers has to offer, including premium equipment like the CNC router, laser cutter, 3D printers, woodshop and more. This also includes room for small project and building materials storage.
Micah and the group of founders are well aware of the strength in the maker movement in the Twin Cities area. And as makers themselves, they love sharing a community workshop space with interesting people who enjoy the process of making. “There is a very strong maker movement in Minneapolis,” starts Micah. “Just go to our various farmers markets that are filled with handmade products. To fill this need for shop space, membership shops began popping up in Minneapolis about 5 years ago. Starting with The Hack Factory, The Mill, which gave birth to Nordeast Makers, and more recently MPLS Make.”
Micah has taken on the additional title of Lead Operator at Nordeast Makers—a space that has a real impact on the maker community. “Northeast Minneapolis, in particular, has a burgeoning artist and maker community. However, it’s unfeasible for most makers to furnish their own digital fabrication shop. Especially if they’re just beginning to establish themselves in the community.”
From creating a new venue for social interactions to decreasing your carbon footprint, makerspaces lead people to a more sustainable way of living. It encourages people to explore their innate skills, reuse, or repair products rather than throwing them away. In Micah’s eyes, it is also extremely empowering and satisfying. And it’s catching on. “We get a broad range of members from hobbyists to entrepreneurs to people doing side work to architects, designers, engineers, all kinds of people. That’s how I see the maker community and movement as a whole—a hodgepodge of those different backgrounds.”
Over time, with the modern conveniences readily available at a big box store near you, some would say that we have lost touch with making, especially in a metropolitan society. Nordeast Makers allows the inquisitive individual, the hobbyist who dreams of making their own work desk, or even the trained designer who simply doesn’t have the money for their own space, the freedom to make their ancestors proud and build something beautiful, functional, unique. More than the benefits to the individual, there’s a real connection to collaboration that flourishes in the shared space. Micah relates, “Makerspaces like Nordeast Makers help bring communities together by providing public workspaces. Shop users meet other artists with common and differing interests—ideas are shared and collaboration is encouraged. Makerspaces also drastically lower the cost of entry for entrepreneurs and makers looking to develop a product or start a business. Even hobbyists can save money and learn a new skill if they need a new dining room table.”
Nordeast Makers exists to pool resources so makers and artists have access to a full fabrication shop filled with exceptional equipment some never dreaming of using. And because it’s a shared space, this maker space is ripe for collaboration that may not have happened otherwise. The equipment, the community, the satisfaction of making—that’s what a community maker space like Nordeast Makers is all about.
White Bear Center for the Arts Building Skills and Community
“When we started to envision this home for the arts in White Bear, we really looked at it as building a community center with art at its core. We want to impact the community by celebrating the arts and peoples’ diversity of creative expression.”
These are the words of Suzi Hudson, Executive Director of White Bear Center for the Arts. From Suzi’s perspective, and to combat a common misconception, the arts are about so much more than the ability to draw. This is why White Bear offers a wide range of art classes to the youth and adults of the community. Suzi thinks of the arts as being very broadly defined and whether it is drawing, painting, sculpting, jewelry making, textile making, wool making, classes in pottery, building a brick oven, photography, all types of clay classes, digital art, stained glass or fused glass, movement classes like ballet and tai chi, even language courses like French, Portuguese—it’s all there. They hope to expand the idea of what art is and how you can engage people in the arts.
Although White Bear Center for the Arts was started in 1968 by a small group of artists who hoped to see the arts thrive locally, White Bear began offering arts classes in the 90s when many of the art classes were cut out of the community’s elementary school curriculum. Since then, the education component has become an integral part of how the Center is working to enhance and build community.
Within the classes, Suzi believes the students and artists are gaining a sense of confidence and curiosity. And ultimately, she sees them building skills of connecting to others. “They’re learning how to go beyond their comfort zone as individuals and recognize that everybody is unique and solves problems in a unique way. There’s no place better to see that than in the arts. There might be a class where everybody is trying to make a bracelet, but no two bracelets are going to be the same when they leave the class. We celebrate those differences here and I think that can really translate into some really important life lessons.” Right alongside this notion of understanding and appreciating individual differences through art is the idea of getting to know new people in a creative environment. A center like White Bear can introduce people who aren’t all that similar and the creative circumstance can often serve a catalyst for interesting connections. “It’s delightful to see deep connections being formed here that might have never have formed in a more traditional way.” Suzi adds, “And that crosses age barriers too—you see multiple generations in classes. You see a young teenage boy getting to know an older person through a drawing class and suddenly, they’re valuing each other on a whole new level that goes beyond our preconceptions of other people.”
But why does art have the ability to bring people together? Suzi concludes, “Art is a real equalizer. If you’re coming into a class where you’re learning new skills, everybody is a little intimidated and vulnerable. We seek instructors who are particularly process-oriented, who are looking to encourage and nurture peoples’ creative side versus turning out something that’s perfect.”
As White Bear aims to build community, enhance the lives of individuals, and provide a gateway to diverse arts experiences, Suzi smiles as she describes what a joyful place the Center is. In their mission to help people live a more vibrant life, she sees the bold promise of joy yet to be discovered in tapping in one’s creative side. As one sets out to learn something new about themselves, explore ideas, and develop new skills to make something original, she shares just how important the endeavor of making is in today’s modern society. She imparts, “So many things that have given us a sense of purpose, identity, pride, or have engaged us in our innovation and creative side are being so replaced by technology or pre-manufactured items. Remember how we are, as humans, made to be makers. There’s something that’s deeply rewarding that connects us not only to our individuality, but that sense of self-sufficiency. That real sense of reward that comes along with it too. It is very empowering.”