Building connections and confidence – Darius’ story

Welcome to our Alumni Profile series. Each month we’ll catch up with at least one HECUA alumni, and see how their time in a HECUA classroom influenced their career goals, their life in the community, and their pursuit of continued education. If you or a friend would like to participate in this series, please email lohmans@hecua.org. This July we’re lucky enough to have two alumni profiles! If you missed Tenzin Kunsal’s interview, you can catch it here. Below, you’ll find our interview with intrepid Art for Social Change alum, Darius Gray. Darius completed HECUA’s Art for Social Change program in the spring of 2013, and went on to participate in the (no longer offered) Central Corridor Internship Program. Read on for what Darius is up to now.

Darius Gray first encountered HECUA as a sophomore at Augsburg College. Program Representative Lauren White came into his classroom and gave a short presentation encouraging students to spend a semester off-campus in HECUA’s Art for Social Change program (then known as City Arts). The program’s immersive and experiential format appealed to Darius, who’d felt restless with his lecture-heavy schedule. “I thought, oh! I don’t love being in the classroom, but I love the city. I like art. Maybe I’ll give this a try.”

Darius was a proactive student. He’d realized in his first year at Augsburg that in order to be successful, he needed a dynamic classroom environment. “Being in school and learning are two different things to me,” he says now. “What attracted me to HECUA was that we were able to learn from people who’ve really put their ideas and beliefs into practice.” Darius’ Art for Social Change semester was lively, packed with field trips and site visits, as well as guest lectures from field leaders. Facilitating students’ connections to change-makers and community leaders was an integral part of the curriculum, and Darius took full advantage.

Darius (far right) and classmates enjoy a field visit to Franconia Sculpture Park. 

“HECUA provided me with access to wise people in the world and in the community. That was the thing I appreciated most: the ability to connect with people.”

This crash course in authentic networking was supplemented by a 20 hour per week internship at Intermedia Arts’ Creative CityMaking project, a multi-year series of collaborations between Minneapolis City departments and highly skilled community artists. The internship made Darius’ previous Urban Studies courses come alive. “I was interacting with ideas and concepts that made so much sense to me. I saw the different facets of cities, how they are made, and how we can impact how cities are made. “

Immediately following his semester in Art for Social Change, Darius enrolled in a second HECUA-sponsored program, the Central Corridor Funders Collaborative internship program. “My work in City Arts with the Creative City Making project was the first time I was ever able to see how communities and people can shape a city,” he says. “That made me thirsty for more knowledge. When I had the opportunity to do a second internship centered around public engagement, I thought, oh yes!” Darius spent the summer at the St. Paul-based Friendly Streets initiative, assisting with a public engagement project on Pelham Ave.

That internship that led to a permanent position, as Friendly Streets’ Parklet Project lead and Community Organizer. Now a graduate, with a freshly minted B.A. in Urban Studies, with a Sociology minor, Darius splits his time between Friendly Streets, a planning internship with Metro Transit, and a job with the St. Paul Almanac Storymobile. Needless to say, he keeps busy.

Darius and friends at a Friendly Streets Initiative sponsored parklet. Photo via: friendlystreetsinitiative.org

When asked about future plans, he says that he’s keeping his options open. He’d love to live overseas, and is considering a trip to Vietnam, where he studied abroad. He would deepen his knowledge of the language, and build on networks he’s made there. For Darius, it’s all about relationship and human connection.

His parting thoughts for students considering a HECUA program? “Sometimes there are spaces where you feel hesitant to cross the door. People can be doing amazing work, but you don’t know about it, or you feel uneasy. HECUA gave me permission to reach out to people – do one to ones, make connections with anyone whose work you are interested in. HECUA gave me a sense of comfort and confidence crossing thresholds. This is a thing you can do!”

For more information about Art for Social Change, click here.

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