Alumni Profile

Krista Pearson, Art for Social Change

HECUA alumna Krista Pearson sits at her desk at Mia, holding a book called the Colored Pencil

Krista Pearson, Art for Social Change alumna. Photo courtesy of Mia/Krista Pearson. 

Welcome to HECUA’s Alumni Profile series. Each month we’ll catch up with a 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 This month we’re delighted to feature Krista Pearson. Krista is a graduate of Augsburg College, and completed HECUA’s City Arts program (now the Art for Social Change program) in 1992.

Krista Pearson enrolled in HECUA’s City Arts program (now Art for Social Change) as a junior at Augsburg College. An undeclared major at the time, her interests ranged widely. She remembers hunting for an academic experience that could accommodate the breadth of her interests.

Krista happened upon the City Arts course description by chance. “I was lying on the floor of my room, watching Northern Exposure, and looking at the darn catalogues as a sophomore, thinking, ‘I don’t know!’” She was interested in education, but also passionate about art. She wanted to learn more about sociology, but that seemed too narrow. When she found HECUA’s programs listed in her course catalog, something clicked. “I thought – this is it! The City Arts experience was the intersection of the hopeful artist and the administrator. It really fit.”

HECUA’s emphasis on experiential, hands-on education made intuitive sense to Krista, and the program’s interdisciplinary focus encouraged her to draw connections between her wide-ranging interests. In 1992 the City Arts program was taught by Sal Salerno, a sociologist and cultural historian of labor movements. Students in Salerno’s classroom roamed the city, meeting and collaborating with Minneapolis-based artists like printmaker and illustrator Ricardo Levins-Morales, poet Louis Alemayehu, and mosaic artist Rafala Green. These weren’t just classroom lectures: City Arts students assisted Green with the completion of the tiled benches and gates that are an instantly recognizable feature of the urban landscape in Minneapolis’ Phillips neighborhood.

“I remember those people,” Krista says. “I don’t remember most of the books I read in college, but I remember nearly every artist we met. That’s something.”

Over the course of the program, Krista herself became an artist-mentor. A supported internship with a small nonprofit called Shooting Back put her at the front of the classroom, teaching fourth and fifth graders from the Phillips neighborhood how to make black and white photos.  After Krista’s semester-long internship concluded, Shooting Back hired her on as an employee. She returned to the Augsburg campus in the fall with solid experience as a teaching artist and a new interest in Urban Studies.

“I would never have thought of Urban Studies as a major before that program,” she tells us, “but I ended up graduating with an Urban Studies major and a double minor in Studio Arts and American Indian studies.”

After graduating from Augsburg, Krista held a number of part-time jobs to support her work as an artist. Through HECUA City Arts classmate Julian McFaul she connected with her now-husband, the puppeteer Mark Safford. Mark invited her to work on a public performance piece celebrating death and rebirth designed by theater student Alison Heimstead. That collaboration grew into the Barebones Halloween Outdoor Puppet Extravaganza, an annual event that today draws crowds upwards of 6,000 people to St. Paul’s Hidden Falls Regional Park.

“I worked piecemeal on projects like that, which sustained me between part-time work at shoe store and grocery stores. Working to make your art possible – that’s important to do.” She laughs. “My parents were not going to finance my painting career. But they supported me enough to keep me from getting stuck in work I did not love.”

Part-time jobs gave her freedom to explore and grow, and gradually Krista found herself moving into administrative roles in arts organizations. She managed ArtScraps, an art supply reuse center in St. Paul. With her friend Sara, another HECUA alumna, she drove ArtScrap’s big yellow bus, the Scrapmobile, throughout the Twin Cities, staging impromptu workshops and art classes for kids. After a few years on the bus, she took a job with Logan Park coordinating arts and culture programming. Connections she made there led to a part-time position with the MIA (now Mia) in 2001, coordinating the Art in the Park program.

Krista has been at Mia ever since; today she’s the Manager of Community Arts. Her work includes a portfolio of community outreach and engagement projects, including Mia’s new (since 2010) artist in residency program.  The day after our interview, she met with the artist Aliza Nisenbaum, who began her residency at Mia. Krista’s excited about Mia’s increased focus on community and civic engagement.

Krista with a community-constructed bicycle float, built for for the 2015 MayDay Parade in 2015, inspired by Mia’s Chihuly Sunburst sculpture. Photo credit: Matthew Tyler Ramírez.

“Museum sustainability probably means a pretty big shift,” she explains. “If we’re really looking at the future, what will it look like? If we’re looking at being a place for civic engagement, who should be involved in this process? What does this process look like? Can we have spaces that are open to what our community needs? It feels like now our strategic plan matches the idea that we are a resource, and we shouldn’t take this lightly.”

“This should be your place,” she says, gesturing to the museum galleries that surround the café where we sit, “and you should know that.”

Krista’s HECUA story came back full circle last year, when she supervised her first HECUA intern, an Art for Social Change student named Frederica (Freddie) Simmons. Freddie’s a rising senior at the University of Minnesota, pursuing an Art History degree. She spent the semester working with Krista and her colleague Witt Siasoco.

Krista has this to say of the value of a HECUA intern: “HECUA provides a framework [for work at internships]. I know that Freddie is processing experiences here with her HECUA cohort. That’s deep learning. She gets it.”

And the value of her own experience? It’s all about the people, the connections, the paths it opened up. “I draw on and am influenced now by what I learned and who I met in City Arts. I wouldn’t have my job,” she says. “This experience was so much part of the fabric of my life. There’s just no doubt.”

More information about the Art for Social Change program (City Arts’ current iteration) can be found here.

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