Art for Social Change

Intersections of Art, Identity, and Advocacy

Explore how neighborhoods make artists and how artists shape neighborhoods. Investigate and create art that shapes and inspires critical connections across identities.

Program Structure

Class meets twice a week for seminar-style discussion and in-class creative workshops. Students begin work at their internship placement sites during the second week of class, and can expect to send 15-20 hours per week at their site.

Topics & Themes

Public art, creative community engagement, art and equity, increasing access and deepening connections using the arts.


Pillsbury House + Theatre, Minneapolis, MN

Terms & Dates

Spring 2018: January 31-May 11; Spring 2019: February 4 - May 17.


16 credits

Staff and Faculty

Molly Van Avery

Program Co-Director, Art for Social Change

Molly Van Avery is a strong believer in the transformative power of creative expression. With roots in queer performance art, Molly’s artistic practice is currently focused on embedding art into the geography of neighborhoods. She runs Poetry for People and designs projects that weave poetry in delightful, challenging, and intimate ways into people’s daily lives. Her most recent project, this house is not for sale, utilizes the realty sign as both a symbol for the themes of the project and as a structure for displaying art. The project brings together homeowners who purchased a previously foreclosed home with the assistance of the City of Lakes Community Land Trust and a poet and visual artist to think about what it means to acknowledge a home’s history and make a life in the wake of someone else’s loss. Molly can also be found riding her moving writer’s studio, the Poetry Mobile, around her neighborhood to write customized poems for people or deliver poems to people’s front doors. She recently received an MRAC Next Step grant to build a backyard Poetry Shop where people can come to get a personalized poem year round. Molly is also deeply inspired by her position at Pillsbury House + Theatre where she is the Artist and Community Coordinator. She directed the Naked Stages Jerome fellowship for emerging performance artists for many years, and currently administers the Art Block Program where artists in the neighborhoods surrounding Pillsbury House Theatre use their artistic practice to develop or strengthen their relationships with their neighbors. Molly holds an undergraduate degree in Social Ecology from Goddard and an MFA in Creative Writing from Hamline University.

On teaching

“I think of myself more as a facilitator of students’ creative process and their own unfolding than a teacher who imparts information or expertise. I feel like I am successful when students leave their semester with HECUA feeling like they have learned how they learn, what they love, and the kind of support they need to thrive. I also hope that HECUA alums learn that there is never an end to asking questions. Artists live in the unknowns and make work from a space of profound questioning. Activists do the same. Both are charged with the task of reimagining the world and forging the tools to shape their individual or collective visions into reality. Over my many years of teaching with HECUA, I love seeing the anger that gets triggered when students dive deeper in their learning about structural and institutional forms of oppression, the passion that is released when students add their energy to community efforts already underway to create new systems, and the joy of waking up to the fact that they want to play an active role in their own learning. I see a HECUA semester as a critical point in a person’s development where they use a combination of courage and social/political awareness and inspiration to put theory into practice. I am honored to create a vibrant, dynamic learning community where we can all push our learning edges and explore the boundaries of our potential.”


Art for Social Change: Intersections of Art, Identity, and Advocacy

Mike Hoyt

Program Co-Director, Art for Social Change

Michael Hoyt received his BFA from the Minneapolis College of Art and Design in 1994 and currently resides in Minneapolis, where he is an independent artist and an arts administrator. For over twenty years Hoyt has been producing, managing, and directing arts-based community development projects and youth development programs, while making art in and with his South Minneapolis community. Although his formal training is in painting and drawing, his work has evolved to take the form of interactive sculptural installations and situations in which public participation is a key component. Creating and facilitating unique shared experiences that connect diverse and often nontraditional art audiences drive his art practice.

Hoyt’s work has been exhibited locally and abroad at the Seoul Olympic Museum of Art, Arts At Marks Garage in Honolulu, University of Hawai‘i Art Gallery, Asian Arts Initiative, Pillsbury House + Theatre, Soap Factory, Soo Visual Arts Center, Intermedia Arts, Franconia Sculp­ture Park, Art Shanty Projects, and the Walker Art Center. He has received awards from the Minnesota State Arts Board, a Northern Art(ists) on the Verge Fellowship, a Jerome Visual Artist Fellowship, and a McKnight Visual Artist Fellowship. Hoyt’s artist residencies include the Asian Arts Initiative in Philadelphia PA, the Intersections Visiting Artist and Scholar Program at the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa, the Visiting Artist Exhibition Program at Roanoke College, the Blacklock Nature Sanctuary, and Kulture Klub Collaborative.


Art for Social Change: Intersections of Art, Identity, and Advocacy

Emily Seru

Director of US Programs and Community Engagement

Emily Seru is a seasoned experiential education facilitator, community programs innovator, and internship guide in the Twin Cities social justice community. She actively listens and learns from HECUA’s community partners, students, and faculty members to draw out connections and possibilities for shared learning, growth, and work. In addition to leading the internship coursework and partnerships for HECUA’s Twin Cities programs, she has led three distinct grant funded programs that engaged students in project-based work to support local grassroots initiatives: The Graduate Fellowship in Philanthropy and Human Rights, the Partners Internship Program, and the Central Corridor Internship Program. Emily earned her BA in English with a minor in History from Lewis and Clark College and is currently pursuing her MS in Experiential Education at Minnesota State University. Her previous work included fundraising, grants management, volunteer cheerleading, and community outreach for the the Headwaters Foundation for Justice and Milkweed Editions, and years of buying and selling books.  Emily is a longtime resident and community leader in the Frogtown neighborhood of Saint Paul where she lives and plays with her husband, son, dog, cat, and the occasional mouse.


Inequality in America: Policy, Community, and the Politics of Empowerment

Environmental Sustainability: Ecology, Policy, and Social Transformation

Art for Social Change: Intersections of Art, Identity, and Advocacy


Art and Culture in Political, Social, and Historical Context (4 credits)

In this course, students combine new learning from field speakers, books, articles, guest speakers, and field trips to gain a deeper understanding of the need for and approach to effective community-based artistic engagement. They participate in or facilitate engaged conversations with their peers to grapple with the themes of the course and have the chance to create artistic projects that help students integrate new learning and awareness.

Arts Praxis: Social Justice Theory and Practice in the Field (4 credits)

The goal of this course is to immerse students in the creative community in the Twin Cities. Students learn more about who they are, what social justice issues they are passionate about, and how they want to address those issues as an artist or arts advocate. Each student works with professional artists who mentor them through creative projects that allow them to interact with the communities surrounding Pillsbury House + Theatre.

Internship and Integration seminar (8 credits, two courses)

The internship is concentrated practice, and facilitates student learning on many levels. Students integrate and refine their theoretical understanding, build and develop skills, gain a greater understanding of methods of social change, and grow in their understanding of vocation. The program deliberately integrates these experiences with themes and experiences from the other courses in the program. Students work a minimum of 200 hours at their placement, approximately 20 hours each week for the duration of the program.

Integration Seminar
This seminar integrates theoretical and experiential work in the other seminars of the program with internship work, and provides further theoretical frameworks for making meaning from the internship experiences. Students analyze the operation of organizations, learn how, when, and why organizations collaborate, and explore the perspectives that internship organizations and staff bring to individual and societal change. Assignments ask students to articulate and assess worldviews on social change and movement­building, including their own, those in texts discussed in the classroom, those expressed by field speakers who visit the program, and staff at their internship sites. Through guided examination of the assumptions they bring to interactions with practitioners and communities, students see how those varying worldviews play out within organizations and in processes of social change. Finally, students reflect on the impacts their classroom training and lived experiences have in real-world work and community environments, and articulate plans for their future engagement.

Complete Syllabus


Below are details of a few recently completed internships and projects. Note that internship sites can change semester to semester in response to the needs of local organizations, and when possible, in response to the specific interests of students in the program.

Internship sites are either community partners with Pillsbury House + Theatre or work directly on social justice issues as an arts organization. Students will get to know the work of their internship site and design and complete a project with the staff of that organization.

Chicago Fire Arts Center


CAFAC is located just down the street from Pillsbury House + Theatre. Local artists, community members, and local representatives who saw an arts space as a cornerstone of revitalization for the block founded the organization. HECUA students interning here learned many technical skills including welding and fabrication. They also curated a gallery show, wrote grants and social media copy, worked with local artists on the SEED project – a public art installation in North Minneapolis – and helped plan community events at CAFAC.

Open Eye Figure Theatre


Open Eye Figure Theatre is a locally and nationally recognized hub for experimental works of theater. A recent HECUA intern worked primarily with the Driveway Tour Program at Open Eye, learning about puppet design and craftsmanship and refurbishing many of the puppets for the summer shows. Students also have the opportunity to help build the sets for the main stage productions and prepare for the May fundraiser.

Pangea World Theatre


HECUA students at Pangea have participated in many Pangea events and community discussions related to social justice, art, and identity. Students take on individual projects related to database management, designing promotional flyers and other promotional materials, and helped out at many events throughout the semester. A large focus of the Pangea internship is on building and sustaining relationships, so interns became accustomed to treating every day conversations with other staff and community members as an integral part of their work and learning.

Washburn High School Black Box

HECUA interns at Washburn work with three acting classes at Washburn High School. The Black Box acting program is modeled after Jan Mandel’s Central Touring Theater in Saint Paul rooted in the work of Augusto Boal’s Theatre of the Oppressed. Crystal Spring, the Washburn supervisor, trained with Jan for years before starting her own program. HECUA interns help youth create and practice their own work.

Program Costs

Fee Breakdown:

All USA semester-long programs are based in Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota. USA semester program fees include tuition, nearly all reading materials, some field visits (including meals while traveling), and tickets to events and opportunities associated with the program.

Complete information regarding program costs and fee breakdowns can be found here.

Group A schools

Students from the University of Minnesota pay $8,900.

Group B schools

Students from all member* and affiliate member schools except Denison University, and the University of Minnesota pay $13,500. 

*unDACAmented students from Augsburg College receive a $2,100 scholarship from Augsburg, bringing their total semester cost to $15,775 to participate in one of HECUA’s Twin Cities programs.

Group C schools

Students from Denison University and nonmember schools pay $14,300.

Although a HECUA member, Denison has opted to apply its member discount to a grant program dedicated to assisting low-income Denison students who wish to participate in a HECUA program.


HECUA distributes three scholarships to students from consortium member schools: Scholarship for Racial Justice (up to $4,000); the Scholarship for Social Justice (up to $1,500); and the Scholarship for Community Engagement (up to $750 for semester-long programs, and $350 for short-term programs). Learn more about scholarships.

Good to know

This program is taught in partnership with Pillsbury House + Theatre (PH+T), where Molly Van Avery is Artist and Community Coordinator and Mike Hoyt is the Creative Community Liaison. Other artists and community organizers associated with PH+T will also be teachers in the program, including choreographer and public artist Pramila Vasudevan, and Wing Young Huie, a celebrated photographer. In addition, students will work with and learn from many of the artists involved in the “Arts on Chicago” initiatives that pull together creative assets in communities along ten blocks of Chicago Avenue, building and supporting a vibrant arts and cultural district.

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