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.
Class meets twice a week for seminar-style discussion and in-class creative workshops. Tuesday's class is held at a meditation center in Saint Paul, while Thursday's classroom locations rotate to different arts-based spaces around the Twin Cities. Students begin work at their internship placement sites during the second week of class, and can expect to spend 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 2019: February 4 - May 17; Spring 2020: February 4 - May 15
What is art for? How do our identities influence the art we make? How do we create work that examines systems of power, oppression, and liberation? Art for Social Change students seek answers to these questions in galleries, museums, street corners, and artist studios. They meet artists whose work creates spaces for healing and reconciliation, and join a growing movement of artists pushing the boundaries of what creative expression does, where it unfolds, and whose voices it amplifies. Guided by practicing artists, students create new work informed by the study of systemic oppression in the Twin Cities.
Art for Social Change meets in innovative centers for creativity and community throughout the Twin Cities. Time spent with leaders, arts organizations, and funders equip students with grant-writing techniques, professional pathways, and inspiration for building a more equitable future. All students complete an individual internship with a local arts nonprofit. Past internship sites have included Chicago Avenue Fire Arts Center, Two Rivers Gallery, Pangea World Theatre, Mia, The Loft, and GoodSpace Murals.
Staff and Faculty
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.
Program Director, Art for Social Change
Marcus Young 楊墨 is a behavioral and social practice artist making work for the stage, museums, and the public realm. He is the founding artist for Don’t You Feel It Too?—an ongoing participatory street dance practice of social healing and inner-life liberation. From 2006 to 2015, he was City Artist in St. Paul, where he helped redefine the role of the artist in government as daily collaborator. His project Everyday Poems for City Sidewalk transformed the city’s sidewalk maintenance program into a publishing entity for poetry. In his work With Nothing to Give, I Give Myself Young lived ten days around-the-clock at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts to foster the understanding that people are the great overlooked works of art. Born in Hong Kong, Young has a BA in music from Carleton College and an MFA in theater from the University of Minnesota. He is a recipient of awards from the McKnight, Bush, and Jerome Foundations, and he received the 2016 Forecast Public Art Mid-Career Grant, given to one artist a year. Recently, Young was in residence at UC Irvine and St. Olaf College, and he is currently an artist in the creative collaborations program at the Weisman Art Museum at the University of Minnesota. He is ongoing stage director for Ananya Dance Theatre, a contemporary Indian dance company working in the social justice movement. Born in Hong Kong, Young grew up mostly in the Midwest, and has been in the Twin Cities area for more than three decades.
Why is art an important practice of social change? Art is a place to dream with freedom and to make those dreams real. Art making is dream making is life making is community making. We will exercise our individual and collective imaginations to make challenging and daring art in the context of community. In our dramatically changing society it is our imaginations that help us live beautifully.
I believe your liberation is tied to my liberation, your justice is my justice. I believe my ability to understand myself deeply is connected to my ability to work joyfully and effectively in community and within broader society. I believe we are all artists.”
What I bring to the Art for Social Change program is more than a decade of practicing the connection between inside and outside, practicing the vital connection between personal awareness and social change. The cultivation of a liberated, fully present individual self is essentially connected to the hard and beautiful work of making our just, meaningful collective lives. This is particularly pertinent in a time when students face growing stresses and anxiety, and in a world that seems to be changing quickly and in great need of better civic and community involvement.
To create art in community, you need to learn how to build authentic relationships and partnerships. The opportunity to work with people and their lives, distinct from a materials-based practice or studio practice, requires empathy, clear values, and a spirit of co-creation. At its best art by this definition is not just art in community but art woven inextricably into and becoming community.
Perhaps it has always been the young people who lead the way in setting the bar of inclusivity and equity. I was in college when I first awakened to and claimed my gay identity, and right after college I found Asian American arts nonprofits in the Twin Cities the community that provided me a way to be more myself. Nowadays, whether gender identity, issues around physical access, immigrant rights, Indigenous rights, or a myriad of other worthy issues, the Art for Social Change program can encourage students to discover and speak their truth, learn the perspectives of others, and find common power in the intersections of resistance and resilience.
Teaching is part of a cycle: spending time with students is giving and receiving. Teaching is an opportunity to deepen my practice and to learn from and with the amazing young people in this program of distinctive freedom and relevance.
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.
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.
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.
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 $14,200.
*unDACAmented students from Augsburg College receive a $2,100 scholarship from Augsburg.
Students from Denison University and nonmember schools pay $15,000.
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: the 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.
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