Art for Social Change

Creativity, Belonging, and Transformation

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. 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 2020: February 4 - May 15


16 credits

Program Overview

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.


Marcus Young

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.

pronouns: he/him/his

On Teaching

Marcus says,

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.

Sarah Petersen

Term Faculty, Art for Social Change

Sarah Petersen is an artist, educator, facilitator and advocate for change. Born and raised in Minneapolis, Sarah holds an MFA from California Institute of the Arts, as well as degrees in Art (BFA) and English (BA) from the University of Minnesota. She is adjunct faculty at Minneapolis College of Art and Design since 2014, teaching in the multidisciplinary MFA, Media, and Design departments, and adjunct faculty in Environmental Studies at Hamline University, where she served several years as Resident Fellow in the Sustainability Office developing cross-disciplinary and intersectional environmental sustainability initiatives with a broad consortium of students and fellow advocates. She has been an active member of multifaceted creative communities in the Twin Cities for over two decades and in Los Angeles for ten years, with her own art practice focused on context-specific, socially engaged and interdisciplinary installation and performance work. Many of her projects focus specifically on precarity (economic, social, and otherwise systemic), as well as on the tension between accidental embodiment and chosen enactment in our daily political lives. Her practices are informed by a variety of embodiment and dance practices, a range of experiences with collectivism (through various Minneapolis co-ops and other, less formalized networked practices of creation, care, activism and celebration), and a focus on ethics, empowerment, solidarity-building, racial equity, and environmental justice. In varied arenas, her participations seek constantly to answer the broader question: “What form will caring take?”

pronouns: she or they

Sarah on teaching, learning and partnership with HECUA students.

I bring to the Art for Social Change program my ongoing investments in interdisciplinary, experiential learning and teaching, a longstanding commitment to multidisciplinary social engagement and collaboration in arts practice, and deep care for the issues and lived experiences of our time.

I believe in systems intervention, community-based learning and action research, and in the role of the arts in all of this. Whether it occurs as activist work within “art world(s),” or as artistic expressions within activist movements, enlivening the entire spectrum of creative engagement between protest and foundation-building for change will be required to manifest the world we need to transition into, and that we need to build collectively.

I believe we are all here to learn together, and from one another – to learn from the systems we’ve built, from the ones that are breaking, from the ones we want to dismantle, from the ones that are only now emerging or that we’re only beginning to understand. I believe that learning together will help us solve our greatest problems, and produce our greatest, most lasting joys.

In the twin practices of art-making and life-making, I believe everyone can harness their creative powers to make their spirits and their truth known, and that the more we know about one another, the more empathy expands our wisdom in action. The issues and crises we currently face require us to build authentic relationships across our numerous differences and divides, and to create communities of trust for practicing this difficult, rewarding work. However awkward we may feel being “beginners” in the learning process, it is the humility of approaching something for the first time that we must practice repeatedly on a personal level to prepare and become capable of acting together and in common.

Through the support and structure of the Art and Social Change program, we can take joyful and decentering risks that bring us together and open us to vital change-making.



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)

Internship 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

Website: 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

Website: 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

Website: 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 $14,200.  *unDACAmented students from Augsburg College receive a $2,100 scholarship from Augsburg.

Standard Cost

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 $500 for short-term programs). Learn more about scholarships.

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