Arts collective: Kids learn leadership and life skills - and have fun, tooWhen Patrick Weber saw a need to train kids in community involvement and leadership, he decided to do it through his favorite medium: art.
By: Tom Olsen, For the Budgeteer News
When Patrick Weber saw a need to train kids in community involvement and leadership, he decided to do it through his favorite medium: art.
Weber and wife, Leanne, started Northern Expressions Arts Collective in Duluth last year. The nonprofit company is a resurrection of the Peter Augustus Theatre Group that they previously directed in St. Paul.
“It’s basically half art, half community leader involvement,” Patrick Weber said. “We want to train the next generation of leaders.”
NEAC aims to offer learning experiences through any number of art forms. Most programs are aimed at kids between kindergarten and eighth grade, and those from low-income families are encouraged to participate.
“We really want to have arts available to everyone, even if you’re low-to-moderate income, so we try to make all of our events free or cost less than the price of a movie ticket,” Weber said. “But we never want to turn any children away, even if they don’t have $5. The most important thing is to give them the exposure and allow them to participate, regardless of finances.”
The group recently partnered with the city of Duluth to start a monthly program called “In The Park” at the Harrison Community Center in Lincoln Park. The event, held on the third Saturday of each month, teaches kids positive life skills, such as honesty and friendship, as well as health and safety tips through hands-on art projects.
At a recent event, for example, kids put paint on their hands and passed around a big balloon to illustrate the spread of germs and the need to wash hands. Other times, kids have been able to check out police-, ambulance- and fire equipment, something Weber hopes will make them more comfortable with civil servants.
“Many kids these days don’t know how to respect things around them and they take things for granted,” he said. “We work hard to build relationships. We want to teach respect — respect for yourself, respect for the place you’re at, respect for those around you.”
Duluth Parks and Recreation Manager Kathy Bergen said she liked the idea right off the bat.
“We were happy to support an effort to find some activities for kids to do out there,” Bergen said. “It would be art and there would be a learning component to it, and it’s fun recreation, so it meets all our needs to support the neighborhood.”
Weber says he hopes to expand the “In The Park” program within the next few years to other areas of Duluth, particularly Morgan Park and the Hillside neighborhoods.
But future expansion will rely largely on fundraising, something that Weber says has been a challenge so far.
“We’re trying to get support from the local businesses,” he said. “We’ve been getting some small (donations), but no one wants to support anything until it’s a little more established, so it’s a little slow going at this point.”
Bergen hopes to go on a site-by-site basis.
“After we receive some information about how it’s going (at Harrison), we’d be open to ideas of expanding out. There might be possibilities to partner with other programs already in place at other sites.”
NEAC also offers services to schools, churches, daycares and community groups.
One popular event is “Stories II Life,” where NEAC performers will adapt a children’s book of the client’s choosing into an interactive play and perform it on stage. The cost is $50 per performance.
Northern Expressions also offers improvisational fundraisers, which allow client groups to keep approximately 85 percent of the money they raise. NEAC spends two to three hours teaching six to eight members of the group the basics of improv, and then the group can put on a show to raise money.
Weber says the fledgling NEAC is always on the lookout for new partnerships and events.
“We’ve worked with the Boys and Girls Club and the Duluth Children’s Museum,” he said. “It’s always nice to find more ways to teach kids lessons they can take home and do it in a fun, creative way.”