The Saint Paul Center for Creative Arts

by Jack Ray | Mar 24, 2013
| 22 Comments
Competition Finalist

This entry has been selected as a finalist in the
Forever Saint Paul Challenge competition.

Summary:

I wish to create the Saint Paul Center for Creative Arts. In my head I call this Penland on the River because it is modeled in part on the Penland School of Crafts in the mountains of North Carolina. The idea centers around having a group of youth studios located in close proximity that offer opportunities for Saint Paul youth, especially youth of color, to learn and practice arts and crafts at a very high level. The Center could be a collective of separate organizations or one organization with multiple divisions. It is on the River because I envision Urban Boatbuilders riverfront boatshop as the anchor tenant. The plan doesn't depend on being right on the River, but would be enhanced by being on the water.

This idea grew out of my experience as Executive Director of Urban Boatbuilders, when I realized what high quality work, youth who were struggling in regular school settings, were able to produce in the boatshop. These young people regularly build exquisite, complex wooden boats. I have grown to believe we can expect such high levels of achievement from all our youth, if we create high quality learning environments geared toward their needs and interests, instead of the needs of grownups and bureaucracies.

Next to the Boatshop might be a pottery studio, next to that a bronze and iron foundry, next to a fabric arts center, next to a robotics lab, next to a music and video studio, next to a glass studio, next to a print shop and poster collective, next to a industrial prototyping shop, next to a bicycle production facility, next to a youth run news organization, next to a clothing design and production shop. We create studios and shops when we find masterful teachers and youth workers that match groups of student's interests.

Associated with the Center would be a Youth Social/Civic Entrepreneurship Incubator that would offer youth who are discovering excellence within themselves an opportunity to apply their newly discovered capabilities to social needs.

About You

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About You

First Name

Jack

Last Name

Ray

City

Minneapolis

County

Hennepin

Country

United States, MN, Hennepin County

Website (if you have one)

Names of others who helped contribute to my idea

John Dewey, Paulo Freire, Myles Horton, Karen Pittman, Jerry Stein, Gullermo Torres, Patricia Torres Ray

How did you hear about the Forever Saint Paul Challenge?

web

About Your Organization (if applicable)

Organization Name (if applicable)

Organization Website

Organization Phone

651-266-8968

Organization Address

City

Saint Paul

Organization Country

United States, MN, Ramsey County

Your idea

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Title of your idea

The Saint Paul Center for Creative Arts

Give us the highlights of your idea for making Saint Paul great (2,000 characters maximum or approx. 250 words)

I wish to create the Saint Paul Center for Creative Arts. In my head I call this Penland on the River because it is modeled in part on the Penland School of Crafts in the mountains of North Carolina. The idea centers around having a group of youth studios located in close proximity that offer opportunities for Saint Paul youth, especially youth of color, to learn and practice arts and crafts at a very high level. The Center could be a collective of separate organizations or one organization with multiple divisions. It is on the River because I envision Urban Boatbuilders riverfront boatshop as the anchor tenant. The plan doesn't depend on being right on the River, but would be enhanced by being on the water.
This idea grew out of my experience as Executive Director of Urban Boatbuilders, when I realized what high quality work, youth who were struggling in regular school settings, were able to produce in the boatshop. These young people regularly build exquisite, complex wooden boats. I have grown to believe we can expect such high levels of achievement from all our youth, if we create high quality learning environments geared toward their needs and interests, instead of the needs of grownups and bureaucracies.
Next to the Boatshop might be a pottery studio, next to that a bronze and iron foundry, next to a fabric arts center, next to a robotics lab, next to a music and video studio, next to a glass studio, next to a print shop and poster collective, next to a industrial prototyping shop, next to a bicycle production facility, next to a youth run news organization, next to a clothing design and production shop. We create studios and shops when we find masterful teachers and youth workers that match groups of student's interests.
Associated with the Center would be a Youth Social/Civic Entrepreneurship Incubator that would offer youth who are discovering excellence within themselves an opportunity to apply their newly discovered capabilities to social needs.

Website address (if applicable)

Innovation

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What makes your idea different or unexpected? (4000 characters maximum or approx. 500 words)

The Youth Social, Civil, and Commercial Entrepreneurship Incubator associated with the Saint Paul Center for Creative Arts would allow the youth involved in the studios and shops an opportunity to extend their newly discovered capacity for excellence and creativity by applying their talents and interests to addressing community, social and economic needs. The combination of creative work with the plastic arts, with the creative work of civic entrepreneurship and service in our community, will result in the enhancement of both. Our community benefits tremendously when our youth thrive and give back to the community and society.

This combination of learning to do/make/build at a very high skill level, with a critical pedagogy approach to civic engagement and community service, is the central innovation in my proposal, but the innovation doesn't stop there. We will incorporate portfolio development and curating learning and output into all aspects of the programs. Making real things and doing real things, rather than studying about or simply learning about things, entails understanding what are the inputs of time, material, space, labor and money needed to make or do something, as well as understanding sequencing, generating interest and support, and perhaps assembling a team to execute the project. These tasks and skills are as important as the technical aspects of the doing/making/building and will be modeled, taught and performed at a high level. High expectations of effort and performance on the part of the youth and the adults involved with the program are a fundamental value of the program, and we will continually strive to build these into the culture of the Center. We will be very intentional about imparting values around persistence, quality of work, dedication, loyalty to team, and service into the program, but we will do this by modelling these qualities and infusing them into every aspect of how the Center functions, rather than try to directly teach something like "teamwork". The youth will learn teamwork by working as teams and by being immersed in a culture where collective endeavor and collective impact are part of everyday practice.

We will also incorporate "design thinking" into our approach. Youth will experience this systemic, holistic approach to understanding what needs to be accomplished, how to view the project from the perspective of all stakeholders, and how to incorporate these multiple perspectives into the design before the project moves forward. We will also expose our participants to "lean learning" modeled on lean software development principles. This is a cyclical process that begins with experimentation, followed by failing early, followed by learning quickly and then doing it again and again. This iterative process leads to rapid project development, continual innovation, and maximum return. Lets get lean with learning and doing with youth.

This collection of skills, attitudes, values and orientation form a foundation for excellence, achievement, and accomplishment. We wish to ignite these in all of our youth. Whether they wish to weave a fantastic tapestry, build a beautiful boat, eliminate childhood hunger,or buy a villa in the South of France with the profit from their shoe factory, the process of "doing with excellence" they experience at the Saint Paul Center for Creative Arts will provide a solid foundation.

We will continually avail ourselves of the rich connection between the creative, expressive impulse of the artist with the creative, generative impulse of the entrepreneur, the creative inquiry of the scientist, and the commitment to the common good of people who dream of a better, more compassionate, more sustainable world.

Impact

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This Entry is about (Issues)

How will your idea make a difference in Saint Paul? (4000 characters maximum or approx. 500 words)

Youth benefit tremendously from the richness, quality and variety of opportunities for learning, making, doing, belonging and contributing they will find at the Center. All of Saint Paul and the whole region will benefit because when our youth thrive our future unfolds breathtakingly well.

SPCCA will provide a high profile example of creating an environment where youth produce at a high level, thrive and flourish so obviously, it will encourage other youth serving agencies and organizations to re-examine their practices and see if adopting some of the principles that animate the Center can help their own practices have more impact.

Modeling excellence, doing, entrepreneurship, service design, critical thinking and lean learning will provide an example for the city.

Youth who thrive at the Center will then go on to other opportunities and will excel with those opportunities, and the institutions where they do this will be enhanced by their presence. Aspects of the culture of the Center will rub off on the broader community. As a community we need to be more intentional and more successful at creating a culture of accomplishment, literacy, continuous improvement, creativity, and entrepreneurship.

A young person’s first experience at the Center would typically be participating in a class or build project. The soft skills that are the core of what the Center is about, begin to be developed in this first experience and are reinforced at each level as a participant advances. I anticipate that some students will continue to participate in the same art area for multiple sets of classes, while developing true mastery in that particular art, craft, performance or area of concentration. Others might jump around a bit searching for their fit. In that case there will be the expectation that they demonstrate method to their process and are developing the soft skills and pursuing a line of inquiry that is taking them somewhere. All students will develop their portfolio continuously to document their journey, to consolidate and make sense out of their learning and growth, and to curate their own learning.

As a student reaches more advanced levels I imagine them taking on more ambitious projects. A large project, whether it is an art project, a theatrical production, building a big boat, or starting a manufacturing facility, requires ample resources, and students will have to seek support to acquire those resources. I see us having an internal grant process that entails students creating proposals, including budgets, timelines, staffing needs, and impact. For the art and theatrical endeavors the process will parallel what adult artists do when seeking support for an ambitious work. For students who seek to address a social mission or community need the process will parallel that of a non-profit seeking foundation support. For those young people who are drawn by a commercial interest, the process will be like starting an enterprise in the real world. It will be starting a business in the real world and those that choose this route will pursue an undiluted business development process, but one that is informed by insights from the social and civic entrepreneur sectors and vice-versa.

By tying together the creative arts and entrepreneurship with really doing and really making, we will create a place/space/culture of such vitality, stimulation, and opportunity that youth and adults will be powerfully drawn to the place. The Saint Paul Center for Creative Arts will be a dream factory, but a dream factory where we believe in making dreams into reality. Our partnerships with Learning Dreams, a steadily improving school district, the youthwork ecosystem that is already strong, our civic organizations that are already strong, and the business community, which will be delighted to encounter young people so brimming with possibility and so energized and ready to build, make, create and earn, will enable the Center to be as ambitious as we are as a community.

Sustainability

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Why do you think people will recognize or remember your idea after it comes to life? How might it inspire others to do something similar in their community? (4000 characters maximum or approx. 500 words)

This Center will be a model for how a community can offer enhanced opportunities for youth and therefore reap vast benefits for youth and the community. It will be one piece of making Saint Paul the Youth Development Capital of the World, the best place on Earth to be a young person or someone who cares about young people. The Center is just one piece in an enhanced ecosystem of education and opportunity that we will create in our community to nurture our youth and together build our city's future.

Regions are the economically competitive units of the global economy. The organization Greater MSP has the tasks of promoting our region around the world, attracting businesses and investment to come here, and also to attract "young talent" to relocate here. Young talent refers to the best prepared young people in the country. This group is highly desirable to businesses looking to attract the workforce needed to compete in the global economy. Because they are sought after, this group of young people are relatively free to move about the country. Talent recruiters tell us that today young people decide where they want to live, what sort of community they want to live in, and then move there, as opposed to finding a job and moving wherever the job is. Therefore one fundamental challenge we face as a region is to be a place that is attractive to young talent. We had better understand what these people are looking for and and do our best to make our region a magnet for young talent.

I believe that by deciding as a community that we are going to be the Youth Development Capital of the World, and following through with the persistent effort required to actually achieve that, we can grow our own young talent to the greatest extent feasible, and this in and of itself will make Saint Paul a magnet for young talent from all over the country and the world. People who want to do things are attracted to places where things are getting done. Opportunity begets opportunity and we need to be the land of youth opportunity.

If Saint Paul can be the first city to solve the challenges that urban public education faces everywhere in the country, we will stand poised to be one of the great cities of the world. Businesses can move anywhere to find competitive advantage and the one area where Saint Paul can realistically aspire to be number one on the planet, is education. It is already a great strength we enjoy. Doubling down on our commitment to education and opportunity for all is congruent with our most fundamental values as a community, and to top it off, this investment will have the most astounding ROI imaginable! Seriously, investing in high quality experiential education opportunities for youth has an ROI orders of magnitudes above investing in sports palaces. The multipliers propagate outward exponentially and the sooner we start amassing the compound interest on this investment, the more magical the return.

Our youth embody the full genius of humanity. Their environment, their home, their community should embody the full panoply of opportunity found on planet Earth. Let’s make it so.

Additonal Questions

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For your idea, what does success look like? (4000 characters, approx. 500 words)

Success for the youth looks like . . . success! Youth who are thriving are simply excited about learning and doing and you can feel the excitement in their presence. Several million years of hominid ancestry have prepared human youth to be insatiable learning and doing machines, and somehow we have created an environment for them that squelches this yearning, this compulsion to make, do, be, learn, and earn! We must fix this. Youth who are thriving are verdant, vibrant, and abidingly alive. If our youth are not usually like this, we are doing something wrong. Let's fix it.

The Center looks like . . . Well, it's a mashup of the Penland School of Crafts and The Highlander Research and Education Center, with a little of Bell Labs, Mr. Rogers Neighborhood, Google's Campus, and a pinch of Burning Man sprinkled on top. It's about art and creativity after all.

I imagine the studios, workshops, labs, and stages arrayed around a central location. This could be an atrium, a courtyard, or a plaza depending on the site. The point is for the activities of each space to be accessible to the others and for the accidental interactions between participants to add to the richness and vitality of the space/place/culture. I also want a communal space for eating, meeting, ritual and celebratory excess. This will be a place where youth and adult participants are powerfully drawn and that visitors find fascinating. So many of the activities will be visually compelling that hosting visitors has to be built in from the start. The visitors can also be customers for the arts and crafts created, but also for products the young commercial entrepreneurs dream up, as well as audiences for the performances and galleries. The Center will be a powerful draw for visitors of all sorts and will be a valuable and beloved amenity in whatever community it lands.

Imagine a bright Spring day after a long Minnesota winter. The boatshop is abuzz with activity. The large bay doors of the main shop space are open and two sleek, lapstrake Whitehalls are taking shape. An older salt (or river rat) is leaning over one of the boats teaching a young Hmong girl how to peen the head of a copper rivet, while in the background another youth is pulling a white oak rib out of a steam box and quickly placing it in the other boat while his partner fastens several clamps in place. A larger craft, too large to fit in the shop, is being restored as a community project on the river side of the boatshop and youth and adult community volunteers are swarming over it like ants!

Beyond them a crew of urban youth are pulling up to the dock in an eight position racing shell after a vigorous workout on the river. They are training for a Spring regatta where they will be competitive with youth crews from the best prep schools in the country.

On the other side of the courtyard a group of youth from the bronze foundry are preparing to cast a pair of temple bells. There is a group of Japanese exchange students working on the project and they are casting two bells, one to stay here and another to return with the students to Japan as a gesture of global solidarity. The youth in the bronze foundry raised money on Kickstarter to finance the project and young people from all over the planet sent in bronze and copper to recycle for the bell. A global effort to ring in peace.

Another group of youth are working with some wheeled vehicles. No, they are robots the students made out of a pair of donated Segways. The students used the Segway chassis as the foundation of a butler bot designed to be helpful in assisted living settings. One of the young people on the team was goofing around and taught one of the butler bots to Samba, and now the whole team is trying to program the first bot to teach the second bot how to Samba, but all the second bot will do is Cha Cha!

The final group we see is doing a dance number and it looks like something out of Glee! This place rocks!

Over the top? Maybe.Cool? Absolutely!

What are the top three things that would likely need to happen in the first year to get your idea started? (4000 characters, approx. 500 words)

(1)recruit a board of directors and an advisory board - find artists, engineers, directors, musicians,youth workers and educators etc. to participate
(2)raise additional funds
(3)flesh out the model, use a design thinking model to design the Center's process, the logic model or theory of change, the model for economic sustainability and the actual space.

(4)identify a location and build out - This can get started in a somewhat makeshift location, but better facilities will always help.

I believe there are advantages to starting with a strong mix of opportunities, which is why being the winning idea in this contest would be so helpful. It would enable the Center to actually get off the ground and demonstrate the usefulness of the model in the first year or two.

I would then thank Jerry Stein at the University of Minnesota for letting me steal so many good ideas from him. He introduced me to Penland and Highlander and his ideas about democratic learning communities are an inspiration to me. He also created Learning Dreams which is the most interesting educational adjunct I have ever seen. I would thank all of the wonderful faculty in the Youth Development Leadership program at the U. Having this institution here in Saint Paul makes me confident we can really be the Positive Youth Development Capital of the World and that this, asset based experiential education, can be one of the most useful approaches to resolving the achievement gap.

Which organizations, groups, and/or people might be involved in implementing your idea? Why do you think they would be a good fit? (4000 characters, approx. 500 words)

I have not yet decided what organization might be an appropriate host or lead for a project like this. The scale is ambitious and the successful path to realization may be to start modestly with three or four studios and grow organically from that stage. It does need a certain scale to realize the vitality and cross fertilization I envision and the Entrepreneurship Incubator needs to be part of the mix from the vary start.

Urban Boatbuilders - the model that taught me the power of building objects of beauty in teams - is an obvious partner and has officially expressed interest in participating. The scale of this endeavor is beyond what they can pursue alone however.

Saint Paul Public Schools - already making great strides and with a Superintendent in Valeria Silva that is committed to excellence and innovation.

Community Groups

Springboard for Public Arts - they get it.

Leonardo's Basement - they get it too.

Eco-Education - we must have sustainability partners, our youth know that we have to invent a sustainable model of economic activity that does not depend on unlimited resource expansion, we have to create more with less, and distribute it more equitably.

Neighborhood Development Center (NDC)- they get entrepreneurship and urban communities!

MEDA

DEED

Greater MSP

Everybody In

Center for Youth Development - Minnesota Extension - they really get it!

businesses

any organization interested in placemaking

Citizens League

professional societies

Northern Clay Center - might be a great partner for the clay studio.

Science Museum - another partner that would support our commitment to inquiry.

charter schools

Avalon School - their model of project based learning and teacher empowerment is dynamite!

Library - well, libraries rock.

Sprockets - a great beginning but needs greater scale and reach.

Minnesota Conservation Corps

Americorps/Vista

United Way

Christo Rey

LEDC

Itasca Project

most of the local and some national foundations

individual donors will be generous with the Center

Learning Dreams - a fantastic model for supporting learning across the community and for emphasizing that learning is embedded everywhere. Learning Dreams already partners with the East lake Library and has a model for enhancing access to learning for youth and adults and creating a culture of literacy, learning and accomplishment. We need to bottle Learning Dreams and sprinkle it across our community!

STEM - The Center will support STEM without explicitly setting out to do so, perhaps better than any explicit STEM supporting efforts to date.

High Tech - high tech industries will be salivating to get their hands on youth with Center experience, and will learn that supporting the Center with treasure and talent is wise and useful for the bottom line.

Minority Chambers

Minority Councils

Anyone and any organization concerned about the achievement gap or economic equity or Saint Paul's future or the fact that the Twin Cities is rated at the bottom for entrepreneurship by the Kaufman Foundation will want to be a part of this!

I would like to spearhead the effort to get the Saint Paul Center for Creative Arts up and running. I have passion and commitment to this idea and would love the opportunity to make it real.

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