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A Brighter Future: How Juxtaposition Arts in Minneapolis Invests in the Ideas, Communities, and Leaders of Tomorrow

November 10, 2016

By: Adam Erickson, Leila Tamari, F. Javier Torres

It’s not every day that we get the chance to take a road trip out to the Midwest. Last month, three of our team members (Leila Tamari, Program Officer; F. Javier Torres, Director of National Grantmaking; and Adam Erickson, Director of Communications) made the trek westward to visit three ArtPlace funded projects in-person. After checking out Lake Street Arts! in Minneapolis, Minnesota, we set off for Juxtaposition Arts in North Minneapolis, just three miles away.

Juxtaposition Arts (JXTA) is a community-rooted art and design center with a commitment to economic justice. Located in a neighborhood with the highest youth population in the state, JXTA employs youth and adult artists and designers in its Community Design Studio. The organization (which began its work in 1995 and received funding from ArtPlace in 2014) is on its way to becoming one of the largest employers of youth in the city.

The key to Juxtaposition Arts’ success is their ability to meaningfully invest in the lives of youth in their community. As we reflected on our visit, Leila pointed out that one of JXTA’s most impressive organizational values is their commitment to workforce development. Not only are they telling the young people in their neighborhood that their ideas and talents have value, Juxtaposition Arts actively works to provide them with professional training.

Participating youth get the opportunity to design apparel, do graphic design work for clients in the region, and even create large-scale projects like murals and other works of public art. Most importantly, everyone who participates gets paid $10 per hour for their work.

“Understanding the workforce development that needs to accompany any entrepreneurial program is imperative for folks to have the skills to understand an industry, navigate it, and be successful long-term,” Javier said as we talked after the site visit.

“It’s not just providing training for young people,” Adam added, “They’re working on real projects and it’s phenomenal. Participants touch every part of the process from the original concept to the actual retail sale of the products. They get a full sense of the scope and they get to actually work with experts and designers and artists as they make that work. It’s not just your typical youth program.”

The work that Juxtaposition Arts does is aspirational, comprehensive and intensive, no doubt. But one of our biggest takeaways from this visit was how realistic they are in their approach.

After receiving support from ArtPlace in 2014, JXTA was able to remodel one of their studios specifically to serve young people working on industrial design projects with wood and metal. 

During our site visit, we were lucky enough to tour that studio and see for ourselves the extraordinary effort put into the space. We are proud to have been able to support this small part of JXTA’s remarkable enterprise.

“I was impressed with the way their design aesthetic for the spaces where young people work matches the values they espouse about finding an asset or seeing value in everything that they have,” Javier pointed out. “They don’t feel the need to develop high gloss spaces, but instead focus on making sure that the right tools are there so they’re developing high quality products and a high quality experience for young people.”

That dedication to a grounded, strategic approach extends to JXTA’s future plans. During our visit, we spoke to DeAnna Cummings, CEO and co-founder of JXTA, who told us that the organization wants to work on improving its business model to increase its return on investment and build greater youth business capacity.

As the three of us chatted after the visit, we thought about what role ArtPlace can play as a connector for Juxtaposition Arts and how we can help them develop partnerships with other entities. We also took some time to discuss the complexity of managing personal artistic practice and administration of an organization for great leaders like Deanna and Roger. There are a broad set of challenges that need to be maneuvered to scale an impactful organization while maintaining visibility and recognition of the high-quality artistic works developed in their individual artistic lives including funding, branding, professional development, and finding time for reflection and inspiration.

We didn’t have the time to answer all of these questions during our visit, and, this much is clear: the time is right for JXTA to grow. We look forward to witnessing to their continued success and cheering them on as admirers of their work.