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Arts center for youth helps students turn artistic passions into paychecks

Posted at 8:46 AM, Sep 10, 2021

MINNEAPOLIS, Mn. — If you love what you do, you'll never work a day in your life. Juxtaposition Arts, located in North Minneapolis, is taking that to heart and turning it into a lesson most students won't learn in school.

The nonprofit youth arts center is one of few Black-owned and operated centers in the entire city, and it is making sure youth of color can get a quality education in what they love to do.

For Preston Dorsett, his love is building furniture.

“I want to be making things with my hands,” he said. “Building, that word is really important to what I see for my future.”

Dorsett came to Juxtaposition Arts when he was 18 years old. He knew he wanted a career in something creative, but he didn’t know how to build that path to success. Juxta helped him start his own custom furniture business.

“It's such an important type of gratification and pride to make something and then look at it and use it and see other people use it,” Dorsett said.

Dorsett said he was unsure of what he wanted to do after high school. He watched his brother attend college and saw it wouldn’t be the best fit for him.

“I knew I didn't want to go to college, and part of that was a money aspect, you know, a fear of debt, a fear of sort of becoming concrete in what major I choose and things like that. I've been able to be liberated from that front, too, and actually make some money,” said Dorsett.

This creative hub gives students the chance to take classes in drawing, pottery, textile work, street art, and graphic design. Students as young as 14 can enroll.

“It’s really important for young people to see that artistic ability looks so many different ways and that you don't have to get pigeonholed into it as a hobby,” said Gabrielle Grier, the managing director of Juxtaposition Arts. “You can actually create a livable and equitable way of being both artist and human in the world, and that's what I'm hoping to continue to be able to set an example of.”

Grier is driven to help every student turn their art into a business. This support is especially encouraging to students of color who grew up in this community.

“It is essential to be able to say that your race, your identity, your zip code is not a factor in your in your ability to experience quality education,” said Grier.

Once the students take an introductory class, they can apply to an apprenticeship. The apprenticeships range in focus, but they offer paths from environmental design and urban planning to textiles to ceramic art.

Then mentors like Kaleb Williams help the apprentices learn how to make money and build a business with those skills.

“It's exciting, really, just to get to see these young Black kids really get to show like their talent and their capabilities and their intelligence, but not in a traditional educational setting, which I think to some degree can, it strips a lot of individuality and uniqueness away from young people,” said Williams, the program director at Juxtaposition Arts.

All of this opportunity comes without the typical burden tied to higher education.

“Everything is free,” said Williams. “Our apprentices get paid, whether that be through any internship that they have, any work that they do, client work. We kind of like to operate on the model that, ‘Don't do something for free if you're good at it.’”

Living by those words helped Dorsett support himself enough to move out on his own.

“I was able to show in a small gallery just this past month, and what I'm most excited is to see those go into people's homes and for those to be used. That's how I think I'll measure my legacy is how much and how well loved the things I create are,” he said.

Juxta has helped so many young people that now, the neighborhood is now helping it grow, too.

Juxtaposition Arts will soon take up half a block.

“A big bulk of it is community. Thousands and thousands of people donated money to make this possible,” said Grier.

This new $14 million center will help dozens of more students find their purpose in a non-traditional way.

“To think of the things that we'll be able to do, I think is really exciting, you know, because we've accomplished a lot without too much,” said Dorsett.

Now is a more important time than ever to invest.

“We're at stake of losing young people's souls and the spirit of who they are in the world. Life is so much more than academic rigor, is so much more than just having a standard career,” said Grier.

“We're really there to gain momentum, set a foundation, but once that foundation set and you build that trampoline on it, you can spring off and go as high as you need to go,” said Williams.

This space to create is the foundation to build a world only dreamers can see.

“I think once we find community, a big door opens,” said Dorsett.

“We're one of three Black-owned organizations, and to be able to do this for our city is just phenomenal and is what should be happening. I'm excited,” said Grier.

If you’d like to attend the groundbreaking for Juxtaposition Arts’ new center, it will be on September 17, 2021. You can find more information on the programs if offers HERE.