Creating Connection at Voices Together: The St. Louis Park Unity Sing

Two years ago, Wat Promwachirayan (Wat Thai of MN), a Buddhist temple and Southeast Asian Cultural Center, found their new home in St. Louis Park, in the former Lutheran Church of the Reformation along Highway 100, right across from Beth El Synagogue and Benilde-St. Margaret’s School. This year, we invited Wat Thai to be a part of the St. Louis Park Unity Sing, and they opened their doors to us. On May 20, more than 100 community members from Wat Thai, Beth El Synagogue, Westwood Lutheran Church, Benilde-St. Margaret’s, and all around St. Louis Park gathered for Voices Together: The St. Louis Park Unity Sing at Wat Promwachirayan.

Choirs from Westwood and Beth El each shared a piece of music they would typically sing in a worship service, and Andrew Paulson, Director of Music Ministries at Westwood, and Beth El’s Rabbi Davis spoke about how singing is a part of their faith, community, and culture. The two choirs then came together to sing in Hebrew, under the direction of Beth El choir director Bill Torodor.

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While singing is not a part of Buddhist worship at Wat Thai, chanting is used as a way to prepare the body and mind for meditation. Monks and volunteers shared a traditional Buddhist chant in the Pali language—for many in attendance, this was a first-time experience.

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Our final group to share their singing were the Benilde-St. Margaret’s Red Knotes a cappella group. They sang two arrangements of pop songs, and shared how for many of their members, the Red Knotes has become more than a place to sing, and is a tight-knit community of friends, there to lift each other up.

Throughout these fabulous performances, Friends of the Arts executive director, Jamie Marshall, led the entire group in community singing from the Justice Choir Songbook—songs with messages of hope, love, and unity. And while this event is about bringing neighbors from all kinds of backgrounds and communities together to sing, its true purpose is about creating connection with each other. We shared what is sacred to ourselves, and were invited into what is sacred to others. We brought our voices together, and we shared food, drink, and laughter. Most of all, we connected with our neighbors in the St. Louis Park community.

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Creativity in Community: An Evening with Local Artists

This month, we partnered with the Community Education Advisory Council for a conversation with four local artists about the creative process and the role of creativity in community. Artists Mari Harris, Xiaojie Liu, Stacia Goodman, and Dan Israel (pictured below left to right) each shared stories of how they came to be artists, how they approach their work, and how art helps us to connect.

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As Mari Harris put it, it’s really all about getting up in the morning and doing what needs to be done. And while her charm is undeniable and her joy contagious, Mari shared that there’s no magic touch—you have to show up and put in the work. Mari’s energy and singing inspired the Rec Center Banquet Room that evening, as it does for audiences when and wherever she performs. Her big dream? To be the one you call when someone’s spirit needs lifting.

Stacia Goodman is a self-trained mosaic artist whose work you may have seen in the atrium of the SLP Rec Center or at Terminal 2 at MSP Airport. Stacia finds creative inspiration in everyday objects and in patterns she finds throughout her day, like the carpeted floor she joked might be a distraction to our discussion. She brings found and upcycled objects into many of her artworks as a way for people to find connections to the spaces around them.

While Stacia works primarily with large-scale installations in public and commercial spaces, Xiaojie Liu, a recent MFA graduate from the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, works at a smaller scale as an illustrator. Xiaojie shared that she comes from an ethnic minority in her home country of China, and experienced quite a culture shock when she came to live in Minnesota. As a result, a lot of her personal work is inspired by memories of home and being between two cultures. Recently, she was commissioned to illustrate the fairy tale Sleeping Beauty, which is set to be published this year.

Dan Israel, a singer-songwriter born and raised in St. Louis Park, just released his 14th album last year. Over the years, Dan’s songwriting process has changed and evolved from recording lyric and melody ideas on cassette recorders to digital ones. And though he’s told himself many times that the next album will be his last, the music just keeps on coming. Dan recently left a full-time job he worked for a few decades to put more time and energy into his music and personal life, and his newest album, You’re Free, chronicles that experience. While his songs tend to be autobiographical, his hope is that there’s enough space in his music for every listener to connect to it in their own way.

Thanks again to everyone who came out to support and hear from these artists, and to the St. Louis Park Community Education Advisory Council for inviting Friends of the Arts to partner on their Heart of the Matter Community Discussion series. To learn more about these artists and see more of their work, you can visit their websites:
Mari Harris, Xiaojie Liu, Stacia Goodman, Dan Israel

Meet Local Artist Jeanne Aaron

Jeanne Aaron is a longtime St. Louis Park resident and artist who was born and raised in Chicago. Before finding her way to Minnesota, Jeanne studied at The Art Institute of Chicago, earned her B.F.A. from the University of Illinois, and M.F.A. from UCLA. She has worked in Los Angeles as an animator, exhibited her drawings and sculptures in galleries and museums in Chicago and San Francisco, and has been teaching and creating arts curriculum for over twenty years.

These days, Jeanne is offering her expertise and wisdom to the community by way of a series of drawing classes called The Natural Way to Draw, offered through St. Louis Park Community Education. Despite currently working primarily with paint and clay in her own practice, Jeanne teaches drawing because she believes it is the foundation of all visual art forms, and essential to designing anything at all.

I sat with Jeanne at a coffee shop and asked her to talk more about the benefits of learning to draw. She pulled my coffee mug to the center of the table and started pointing out the shadows. The one I saw was the obvious one, shaped like a stretched out coffee mug across the table—but she went on to point out shadows I hadn’t noticed: the darkest shadow where the curve of the mug met the table, the shadows on the mug itself inside the loop of the handle. “You start to perceive things in a new way and see new details,” she told me. Jeanne’s classes don’t just teach you to draw, they teach you to see.

The Natural Way to Draw is designed in three sequential classes, each with seven two-hour weekly sessions. The first class, taught in the fall, breaks down the elements of drawing one at a time, teaching about lines and proportions. The second class, taught in the winter, focuses on shading and modeling. In this class, you begin to work with volume, drawing in three dimensions and exploring shadows and negative space, like she pointed out on my coffee mug. Her third class, taught in the spring, brings color into the mix, and explores different materials like chalk and oil pastels and watercolor.

Registration is currently open for Jeanne’s third class in the sequence. Though designed to be taken sequentially, this class is open to all who come with an open mind, regardless of prior drawing or art experience. Classes are taught in the Art Room at the Lenox Community Center on Wednesday evenings from May 15 - June 19. Registration is $62 (less than $9/class) + materials costs.

If you’re interested in taking Jeanne’s first class in her sequence in the fall, but registration and materials costs are prohibitive, consider applying for an Arts for Life Scholarship. Deadline to apply is June 5. Click here to learn more about the scholarships and to apply online.

To learn more about Jeanne and see more of her artwork, visit www.jeanneaaron.com.

Building Community through Poetry in Many Languages

Readers from age 8 to 94 shared their poetry in English, Spanish, Norwegian, and Portuguese.

On Tuesday night, April 2nd, around 40 neighbors come out to Yum!, a local woman-owned restaurant and bakery, for an open mic poetry reading with the theme Poetry in Many Languages. As has become the norm for Friends of the Arts in the past year or so, we had the back room all to ourselves, and we provided pizzas, cupcakes, and snacks for all in attendance.

Our hosts for the evening were SLP Community Poet and many-time poetry jam host, Diane Pecoraro, and Rigoberto “Rigo” Castro Velasquez, a TV program host and student of Diane’s at the English as a Second Language (ESL) class in St. Louis Park. They came up with the idea of inviting poetry in all different languages as a way to welcome others in the class and community who may, like Rigo, write poetry, but not in English.

We were delighted to have five poets read in languages besides English, including Norwegian, Portuguese, two native Spanish speakers, and a Spanish learner. Additionally, a reader whose mother grew up in Poland chose a poem by her mother’s favorite Polish poet and read an English translation. Getting creative with the theme, we also had two readers who shared poems they wrote about computers and technology, and how that is a language in and of itself. Another reader wrote a poetic reflection about writing a resume after not having needed one for decades, and the challenge of learning the necessary jargon to do so.

We were excited to welcome our youngest ever reader at an SLP Poetry Jam at age 8, who shared a few poems with support from his mom and older sister, each of whom also read. Not only is writing poetry a great family activity, it is a lifelong one—we enjoyed a few poems written by a young woman of 94 years!

We look forward to more opportunities to hear your poetry and to connect with our neighbors at another reading sometime soon! In the meantime, check the events page for more ways to get involved.

Artist-Designed Utility Boxes

Roots & Shoots Club’s Earth Day Contest

A group of St. Louis Park high school students from the Roots & Shoots club put on an art contest for utility box wrap designs in an effort to raise awareness of climate change. The group of students worked with iMatter and the City of St. Louis Park to have the winning design installed on a utility box on Earth Day in 2017. The winning image was a photo taken by Nathaniel Sturzl. Other submissions were received from Emma Kempf and Yonah Davis. Their submissions and comments about their artwork are below.

If you’re interested in having your artwork wrapped on a utility box, or putting together a contest or a project, you can learn more on our Opportunities page, or contact us to partner.

Nathaniel Sturzl

Shown in color as well as black and white is part of Vatnajökull glacier from the south of Iceland and the largest in the country. "It's like a skeleton decomposing, just like the glaciers are decomposing and meting away."

Emma Kempf

"I do not want to lose the environmental diversity of our planet to climate change. The natural landscape on Earth is varied and unique. Wherever you go, there is something different in the scenery, and climate change threatens the existence of land forms and species that make Earth a dynamic place."

Yonah Davis

"The environment is what keeps mankind alive so it means a lot to me. Beyond ensuring our survival and fulfilling our basic needs such as food and materials for shelter, the environment is a source of pleasure and wonderment for me. I enjoy walking outside and feeling a cool breeze or watching the sun set while having a summer picnic. The environment is also a constant source of inspiration for me whether in the form of raindrops, rock formations, sun sets and more. This is why I choose to submit my photography. I wanted to share how I view the environment. Two of my photos have a more macro perspective which signifies how important the small details and small organisms are to the survival of humans and longevity of the environment. My third photo has a larger perspective which reminds me to look at the bigger picture and the environment as a whole. The photos also capture important components of the environment such the sun and water."

Art in Nature at City Art Lab

City Art Lab with Denise Tennen: Adventures in Sculpture at the Westwood Hills Nature Center

Local artist Denise Tennen led a team of St. Louis Park residents in a series of City Art Lab sculpture classes at the beautiful Westwood Hills Nature Center, tucked away in the northwest corner of St. Louis Park. Participants in the class explored making sculptures using clay and natural materials, and creatively placing their artwork out in nature to be discovered by unsuspecting passersby.

City Art Lab students aren't the only ones who take creative inspiration from the nature center. Local artist Chelsey Bahe is a Westwood Hills Nature Center regular, who uses fallen materials to create mosaics all around the park. Chelsey has collaborated with SLP SEEDS at their Earth Day celebration and with Fresh Thyme at their St. Louis Park Grand Opening to show others how to get crafty with natural materials.

The Westwood Hills Nature Center is located at 8300 W. Franklin Ave, St. Louis Park, 55426. Trails are open year-round from sunrise to sunset. Be sure to visit the nature center to discover art in unusual places, or even create your own for others to enjoy.

St. Louis Park Unity Sing

Singing for justice in St. Louis Park

Last month, singers from different corners of the community came together at the ROC to sing for justice at the St. Louis Park Unity Sing. Choirs from Westwood Lutheran Church, Beth El Synagogue, Benilde-St. Margaret's High School, and the Chai-light Senior Chorus each performed a few selections to showcase what singing is like in their community. Westwood and Beth El shared the stage and sang together in Hebrew, an initiative that began during Westwood Lutheran's "My Neighbor is Jewish" Lenten services this year. Singing comes in many styles and for many purposes in St. Louis Park, and we were proud to share that with each other.

We all joined together in song with repertoire from the Justice Choir songbook, under the direction of David Hurst, Grammy-nominated gospel artist and artistic director of the Twin Cities Community Gospel Choir. Our St. Louis Park community is committed to social justice, standing up for one another, and being a welcoming and inclusive place for all people. We affirmed our community's values in our singing--"we are one," "love is love," "if we all stand together, we're free," "lead with love," and "be the change you want to see in the world."

Ice Cream x Art

Getting Creative at the Children First Ice Cream Social

The 25th Annual Children First Ice Cream Social took place on Mother's Day and is a celebration of St. Louis Park's dedication to the youth in our community. As always, Friends of the Arts coordinated music and dance on the main stage, with performances by elementary students in the Baile Folklórico at Park Spanish Immersion, a brand new St. Louis Park song by Dan Israel with Park High School students, singing from Benilde-St. Margaret's Red Knotes a cappella, and a dance lesson with Sabrina Datt and Nach Fusion.

We also helped kids say thanks to mom with an arts and craft table, making flowers with cups, popsicle sticks, tissue paper, pom poms, and pipe cleaners. Friends of the Arts is committed to developing the creativity of even our youngest neighbors. The best gift is one you create yourself!

Creating & Connecting at City Art Lab

City Art Lab with Sheila Asato: Dreamy Book Arts

In March, local artist Sheila Asato hosted a dozen arts learners at her studio, Monkey Bridge Arts, in the Historic Walker Lake district of St. Louis Park for a class called Dreamy Book Arts. The class, presented free of charge by Friends of the Arts, featured four 2.5-hour sessions where participants learned tools and techniques of book arts, and how to take creative inspiration from their dreams.

Some of the books they created were then displayed for the month of May at the St. Louis Park Library, in the gallery space at the back of the building. These books are an example of what you can create with just a few hours of instruction, some knowledge of materials, and a bit of practice. This display shows works-in-progress, intended to show what is possible even at the early stages of learning a craft and expressing creativity.

Participants in the class developed their individual creativity, learned new tools and techniques, formed positive social bonds, and connected with their St. Louis Park community through creative activities.

Poetry x Mental Health

Poetry Jam Helps Reduce Stigma of Mental Illness in St. Louis Park

Earlier this month, Friends of the Arts teamed up with student leaders from SLP Nest and the Health in the Park Mental Health Action Team for a poetry jam that focused on mental health. In a safe and supportive environment, students and adults shared their original poetry, stories, and spoken word about how mental illness affects their lives, and what they do to take care of their mental health.

The poetry covered all kinds of topics, like depression, anxiety, bipolar, perfectionism, and stress, and readings ranged from humorous storytelling to deeply personal spoken word. This event provided a place for people to safely express themselves, and to hear from others who may have dealt with similar things in their lives. A big thank you to all the brave readers who shared their poetry, and to all who came out to support the event.