ClayToGo Spotlight: Seward Arts Access

Since the late 1990s, Northern Clay Center has been increasing access to high-quality ceramic arts in the Twin Cities. Myriad educational programs, including classes and education opportunities at our Seward neighborhood location, and specially-designed classes, demonstrations, and lectures at locations across the Cities, make access available to all. Off-site clay classes have reached youth in schools, at libraries, in community centers, and alternative education settings, and learners of all ages through community learning at senior living facilities, as well as in many other learning settings and locations. 

Since 2013, NCC has been developing ways in to increase access to the ceramic arts among the refugee and new immigrant communities in our Seward neighborhood and beyond. These efforts have come with challenges at times, as cultural norms are shared among this community with varying experience and personal histories, but the relationships built have been amazing — enriching all who experience the clay program. In the last year, with the support of a Minnesota State Arts Board Arts Access Grant, NCC has been working to expand the programming that is offered to our neighbors by hosting clay classes in apartment complex community rooms and other locations throughout our neighborhood. 

Teaching artists transported the necessary materials to each class location and instructed participants on how to create a particular work of clay art. Each individual made their own unique ceramic piece each week, with a few locations increasing the complexity of the projects as skills allowed. Mugs, bowls, incense burners, teapots, and candle screens are just a few examples of the art created during the over 90 clay classes led under this initiative. 

Residents had the opportunity to create unique ceramic pieces, both functional and sculptural, under the instruction of a professional teaching artist. Classes were offered free of charge to residents, and took place at their living facilities in order to eliminate as many barriers to participation as we could control. The diversity of languages and ethnicities also required translation to be provided so that individuals were able to learn these new skills and the ceramic medium in their native language whenever possible. Somali, Oromo, Amharic, and Korean interpretation all occurred during the course of these clay classes. 

Though language barriers continued to exist between the instructors and some of the participating individuals, relationships and mutual understanding grew with every passing week. The importance of the role of the interpreters in cultivating these conversations and connections cannot be emphasized enough. They shared not just instructions and questions between students and teaching artists, but were the vehicle through which informal conversations, jokes, and more serious dialogue were exchanged. 

Ninety-four clay classes occurred in the Seward-Cedar Riverside Neighborhoods between November 2017 and November 2018, providing over 175 contact hours with teaching artists from the NCC community. Culminating projects from these classes will be highlighted in the exhibition In Service: Engaging and Connecting through Clay at Northern Clay Center in conjunction with the 2019 NCECA (National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts) Conference in Minneapolis in March. NCC’s efforts in the neighborhood will be featured alongside other unique programs and individuals who engage communities through clay. The show will be on view March 8 – April 28, 2019 (see pages 3 – 9 for more information about all of NCC’s NCECA-centric programming). 

Through positive experiences with high-quality arts programming, individuals of all ages are provided a deeper understanding of materials and handmade objects. NCC's ClayToGo program brings a specialized, hands-on clay experience to every school and organization with which we partner.

If you know of a school or organization that is interested in working with clay, touring NCC's facilities, or seeing a clay demonstration, please contact Alison Beech, Community Engagement Manager, at 612.339.8007 x313 or alisonbeech@northernclaycenter.org.

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