Courage in the heart: Empowering youth through the power of art

Print

If you’ve passed by the old Country Boy corner store on 42nd St. and Cedar Ave. lately, perhaps you’ve noticed lights on in the evening and seen groups of teens inside, and perhaps you’ve wondered what was going on. Well, inspiring things are happening at 4164 Cedar Ave. S., the new home of courageous heARTS, an arts-based youth center founded by Ericsson resident Lindsay Walz.

In early spring, Walz, in partnership with SENA, received a startup grant through the University of Minnesota’s Neighborhood Partnership Initiative. She immediately began reaching out to neighborhood youth and inviting open dialogue around community issues relevant to teens. For the young people of our community, heARTS represents a safe gathering space in which to express concerns, dreams, and their own unique perspectives, both through the medium of public art and through continuing process-based classes. More than that, the center offers youth the opportunity to participate first-hand in community building, to have their voices count in decisions that affect them directly, and to develop lifelong leadership skills all at the same time.

For Walz, heARTS represents the first actualization of a long-held, hard-won dream. It began when she was in high school and had the opportunity to participate on the founding board of a nonprofit organization. Having her voice not only heard but also valued within the community had a profound impact on the 16-year-old and sparked a dream of someday running a youth center. Once she entered college, however, her dream was tempered somewhat. “All the professors know that everyone wants to save the world,” jokes Walz, “so on a certain level they try to put a little practical sense into you. I went the practical route.”

The practical route for Walz still included a healthy dose of philanthropy, and after earning her undergraduate degree in social family science and youth studies, she began a solid career with Lutheran Social Service working in various youth-empowerment capacities.

Then on Aug. 1, 2007, the ground—in the form of the 35W bridge—literally dropped out from under her. Walz broke her back in the collapse and faced five years of intense physical and emotional recovery. Through painting, she found light in the darkness, and as she healed, it became her mission to share her experience of transformation through art with others. “Art was such an incredibly powerful healing instrument for me,” Walz recalls. “I knew how fortunate I was to be able to just go to the store and buy paints and paper and brushes and all the things you need, because it’s not cheap. I’ve worked with so many kids over the last 12 years who don’t have that. That’s just not part of their life. They don’t get to do these things. So for me, this is about making that kind of expression possible and available for youth.”

Lindsay Walz in her space that, in early May, had newly painted, but empty, walls waiting for art.

Walz spent the past couple of months meeting with interested teens and SENA representatives, brainstorming ideas for three public art projects or events designed to enliven and engage the neighborhood in issues important to our youth. Another purpose of the meetings was to begin developing a Youth Advisory Board (YAB), a dedicated group of approximately 10 middle- and high-school kids who either live in the Standish or Ericsson Neighborhood or attend Folwell Performing Arts, Wellstone International, El Colegio, St. Helena, or Roosevelt High School. Over the next three months, the YAB will work directly with local artists, neighborhood officials, business owners, and all others involved to coordinate and complete each project. They will also work with Walz to develop and implement a curriculum of after-school art classes to begin in the fall. Through these processes, Walz and SENA hope to build and strengthen relationships between local youth and their community, bring fresh perspectives into civic planning, and provide positive and constructive youth programming in our neighborhood.

As of this writing, many details of projects and of the YAB were yet to be determined, so if you’re a local teen 13–18 years old looking for fun ideas for the summer, or a local artist looking for a cool collaborative project, or a business owner perhaps imagining a mural or a fantastic new sign, then courageous heARTS might be just what you’re looking for. Don’t wait too long to find out more, though, because the process is well under way. And process, according to Walz, is right at the heart of her vision. “By creating a space free from judgment, that focuses on the process of art making,” she writes on her website, “we hope to open new worlds of possibility for the youth who walk through our doors.”

To find out more, visit www.courageoushearts.org or contact Lindsay Walz at 612-729-2483  or via e-mail: lindsay@courageous-hearts.org.

Watch for information about a fundraiser on Aug. 1. The Riverview Theater will show the award-winning documentary Innocente, about a homeless girl who became a celebrated artist. A panel discussion will follow the film.

CORRECTION 6/19/2013: Contact information and website address  corrected, at request of Lindsay Walz.