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Nonprofit connects 'historically excluded' youth with creative careers through in-depth field trips

A 2018 Minneapolis jobs report revealed only 13% of those employed in creative industries are people of color. A new nonprofit is aiming to change that.

MINNEAPOLIS — A nonprofit that started as a campaign in 2020 to bring people back into museums and galleries hit hard by COVID-19 has now taken on a youth-centered focus. InspireMSP is leveraging the partnerships they formed to provide in-depth, hands-on field trips and backstage tours to students, starting in seventh and eighth grade, from six different public schools and community organizations.

"InspireMSP opens up creative opportunities for students who have historically been excluded from the creative industry," said Dan Ryan, the executive director. "So we provide experiences that engage the students with passions and gives them exposure to potential career pathways."

Ryan pointed to the fact that a 2018 Minneapolis jobs report revealed only 13% of people who are employed in creative industries in the city are people of color.

"If we look at the strengths of the creative community, and we look at the passions and talent that the students who haven’t had that opportunity want, we come together as a coalition to address an industry need." Ryan said.

The nonprofit currently partners with six creative institutions: Hennepin Theatre Trust, Guthrie Theater, Northrop Auditorium, Bakken Museum, First Avenue, and Minnesota Opera. Each institution offers student-centered, hands-on tours to their six partners: Minneapolis Public Schools, St. Paul Public Schools, Big Brothers Big Sisters, One2One, and KIPP Minnesota Public Schools.

Kristen Lynch, principal at Creative Arts Secondary School in St. Paul, said her students loved their field trip to the State Theatre.

"After the bus ride home and the debriefing, it was like oh my gosh, that was so great! That was the best! That was so different than anything we did last year!" Lynch said.

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Credit: InspireMSP

Ari Koehnen Sweeny, director of creative art partnerships at Hennepin Theatre Trust, said the InspireMSP partnership is a great way to show new faces around the theater.

"We want our stages to reflect our community. We want our technicians…we want everyone working in this venue to reflect the community," Koehnen Sweeny said.

She added that exposure to new talent will help fill employment gaps that continue to increase.

"We want this art form to carry on," she said. "We want the new folks coming in. We know that stagehands are aging out at a pace that we are not replenishing the pool. In order for this to still exist, we need people, and we need energy, and we need new life in the space."

Ryan said eventually, they'd like to continue adding creative institutions to their list of partners, from production and ad agencies, to news stations. For now, in their first year, they're making sure everything goes smoothly with the organizations they have on board. So far, he says it's been really rewarding.

"The [best] part is to stand in the back of a room full of students who are asking questions about jobs they had no idea existed, and you see lightbulbs going off and a spark in their eye," he said. "That excitement, if we can deliver it on one experience, and deliver it again, and continue to build that, that’s where we create that change."

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