Duluth man's dream creates community through arts

Walking past the unassuming building, the black outside and double doors that are never locked don't offer much incentive to go inside. Just a simple printed schedule taped to the door of classes offered, and painted lettering on the windows of the institute's name are the only hooks to draw people in. "People come here knowing they need something from us," said Justin Markus, Director of Avalon Educational Institute.

Named after the Arthurian island, Avalon Educational Institute is a place meant to bring people to a higher purpose. Their shoes and their imbalances are left at the door.

"The school is like that mystical island," Markus said. "People bring their imbalance here and it is reborn."

The Institute started out as Markus' brain child when he was but a child himself and became a concrete concept in October of 2003.

"It started as curiosity for me," Markus said.

He wanted to figure out what made people not just externally happy but internally balanced. He spent seven years at the University of Minnesota Duluth trying, testing and practicing the methods he uses at the school. They plan on opening a wellness program of massage and Shiatsu therapy in May.

To Avalon and to Markus these methods are meant to encourage expression and unity within student and bring balance to their lives. He believed whatever was wrong with people wasn't just external but internal as well. So he developed circumstances that addressed both.

"People will tell you immediately what they need. It's our job as the teacher to gently re-balance them so they know what it feels like, then remove our hand as they slowly regain control of their balance within the world," Markus said.

Markus spent years looking for avenues that met internal and external needs. He trained in martial arts and went to different dojos where he followed various educators and learned that none of these places, none of these forms did what he needed them to do.

So in April 2010, he opened his own educational institute.

"I wanted an answer to a question I'd has since I was a kid," Markus said.

What happens when hundreds of people who have dreams come together and help each other achieve?

The answer is Avalon. A non-profit organization run by the accountability of student and staff the both work and attend the classes.

Avalon offers its own brand of balance. Two sides of a coin. It's a combination of Markus's and that of his sister Cassandra Anderson, Director of Avalon Wellness; athletic versus therapeutic.

"In life we tend to go go go, that creates a lot of unbalance in our lives," Anderson said. "For Justin motion is critical for his balance. He thinks in present tense whereas I think more long term."

Anderson is the massage and Shiatsu therapist at Avalon. Her wellness program is just getting off the ground within the institute though her and her teachings have been around the building for awhile.

"It's all about addressing things symmetrically," Anderson said.

Markus didn't exactly take this idea to heart when he started the process of creating the institute. According to him he took everything he knew and chucked it forward, breaking through barriers to get the ball rolling.

"It takes two things to be balanced; rest and to find your limitation," Markus said. "To get the explosive creation of this [Avalon] I went out of balance. I'm in the process of restoring balance."

The creation of Avalon is sustained by donations and the accountability of students and teachers.

"I develop the therapeutic to cultivate their [students and teachers] sustainability," Anderson said.

The brother and sister duo, along with other instructors, work with students and clients to find the breaking point through explosive athletic and sustained wellness therapy.

"Whether it's explosive or sustained neither one balances someone by itself," Anderson said. "It takes both kinds, a balance between the two to function better for longer."

And that is was the two directors represent, a balance between the two styles.

"We are challenging ourselves. We are balanced system out of imbalanced individuals," Markus said.

A larger scale with a simple unassuming entrance of a double door and shoes on the inside. It has its own kind of balance in terms of looks versus the possibility it has to offer.

Click here to view video of about what goes on at Avalon Educational Institute.


Editorial: A skeptic's look at nutritional supplements

Avalon Educational Institute provides space and opportunity for arts programs