High-energy activities, healthy snacks and creative immersion are just a few things that a local nonprofit organization provides for children of low-income families.
The Northern Expressions Arts Collective (NEAC) is a two-year-old, 100 percent volunteer-based organization located in Duluth's Lincoln Park neighborhood. The program provides a safe environment that gives children the opportunity to be immersed in various arts, and also to build character.
“Our goal is to improve the communities of Duluth and northeastern Minnesota by helping to develop kids as future community leaders, using the arts as our primary platform,” said Patrick Weber, artistic director for NEAC.
Weber and his wife, Leanne, are originally from the Northland area, but they started out with an art program in Minneapolis. After noticing that many art programs in Duluth had been cut from schools, the couple decided to bring their own program back to the Northland.
The couple said that art education is an important foundation for a cultured society, and their main mission is to use the arts as an educational tool that will provide opportunities for children and adults to explore their artistic talent. Weber said that art makes the brain work differently and creates innovators that are essential to attacking societal problems in unique ways.
According to a 2008 study by the Dana Foundation, neuroscientists found a link between art education and specific cognitive skills. Several key points supported the idea, showing that acting and performing, musical training, and dance can boost memory, reading ability, attention spans and creative ideas.
“We now have further reasons to believe that training in the arts has positive benefits for more general cognitive mechanisms,” said Michael S. Gazzaniga of the University of California at Santa Barbara, who led the research.
Every Thursday night and on the third Saturday of every month, the Weber couple puts on a two-hour event at the Harrison Community Center in Lincoln Park for kids ranging from the ages of 5 to 13. Parents are welcome to stay during the event, and they often do, to take part in the fun.
Thursday night events are known as "In The Park (after dark)," and they take place from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. The events are geared toward interactive games and art projects, but they also provide the option for kids to get help with homework.
On Saturdays, the event is called "In The Park," and these events run from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. The day includes games that build teamwork, healthy snack preparation, safety lessons, discussions on how to get involved in the community, and age-appropriate art projects.
The Webers say they really enjoy working with the kids who attend the events put on by the organization. The activities cost a small fee, but even if someone isn’t able to pay, they are never turned away.
“We make sure every child has the opportunity to experience different kinds of art,” said Leanne, who is the executive director of NEAC.
NEAC also provides a one-day improv event for schools, churches or community groups in and around the Duluth area to raise money. The goal of this fundraiser is to equip and empower people to do more and not be afraid to do so. It involves six to eight people ages 13 and up that take part in a two-hour workshop about improvisation provided by the NEAC.
Then, that night, the two groups co-host an improv performance. This unique fundraiser only collects 15 percent of the ticket sales received, leaving the fundraisers with an 85 percent profit.
Another event the organization puts on is their "Stories 2 Life" program, which is aimed at encouraging kids to read. They simply take a children’s book and reenact the story, making it into an interactive experience. They have pre-selected stories for groups to choose from, or they are willing to adapt to a story of your choice.
“It has been exciting to be part of the Duluth community and actually be approached by people who want to help, rather than beg people to come alongside us" Leanne said. "That speaks volumes about Duluth as a community, and we can’t wait to become even more a part of it."