WORDS BY MARY LUCIA
Creating your dream job is not always as sexy as it may seem. That’s according to Lauren Callis, an art therapist, co-founder, and executive director of Curiosity Studio in the Longfellow neighborhood of Minneapolis.
But it’s my observation that Callis is whipsmart, filled to the brim with thoughtful ideas that can effectively connect art therapy and community building. What is more punk rock than seeing a need for a service, building a brick-and-mortar gathering space, and then taking the leap of faith that blending academia and a sense of playfulness can create a safe environment in which all people of any age or background can learn something about who they are by connecting brain and body through making art?
Mission statements for businesses big and small are usually pure jive. But at Curiosity Studio, the guiding belief is inspired by the words of activist and writer Adrienne Maree Brown: “We move at the pace of trust.” How lovely is that?
Sitting in the warm, inviting vibe of their Lake Street studio I chatted with Callis about intergenerational art making. It made me think: Perhaps your grandma made clothes and other handmade items—was she considered an artist? Or was she, at best, a seamstress or someone who was good with a needle and thread? Who knows what kind of rage Aunt Shirley is healthily working out through scrapbooking? Crafts is not a dirty word. It’s high time to dump those ideas on their heads.
Making connections with people is a crucial part of community building. Many regular participants are new transplants to Minnesota who are finding creative ways of belonging. Success is partly measured by the consistency of people coming back—and they’re coming back.
The therapists, instructors, and artists who help run Curiosity care about access. To whit: Offering a Curiosity 101 class assists in the struggle to find a theme or subject to make art about and works to provide a free or affordable option when the barriers to art therapy are too high. Affinity groups for youth, queer, and BIPOC open-studio classes offer a safe place to see your identity reflected back to you. Free parking, flexible hours, and other accommodations make it easier for ecveryone to find a time that works for them.
Plus, Curiosity Studio is part of a wider community network, too: Support from both the Longfellow business and neighborhood associations has given Curiosity Studio a wider reach through referrals by these established, trusted organizations.
Working with textiles and found materials reimagining them into something culled from personal secrets, anxiety, or trauma is still regarded as “alternative” therapy, at least to insurance companies. But the instructors and collaborators at Curiosity Studio know firsthand the value of the tactile nature of materials such as cardboard, tinfoil, and tape, and how they can create something beautiful and unexpected. Top of mind attention to sustainable materials considering a world within the climate crisis moving forward: That is, how do we take what is abundant and use it to satisfy what is scarce? Not sure you want to work in an open-studio environment? You can also purchase art kits that have all the supplies you need for a project or session and take them home.
Alleviating the intimidation most people have—”I’m not an artist”—is crucial to art as therapy, Callis says. It takes a little effort to forgo what you think of as traditional or valid, but Curiosity Studio wants visitors to embrace it. I think to be optimistic is to embrace change, especially living in Minneapolis. The destruction of so much must be seen as an opportunity to rebuild and reimagine what can be.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask what role music plays while creating. Callis’s music choice in the studio is often jazz. However, when creating her own work, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill is her go-to album she puts on repeat.
Don’t get it twisted: This is not a clinical space, though it’s overseen by art therapists. This is a chance to experiment and surprise yourself, have a snack, and incorporate play, creativity, and reflection back into your day. Stressed? Depressed? Work that shit out with a glue gun or paint. Curiosity Studio has got your back.