Impact Hub MSP's Artist Programs Spark Creativity & Inclusion

Detail of art by Sara Endalew. You can see her work at Impact Hub MSP through June.

Whether you're an entrepreneur just starting out or part of an established organization, it's important to seek inspiration in a variety of places and to collaborate with diverse groups of people. One of the perks of coworking communities is that they offer entrepreneurs and independent professionals the chance to bounce ideas off one another and cross-pollinate what they're working on.

Impact Hub MSP is one of those spaces — a connector, accelerator, and destination for social entrepreneurs. Since launching in 2014 and then joining the global Impact Hub network in 2015, the organization has provided work space, community support, events, and professional development training — including Connect the Grey's Ecosphere program — for people seeking to create positive social impact with their work.

As Impact Hub has evolved to meet the needs of its members and the community, it's been clear that artists and creativity are crucial. Artists' critical eye and ability to consider multiple perspectives are valuable, even necessary, for innovation and social change.

Connect the Grey's Janie Hanson curated the art exhibition "Work In Progress" at Impact Hub MSP in the summer of 2015, featuring photography works by two Minnesota-based artists. The exhibition opening doubled as a launch party and fundraiser for the Ecosphere program. The show, which ran throughout the summer and fall, highlighted the value of having original art on the walls of a communal, entrepreneurial space.

Impact Hub has also recognized the imperative to include people of color — not only for the simple goal of equity, but also because many organizers and people working for social change come from communities of color, and they should be represented and welcomed in a social impact space.

The interconnected goals of including artists and including people of color became the focus of Impact Hub's ART(IST) IMPACT program, developed and led by Arts & Culture Coordinator Teeko Yang. The program curates work, primarily by women and artists of color, for the Impact Hub space. Featured artists get full access to the Hub, its staff, and its programming, as well as the opportunity to sell their artwork.

Detail of art by Sara Endalew. You can see her work at Impact Hub MSP through June.

Teeko also leads the Hub's Creative Collective, a group of emerging artists looking to deepen their craft and build their networks. The Creative Collective is designed specifically to make Impact Hub more inclusive for artists and people of color. Participants are encouraged to spend time at the Hub, attend Hub events, make art there if their medium allows them to, and share feedback on what would make the space more welcoming to them.

The goal of the Creative Collective is to create an inclusive space. They're help Impact Hub seriously consider the question, "Who are the people who call this space home?"

Involving more artists in the space also allows them to apply creative thinking and problem-solving to a variety of social issues. Another goal of the Creative Collective is to bring together artists who are curious about intersections between art and business, and to connect with those artists in a space that is not strictly arts-related.

"How do we build a community of creative thinkers who interconnect with all kinds of other things?" asks Teeko. Art should not be siloed from policy, economic impact, or community development, she says.

Detail of art by Sara Endalew. You can see her work at Impact Hub MSP through June.

Besides her role at Impact Hub, Teeko works for Northern Lights.mn, which produces the annual arts festival Northern Spark, as Partner and Outreach Coordinator. She also founded and co-hosts the podcast My Token Friend, and is involved with community organizations including the grassroots-founded Hmong Museum. And she's pursuing her master's degree in Arts and Cultural Leadership at the University of Minnesota, where her work with Impact Hub is part of a research project on the value of artists of color in coworking spaces.

For Teeko, the value of art in a space is directly tied to how accessible the space is to a diverse community of people. "I have a firm belief that creativity requires diversity," she says.

Currently on display at Impact Hub MSP is the work of Sara Endalew, who immigrated to the U.S. from Ethiopia. Her paintings are personal and colorful, and include a range of styles and subject matter.

At Impact Hub's Wine Down community gathering in February, Sara spoke about her art and answered questions from attendees. She talked about the difficulty of getting people to take her seriously as an artist in America, and about the differences between working as an artist in the U.S. and in Ethiopia, where she says there's more freedom to create work without worrying if it will offend someone. Though some of the barriers she's faced have to do with being an immigrant, she also spoke about challenges that any artist can relate to — like balancing her art with the demands of being a parent.

During the Q&A, some Impact Hub members mentioned that they had spent time looking at Sara's paintings while working in the space, and that they found her work thought-provoking and inspiring.

Showcasing work like Sara's brings attention to emerging artists who are working to make a name for themselves, and to artists who have struggled for attention and acceptance. It sparks discussions among people from different backgrounds, and stories from people who have been marginalized. And in a space like Impact Hub, where people are working not only to launch businesses but also to create social change, artwork prompts critical thought and conversations that benefit everyone.