Elliot Park: Good Arts Collective
A sense of place is an invaluable asset for artists. The Good Arts Collective, housed in Elliot Park’s First Covenant Church, uses space as a business model. The artists use the space to carry out their artistic work while giving time and energy to the church and the surrounding community. Although a church seems like an unusual host for a secular arts organization, the mission of the collective and the church are closely connected. By activating unused space in the church, the Good Arts Collective is bringing an art scene to the community through public works, performances, volunteering, and collaboration with local artists.
The collective is located in First Covenant Church, a monumental, redbrick building near Downtown Minneapolis. For over a century, the church has been a gathering place in the community. It was built in the late 1800s to serve the area’s large Scandinavian population. The church grew as the city of Minneapolis expanded. In the 1930s and 1940s, an educational building was constructed next door and in the 1960s, an extension was built to link the church to the adjacent buildings.
As Minneapolis expanded, the demographic of the near-downtown neighborhood changed. When Pastor Dan Collison arrived in 2009, there were only 70 to 80 regular members in attendance. Pastor Dan was determined to bring a positive change – not only to the church, but to the Elliot Park neighborhood as a whole. The church began looking for organizations to inhabit their space. The goal was not to bring numbers to the congregation, but engagement and leadership to the community.
According to Good Arts Collective founder, Benjamin Kelly, the collective could not exist without Pastor Dan’s vision. Benjamin knew Bruce Belgaard, the church’s Director of Worship, through fixing guitars. A musician himself, Bruce hoped to bring artists to First Covenant to engage the community through the arts. At that time, Benjamin was working at Old Arizona, a theater on Eat Street in Whittier, Minneapolis. As a musician and theatrical artist, Benjamin struggled to sustain a place to work, practice, and perform. When Bruce invited him to First Covenant, Benjamin was inspired by the church’s community-oriented mission.
The church’s mission combined with the building’s underused space gave Benjamin an idea for a business model. The artist occupy previously unused rooms of the church as studios, revitalizing the space and engaging the community through projects, recitals, and performances. Benjamin worked hard to gain the trust of the First Covenant community, stressing the importance of “showing up.” His nickname is Tom Sawyer. Benjamin explained, “I can convince anyone that painting a fence is fun.”
He brought his artistic friends and connections onboard to renovate the space and transform it into a vibrant, artistic community. Good Arts Collected occupies the 4,000 square foot addition to the church built in the 1960s. With old carpeting, chipped paint, and poor wiring, the space was nearly unusable. The artists worked together to make the space habitable, transforming the space into studios and performance spaces.
According to Benjamin, a sense of place is vital to an artist’s process. Artists are in touch with their basic senses. The sight, feel, smell, and sound of a place form a reverence to create artwork. “Space removes infinity and jumpstarts any project so that you can visually start focusing.” Benjamin explains. “There is an exhilarating freedom felt from space.”
First Covenant is a rare gem in a city that is rapidly changing. Minneapolis is quickly gentrifying. Places that were once attractive to artists such as the North Loop in Northeast Minneapolis are becoming more and more expensive as they attract wealthier inhabitants. Benjamin explains that this a natural process in the “jungle” of the art world – a world where artists are like birds, and once predators move in, they have to move on to find a new place to feed. “Place is not permanent,” Benjamin explains, “but experience is, and every day is valuable.”
Today, the Good Arts Collective consists of 11 members – artists, musicians, writers, film-makers, costume designers, and craftsmen. “We are “a cog in the machine of the artist community,” says Benjamin. The collective could not exist without the space to create that First Covenant provides, and First Covenant could not work alone to bring an art to the community.
Good Arts Collective hosts an annual holiday variety show and the Awesome Song Writing Event, a positive space for songwriters to perform.