MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Poverty, homeless and abuse are problems — and art is one of the solutions.

At least in one program that’s finding a way to give at-risk kids a new way to express themselves, and an opportunity to display their work at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts.

Put paint and paper in front of a trained artist, and you’ll get a masterpiece.

Put them in front of these kids, and you may get one as well.

But that’s not the main reason they’re painting and drawing with such passion, even though their art will ultimately hang in one of the region’s top museums.

“Our mission is to bring two things — art and mentors to kids who’ve faced a whole variety of challenges in their lives,” Executive Director of Free Arts Minnesota Dan Thomas said.

They’re part of a special eight-week program called Identity Link, sponsored by the state arts board and Free Arts Minnesota.

Acclaimed artist Natasha Pestich is teaching a group of at-risk kids how to create screen prints, and how to express themselves through art.

“For them to be able to put so much of themselves into these fantastic drawings is really exciting,” Pestich said.

They start with the drawings, urged to combine words, pictures and design to describe themselves.

“The student had just started skateboarding and wanted to depict things interested in,” Pestich said.

The designs are often intricate, elaborate. Some of the explanations … less so.

Pestich transforms their designs into screens at her studio, and then the real fun begins: Printing them on sweatshirts that will be shown in an exhibit at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts.

“I just started to add more E’s and P’s because those two are my initials,” student artist Elizabeth said.

Elizabeth used those initials as a background for everything else about her, from hometown, to birth date, to the Vans she wears on her feet.

And she’s hoping for a good response at the MIA.

Free Arts Minnesota does similar programs with 23 different organizations, helping 4,000 kids each year.

The kids can’t wear their art pieces until after they’re displayed at the MIA.

The opening reception is on Thursday night. The student artists will be there and their art will be on display through next Sunday.


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