Art Connects Us: Supporting artists and our economy

Christopher Harrison Art Connects Us Art, text: Stop the spread

When the COVID-19 pandemic erased work for artists throughout Minnesota, Joan Vorderbruggen proposed an idea to Clear Channel Outdoor to get artists working. Hennepin Theatre Trust would commission original artwork from Minnesota-based artists, focused on messages of hope and gratitude for those working on the front lines. Clear Channel Outdoor would display the project — titled Art Connects Us — on their numerous digital billboards. And in early summer, when George Floyd’s murder laid bare the systemic racism in our communities, the Trust expanded the project to include artist reactions to injustice and racism. The success of the initial round of Art Connects Us  led to funding from the Minneapolis Foundation’s OneMPLS Fund.

As the project took off, Vorderbruggen, director of Hennepin Theatre District Engagement for the Trust, said she quickly began to understand how difficult these times were for artists, not just financially but also emotionally. “Artists were questioning everything but especially the relevancy of their work,” she says. “They wanted to make sure what they were doing had an impact.” She saw a way the Trust could help: have Vorderbruggen provide free coaching to help artists deal with the barriers they were facing, using the skills she was developing as a member of the inaugural class of the National Art Strategies’ Leadership Coaching Training Cohort.

Over the summer, she provided a six-session coaching package to a diverse group of artists. “Some were super entrepreneurial freelancers who had to learn new ways to market themselves,” she says. “Others were having a hard time being creative or managing time because of stress. And many were just asking ‘How can I make a difference?’”

Christopher Harrison, a visual artist based in Minneapolis, took advantage of the coaching. “It was just good to have someone different to talk to,” he says. “It was a bit therapeutic, but it also helped me identify things that I’m doing now that could keep me going through all of the chaos of the world. Joan also gave me references and helped me understand grant opportunities. I’m happy to say that I just received a grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board.”

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Harrison says the coaching experience also helped him unlock his confidence to try new ideas, including writing a screenplay. “I didn’t see myself as a writer, but I had this idea and the coaching convinced me to use a different part of my brain,” he says.

Harrison also created two works of art for the Art Connects Us  project: a pandemic series of illustrations for how to protect yourself from infection, and “Never Forget, Black Lives Matter,” an abstract figure drawing that lists the names of people who have been killed in encounters with police.

“It’s been really meaningful to work with these artists and to help them holistically as they lead in the wake of so many challenges from COVID and the uprising,” Vorderbruggen says. “This sector has been radically affected in many ways. It is so important for the Trust to help create opportunities for artists to make art. And when they develop new markets and networks and avenues, that has an important effect on the local economy.”


Thanks to our supporters, we are able to instill confidence and community connection in more than 8,000 students statewide through our arts education programs, elevate and financially support the creative works of local artists and provide meaningful arts and cultural experiences to the more than 600,000 people we bring to the Hennepin Theatre District annually. When you make a gift to Hennepin Theatre Trust, you are enabling cultural and economic vitality to flourish statewide. Please support the arts by giving a donation.