The Chicago Avenue Fire Arts Center defines its community in several different ways including our neighbors, artists and friends. Our organization is a grass-roots initiative that was inspired by the desires of the four neighborhoods that meet at the intersection of 38th Street and Chicago Avenue in South Minneapolis—Bancroft, Bryant, Central, and Powderhorn Park. These four neighborhoods have long been looking for ways to inspire redevelopment at this intersection, and voiced a desire to use the arts as a community-building tool to spark the process of revitalization. The creation of an arts center was one of the key components identified in a revitalization plan for the intersection that was created by residents of these four neighborhoods, and this idea is what inspired CAFAC’s founders to bring this vision to reality. We are an organization created by and for our community, and we are committed to being a catalyst for and participant in positive action in our neighborhood.

Our commitment to our community is expressed through the numerous events in which we participate, and perhaps the most visible example of this is the SPEAK Project, which was the first programming offered by CAFAC’s founders. The SPEAK Project has been operating each summer since 2006, and its objective is to connect youth ages five to 18 with their communities through the creation of public art including metal sculpture, spoken word, and digital photography. The SPEAK project has resulted in the creation of numerous public works including two sculpture gardens, several garden gates, and a community park bench—all of which the SPEAK Project participants have given as gifts to their neighborhoods.

We also serve the community of existing and aspiring Fire Artists, who come to us from the immediate neighborhoods surrounding CAFAC as well as much farther afield. Our goal is provide artists from all backgrounds—from absolute beginners to master-level artisans—with a place to create, develop, and refine skills in the various art forms we offer. Our community includes working and emerging artists and crafts-people, life-long learners looking for an opportunity to develop a new skill, DIY enthusiasts interested in learning to make instead of buy, “TRY-sumers” who collect experiences rather than material things, history enthusiasts committed to preserving and learning traditional arts and crafts, and youth with specialized programming designed to encourage creativity, express perspective, and foster community connections. CAFAC fulfills an unmet need by providing a home for artists of all backgrounds to obtain access to the equipment they need, instructors from whom they can learn, and a safe and inspiring environment in which to work.

Our community also includes the much broader audience of those who observe the work we create, who share our belief in the need to foster and encourage creativity among our citizens, and who value the contributions of artists and the presence of artwork as a vital part of our community.