Chicago Avenue Fire Arts Center
Rendering of CAFAC facade © 2008 Montana Scheff
The mission of the Chicago Avenue Fire Arts Center (CAFAC) is to inspire hands, hearts, and minds through art forms produced by heat, spark, or flame. CAFAC is a new organization that fills a unique niche in arts programming for the Twin Cities region. Its focus is fine and industrial art forms that are produced using heat, spark, or flame, collectively known as "fire arts", including sculptural welding, blacksmithing, glasswork, jewelry making and others. CAFAC provides classes open to anyone with an interest, from youth to adult and beginner to master-level artisans. CAFAC also offers studio rental facilities to working and emerging artists and features a storefront gallery space.
Heather Doyle is one of the founding board members and currently serves as Vice Chair of The Chicago Avenue Fire Arts Center. Heather will serve as the institutions first Artistic Director when doors open.
The core values of CAFAC are:
- To provide a supportive learning environment, open to all with an interest.
- To inspire members' creativity and innovation.
- To share our knowledge of traditional arts and crafts in order to preserve them for future generations.
- To promote adaptive reuse of materials and promote sustainability practices.
- To be a catalyst for and participant in positive action in our neighborhood.
The SPEAK Project
The SPEAK Project was conceived by Heather Doyle and the founders of The Chicago Avenue Fire Arts Center (CAFAC) with the intent of engaging urban youth in a constructive dialogue with their communities and to provide them with an outlet to speak their truth. SPEAK provides an opportunity for constructive self-expression through the creation of public sculpture, spoken word poetry, and digital photography.
The SPEAK Project is a program of CAFAC which provides infrastructure allowing a synergy to develop between existing youth resources, creative young people, and the aforementioned artistic mediums.
In 2006 I began working with a group of neighbors from the Central and Bryant neighborhoods with a vision for and commitment to realizing several neighborhood renewal initiatives. The group, which includes myself, Maren Christensen, Montana Scheff, Ryan Knoke, Scott Hofer, and Victoria Lauing, works to envision and support such initiatives by providing creative collaboration, program assistance, organizational resources, etc. We have a broad spectrum of skills and backgrounds: metal sculptor, international marketing and sales, web designer, professional writer, lawyer, and educational program director respectively. By approaching urban issues from many angles we hoped to find solutions.
I conceived The SPEAK Project in an effort to better understand the disconnect between the adults and youth of our community. I began by exploring the subtle nuances behind the umbrella we refer to as "graffiti;" what separates the "artist" from the gang member marking territory? I was fascinated by what I found: An ethical code, respect, pride in uniqueness, and representative style relating to the artist's personal context and a forum for social and political issues, all in a form understood by the youth community listening to that undercurrent. We developed The SPEAK Project as a powerful first step in encouraging a constructive dialogue between the community and our youth.
For the introductory piece to the greater installment, "Unity in Diversity," I chose to focus on the word "speak." The sculpture represents the voice of the community as a whole "speaking" directly to youth of the neighborhoods to engage them in making their voices heard; as if to say "Speak, we are listening. What does 'unity in diversity' mean to you...in your own words?" The four most common languages spoken in Minneapolis are English, Spanish, Hmong, and Somali. The "Speak" sculpture uses the imperative form of the word "speak" -a plea to our youth- in each of these four languages. A walk through the sculpture installation revealed and celebrated the youth's response.
The success of the 2006 project, and the enthusiasm generated by the public celebration, attracted more partners willing to turn SPEAK into an ongoing summer program. In 2007 we were able to expand the scope of the project as we had been designated a Hennepin County Social Service. We were also able to expand educational offerings to include spoken word (a popular and accessible form of expression for our youth audience), digital photography and an Objects Conservator for the Midwest Art Conservation Center collaborated to build an age appropriate curriculum concerning the conservation of the metal sculptures. The theme for the SPEAK Project 2007 was "Respect". The youth participants in the Spoken word sessions created an original poem and performance which inspired the work of the metal sculpture groups. The digital photography participants recorded the creative process of the spoken word and sculpture groups through images. Several youth participated in the conservator's workshop and participated in the maintenance of the previous year's work.
In 2008 The Speak Project, using the same artistic mediums as the previous year, focused on its role as liason between urban youth and the community. We worked with North Minneapolis' Jordan Area Community Council, Juxtaposition Arts and the Pohlad Family Foundation to fulfill a specific need by installing a youth designed replacement for a bench that had been stolen from Jordan Neighborhood's "Cottage Park". The installation was SPEAK's first on public land and was sponsored for the first time by the new Chicago Avenue Fire Arts Center (CAFAC), an institution developed by the same group of activists that developed SPEAK.
The youth that created the design for the backrest of the bench were serving time in Hennepin County Home School. The theme for the 2008 project was "Growth in Community" and the word "Justice" is an acronym describing their process of reintegrating into society: Just, United, Struggle, Transition, Integrity, Collaborate, Escalate.
MNN segment highlighting the 2006 SPEAK Project