For Immediate Release

Friday, October 30, 2009

Twin Cities – Backed by the VSA arts and the MetLife Foundation’s “Arts Connect All” grants funding, Minneapolis based Upstream Arts has embarked on a new partnerships with Minneapolis Public Schools, bringing its innovative approach of teaching social and communication skills to students with and without disabilities into eight MPS Special Education classrooms. Upstream Arts is one of only ten organizations in the nation to receive the “Arts Connect All” grant, which cultivates and recognizes arts education programs that create learning environments where students with and without disabilities learn side-by-side, creating art together. The grant rewards programs that use the arts to develop students’ social, cognitive, and artistic skills.

Upstream Arts integrates individuals of all abilities, including those with cognitive, developmental, and physical disabilities. Its multi-disciplinary arts education programs are designed to develop social and communication skills while providing positive and creative experiences that promote self confidence. Once a week, teams of local professional artists – including actors, musicians, visual artists, poets and dancers – lead arts activities that nurture self-expression, conversation skills, and group participation. Through its unique partnership with MPS, 120 students with and without disabilities, ranging in age from kindergarten to 12th grade, will have the opportunity to work and create alongside some of the Twin Cities finest professional artists, while learning valuable life skills.

Though 16% of Minneapolis Public School students receive Special Education services, there are few opportunities in the school environment for students with and without disabilities to interact and get to know each other. Upstream Arts’ program provides a place where students can gain understanding and respect for one another and learn how to interact with students of all abilities. Having a venue to interact with peers is especially important for students with disabilities. As Ann Fox, MPS Special Education Director stated, “ Its not the standard academic areas like math and science where we see the greatest need. The area of greatest need for all of our Special Education students is social and communication skills. This is the area where we need to focus and that is central to their success.”

Now in its fourth year of operations, Upstream Arts is experiencing exponential growth. In its first year, only two schools and under 100 people were served. Last year, Upstream Arts served over 1100 people and this year is on pace to serve nearly twice that number of youth and adults with and without disabilities around the Twin Cities metro area.

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More about the Program

The eight schools served by this program are Washburn High School, Ramsey International Fine Arts Elementary School, Jefferson Elementary School, Patrick Henry High School, Lake Harriet Middle School, City View Performing Arts School, Roosevelt High School and Edison High School.

The teams of professional artists (including actors, directors, playwrights, poets, dancers and musicians) who visit these schools once a week include Matt Guidry, Norah Long, Charles Fraser, Sara Richardson, Matt Sciple, Suzy Messerole, Laressa Dickey, Dylan Fresco, Don Mabley-Allen, Joe Mailander and Justin Lansing. These are artists who’s work has been seen at the Guthrie Theater, History Theater, Chanhassen Dinner Theater, Bedlam Theater, Illusion Theater, Park Square Theater and the Burning House Group. Their original creative work has been published and produced locally and nationally.

In addition to the VSA arts/Met Life Foundation’s “Arts Connect All” grant, the program is also supported in part by grants from:

  • Minnesota State Arts Board
  • Target
  • CVS
  • United Arts Fund
  • Sewell Family Foundation
  • Bud Olson Foundation
  • Nash Foundation
  • Archie D. and Bertha H. Walker Foundation

Organizational Info

The mission of Upstream Arts is to enhance the lives of adults and youth with disabilities by fostering creative communication and social independence through the power of arts education.

Upstream Arts was founded in 2006 by Julie and Matt Guidry, parents who witnessed first hand the positive impact of arts education on their son Caleb. Caleb was born with Cornelia de Lange Syndrome (CdLS), which affects his physical and cognitive development. Matt, a professional theatre artist and educator in the Twin Cities, exposed Caleb to the theatre and dance world at a young age. Caleb, who is non-verbal, began to use the physical movements, body language and facial expressions he learned through this community to communicate and engage with those around him. As Matt and Julie watched Caleb find alternative forms of expression, they realized that all people with disabilities should have the same opportunity to nurture their social and communication skills using the arts. Out of this spirit and determination, Upstream Arts was born.

We provide programs to a variety of organizations and in a number of settings around the metro area: We run residencies in K-12 Special Education classrooms; partner with District Transition programs to provide social and life skills programming for students with disabilities ages 18-21 that are transitioning to adult living; carry out summer camps and programs in conjunction with Adaptive Parks and Recreation Programs in multiple municipalities; and provide programming to Self Advocacy Groups, Adult Day programs and disability service providers like the Autism Society of Minnesota, the Courage Center and Lifeworks. We see most these individuals on an ongoing basis over the course of a semester or school year.