The Semilla Center for Healing and the Arts grew out of the Semilla Arts Program developed by St. Paul’s Lutheran Church. Semilla means seed in Spanish, and the goal of the program was to plant seeds of hope in the community. This took place in many forms: planting pollinator-attracting gardens, preparing youth for leadership and employment, and above all, engaging people in creating art to transform the neighborhood. In 2006, we painted our first “Guerrilla Garage” mural as a response to graffiti in the neighborhood. That has grown to 25 murals in Phillips and beyond. We also began a partnership with In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre, co-producing La Natividad, a bilingual telling of the Christmas story from the point of view of an immigrant family in the neighborhood.
Soon the program expanded to teaching mosaics and developing a working studio at St. Paul’s. We started the “God’s Backyard” youth photography project. We began to partner with neighborhood groups and schools.
In 2008, we began the annual Taste of Phillips Art Festival, which celebrates the diversity of culture of the Phillips neighborhood. Phillips is the youngest, most diverse community in Minneapolis, with large numbers of Latinos, Somalis and Native Americans, as well as African-Americans, Asian-Americans and Caucasians.. The median income is less than 70% of the city as a whole. It is the most polluted community, and has the most murals and community gardens.
Semilla works to build community through quality arts programming that integrates arts with leadership and youth development, greening and holistic health initiatives. We have especially tried to reach people who do not receive quality arts programming, including people with limited English language skills and with mental health issues.
One barrier to participation in the Phillips community is language, and we address that through bilingual staff, and using bilingual promotional and training materials, which also use a lot of images and photos to help those with visual or literacy issues. Other barriers are the divisions and lack of trust that is sometimes present in the community itself. This is especially critical for undocumented immigrants, who must daily navigate a world that is not always accepting. We have intentionally partnered with groups who support immigrants, to demonstrate our commitment to welcoming them.
The Semilla Center for Healing and the Arts has a commitment to training both individual artists and groups that want to develop art programming in their communities. We have trained groups in north and south Minneapolis, Edina, Hopkins and Coon Rapids who have gone on to begin community arts programs in their communities.
Bart Buch grew up in a large extended farm family in Fairfield, Iowa, a small rural college town and sort of New Age capital of the Midwest. He attended Valparaiso University and the University of Iowa earning degrees in English and Elementary Education. Bart was an elementary classroom teacher in Vermont and Minneapolis for a few years before he came out as a puppeteer and poet. He has served as Education Director at In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre (HOBT) from 2008-2019, as a Director on the Artistic Leadership Team from 2016-2019, and has been an Associate Artist for 24 years at HOBT. Bart is a teaching artist on the COMPAS roster, has founded several arts education programs and has taught over 300 arts residencies in schools and communities. He has received ongoing support as an artist and arts administrator from the Minnesota State Art Board, The Jim Henson Foundation, the Foundation for Contemporary Arts, The Puffin Foundation, PFund, MRAC, The Jerome Foundation and was a 2017-18 Playwrights’ Center McKnight Theatre Artist Fellow. Bart has lived and worked in Midtown Phillips neighborhood for 24 years. For 10 years, his work at HOBT and independently has been focused on creating positive change with youth and neighbors in Phillips Community using art to build healthy communities.