Blending community, art at Metro Work Center


Sara Hanson and Jess Bergman Tank are greeted with enthusiastic welcomes when they arrive at the Metro Work Center with poster boards and pictures of program participants that reflect the creative partnership between the artists and Metro Work Center. They have been working together to create metal sculptures inspired by the community – a project participants clearly love and enjoy.
Their latest sculpture, three metal silhouettes, is scheduled for installation at the fence surrounding the former site of Gandhi Mahal and will be unveiled during MWC’s 55th anniversary celebration on June 6 at 12 p.m.
Metro Work Center Inc. is a non-profit organization based out of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church. MWC provides people-centered employment opportunities, life skills development support, community integration, and leisure and recreational activities for adults with developmental disabilities and related conditions.
Sara and Jess have developed a long-term partnership with MWC after eight years of collaborating on sculptures as part of the Community Connects project – a project which aims to increase community connectivity while facilitating creative expression for the participants of the Metro Works Center day program. The result is a public sculpture that serves as a symbolic and cohesive representation of unity within the Longfellow Neighborhood.
These community art projects offer a way to bring differently-abled and disabled community members into conversations around the future of the neighborhood; conversations that they are often left out of, according to Sara.
“There’s not a lot of outreach and movement, so it’s been exciting and rewarding for us to have those conversations,” Jess said. “Metalwork and sculptures allow us to engage in a way that is meaningful with casting being such a physical process.”
The sculptures are first rendered in clay. The artists and project participants go out into the Greater Longfellow neighborhood and push textures and patterns into the clay. Participants are also encouraged to include things they love like puzzle pieces, necklaces, and small plastic musical instruments, which are also pushed or included in the clay model.
Using metal detectors, they find all sorts of interesting elements and use this exploration to talk about the history of the neighborhood, especially in light of the recent uprising and the debris and memories that have been left where buildings once stood.
“We’re using it as a performative element – talking about surveillance and history and what might be built on this land,” Sara said.
The process of bringing these sculptures into the community involves several steps. Once the sculpture is created in clay, it is taken apart, and put back together with an artistic skill set into a sand mold and then set into metal. The sculptures are dynamic and colorful. The personality of each involved participant shines through in their creation. Some find importance in representing themselves with their wheelchair impressions, while others highlight the joy of a Denny’s breakfast. Others are drawn to the texture of mosaics in the neighborhood, imprints from the bike racks on Minnehaha, or a soda tab.
Sara and Jess brought the process boards of old projects into MWC with photos of old sculptures, some of which no longer exist after melting down during the Uprising. A large group gathered around them, excited to see themselves on the board and pointing out their projects and old friends. This year the group took disposable cameras into the community to help document the process, which also included creating silhouettes of themselves with chalk. Sharing imagery and pictures is helpful in remembering the process.
“Getting MWC people out in the community and talking to people is an important part of the process,” Jess said. “These business and organizational partnerships can lead to employment opportunities (for MWC folks).”
This activity is made possible by the voters of Minnesota through a grant from the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council, thanks to a legislative appropriation from the arts and cultural heritage fund.
Meet the folks at Metro Work Center Inc and check out their amazing sculptures at their 55th Anniversary Celebration and Sculpture Unveiling – Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, from 12 to 2 p.m. on Tuesday, June 6, 2023. Sara and Jess will be there leading some small castings for those who attend, attendees can get a tour of the space, and more.


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