» Witt Siasoco
How did you become an artist?
It's hard to point to one moment, but much like any other little kid, I loved drawing. This led to lots of art classes taught by inspiring and passionate instructors in high school and college. Formally I studied visual art at Iowa State University and graphic design at Minneapolis College of Art and Design. When I moved to Minneapolis, I was introduced to ideas that challenged my perceptions of art and made me realize the potential that art has as a tool for change.
What inspires you?
Since I was 15 years old, I have been pushing around on a skateboard. Skateboarding offered me my first experiences with a city and gave me a new way of looking at an urban landscape. By pushing around on a wooden toy, I started to see the possibility of using things in unintended ways, for instance using a bench as an obstacle and not just something to sit on.
On a local level, I am in awe of the fact that artists, arts organizations, and community groups in Minneapolis and Saint Paul are working together to produce ambitious large-scale art initiatives. Arts On Chicago, Irrigate, Northern Spark, the Art Shanty Projects are all inspiring projects because they are open to the public, involve a huge number of local artists, and demonstrate what art and artists contribute to a city.
On a weekly basis, I gather inspiration from my friends and fellow artists at MakeSh!t. The group gets together weekly to explore an art medium of collective interest. Over the past two years we have created collaborative paintings, sculptures, screenprints, drawings and other work.
Why is art a powerful tool for speaking out, for creating change in the world? How have you used art to do that?
As an artist, I think there are lots of questions that art can ask and/or answer that traditional avenues can't. As of late, I have been pushed to create projects initiated by questions posed in my immediate community. For the past 10 years I have owned a home in the Holland Neighborhood in Northeast Minneapolis. Over this period of time, my neighborhood has gone through many changes due to shift in the housing market. Condemned and abandoned properties are one byproduct of the housing crisis that has affected my neighborhood. The Department of Change, a handmade realty sign and accompanying brochure, was produced in response to an abandoned property on my block. The project was created to highlight the condemned status of the house, spur further discussion amongst neighbors, and encourage viewer to take action. A couple months after the signs' arrival, the house was razed.
In my experience, art has a huge potential for personal and social change when working youth. Recently, I have been working at The Canvas, a teen art center located within the Hancock Recreational Center in Saint Paul and for over a decade, I worked with the Walker Art Center Teen Arts Council (WACTAC), a program designed to connect teenagers with contemporary art and artists. Art can be truly transformative tool when youth are given the platform to voice their thoughts and opinions.
“Art makes me look at life through a different lens and forces me to see possibilities outside of a traditional way of thinking.”
- Witt Siasoco
How has Intermedia Arts been a part of your story?
When I first moved to Twin Cities, I lived right around the corner from Intermedia Arts. One of the first gallery shows that I went to in Minneapolis was the 55408 exhibition, a group show highlighting the art of artists that lived and/or work in the neighborhood. I was thrilled to see so many local artists involved in the exhibition and knew at some point in time that I would be involved with the organization. Several years down the road, I was hired as the Young Artists Cabaret Coordinator at Intermedia Arts. Intermedia Arts was one of my first encounters working with youth in an arts setting and gave me the tools to develop as an artist and arts educator.
What do you find most exciting or inspiring about Creative CityMaking? Why did you want to be a part of it?
I wanted to use my artistic practice and design skills to create better communities. My recent projects have been explorations using design and art as a tool for education and social change. Through Creative CityMaking I hoped to further my investigation of art, design and civic engagement. I wanted to use art and design as a way of inviting people that wouldn’t normally be involved in city processes to talk about issues that are happening in their own community.
Witt Siasoco has been actively engaged in the Minneapolis Arts Community through a variety of roles – as artist, designer, arts educator and arts administrator. His strengths include a deep understanding of the creative process, the ability to navigate complex organizational structures, and building and fostering partnerships. As an artist he has created a variety of projects initiated by questions posed in his immediate community.
Siasoco was Art Coordinator at the Canvas, a youth-run teen arts center. The Canvas is a partnership between COMPAS, Saint Paul Parks and Recreation. For over a decade, Siasoco worked with the Walker Art Center Teen Arts Council (WACTAC), a visionary program designed to connect teenagers with contemporary art and artists. Today, the Walker’s Teen Programs serves as an international model for alternative education formats both within museums and cultural centers. Formerly, Siasoco worked as a coordinator of the Young Artist Cabaret at Intermedia Arts, a monthly open mic for young artists and a Grantmakers in the Arts Assistant for Arts Midwest, a regional arts organization. Siasoco also served as a board member of Juxtaposition Arts, a North Minneapolis arts organization that empowers youth and community to use the arts to actualize their full potential. In 2008, Siasoco was recognized by the Americans for the Arts as an Emerging Leader of Color. He has presented numerous conferences including the American Association of Museums Annual Meeting, Museums and the Web Conference, National Guild for Community Arts Education’s Engaging Adolescents Conference, and the National Art Education Association Conference.