The Kulture Klub Story
An Origin Story, 1992 (in hindsight)
Dorit Cypis, 2022
Kulture Klub Collaborative
artists and homeless youth bridging survival and inspiration
In the summer of 1992, I was an artist living in the Twin Cities struggling to understand what had been unfolding in my personal and professional life since 1988. Many professional challenges had conspired to form deep uncertainty within me about the profession I dedicated so many years to.
In 1988, against student protest, I lost my teaching job at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design for introducing social topics and artistic genres differing from traditional art practice; my artwork X–Rayed, presented at the Whitney Museum of American Art, an immersive multi–media installation.
Inquiring into the power of the female gaze, was challenged with potential litigation with no option for dialogue to understand the perceived circumstances; a 3-month residency in South-East Asia and Japan opened my attention to the intimacy of internal connection so repressed in Western traditions.
In 1989, the National Endowment for the Arts, developed in the mid 1960s to nationally support experimental art, which assisted my practice over several years, was shut down by conservative Congressional zealots who accused artists exploring the human body, sexuality and gender, of obscenity. I was swept into a national wave of public rallies invoking the First Amendment for artistic freedom of expression. In 1990, the experience of appearing as an Expert Witness on behalf of the defense in a local court case brought to trial by the Christian fundamentalist Berean League, moved me to create The Inquisition, a theater work exploring female desire, presented by the Walker Art Center in 1991.
By 1992 I was quite spent, disillusioned and feeling uncertain about my role as an artist. One day, riding a city bus to the Walker Art Center, I got off on the corner of Lyndale Boulevard and Loring Park, and immediately noticed a store front next to the bus stop with the words Project OffStreets above the front door. Intrigued, I opened the door and walked into a cacophony of sound and bodies of teen-age youth everywhere, seeming to be bouncing off the walls, talking, gesturing, eating, calling out…. As no one stopped me, I sat on one of many coaches and listened, watched, stretched my senses to understand where I had landed.
These were youth of all identities clambering to be heard, to be paid attention to, to be visible. Deeply moved to understand more I looked for an adult and found my way to the Director, Edward McBrayer, who invited me in to sit at his desk. What I learned left me speechless and wondering how I could be of service. This was a social service crisis center for home–less youth where they could receive referral for a shelter bed, a warm meal, counseling, high school tutoring, nursing care, clothing, and teen mothering assistance.
I explained that I was an artist and a teacher at the local college, and asked if youth received any activity for inspiration. Edward met my eyes with a puzzled squint. “Why would youth need inspiration when they are struggling just to survive?”, he questioned me. I recognized a familiar boundary I often met between the daily life of an artist and someone who lives outside this framing. Certainly, I had been trained within a rarified practice of art as a symbolic act to comment on yet remain separate from daily life. I knew this terrain well having questioned this divide through my artistic practice and as a teacher. Now, the director of a social service organization was challenging me to cross this divide. Scanning the room, I noticed behind him were book shelves stacked with hundreds of long-playing music albums, all jazz. I gently asked if he enjoyed jazz to which he answered with exuberance, “Yes! My full album collection and sound system is in my home basement. I listen to music as often as I can”, which led me to note “ah, so you are inspired by music…”. No more needed to be said.
The gap between us was bridged by a mutual understanding that survival and inspiration were two critically important aspects of shaping a full life. Youth needed both. Recognizing that as an artist in the business of inspiration I could provide a role, I asked if he would allow me to return to the drop-in center over the next months to continue listening, observing, speaking with youth, to learn about them, their needs and how I might meet them with an artistic process. He agreed. We planned to meet thereafter for another conversation.
Next time we spoke I idealistically offered to develop Soul Search, a multi-media performance extravaganza with local artists and Project OffStreets youth, which soon down shifted to the brass tacks pragmatism of building bridges – Kulture Klub Collaborative, in strategic partnership with POS staff George Coleman, a man with a heart of gold. Once a week we brought a van filled with POS youth to experience contemporary exhibitions of art, music, dance and theater at venues across the Twin Cities, which completely excited youth to realize that adults could be creative, not only neglectful, traumatized and abusive. They were inspired!
Kulture Klub Collaboration
Kulture Klub Collaborative was initiated in 1992 to exist within and collaborate with staff of Project Off Streets, a drop-in center providing crisis intervention services for homeless youth in Minneapolis. KKC was always intended to mutate and take the shape needed at each moment of interaction. Kulture Klub is a process not an entity, a verb not a noun.
Kulture Klub Collaboration was created to guide generative interaction between youth experiencing homelessness and artists committed to supporting at-risk-youth. KKC is directed and staffed by professional artists of all disciplines, who are tasked to develop partnership across the local arts, social service and funding institutions. The synergy between the youth and artists is the magic formula of bridging survival and inspiration!
Artists and their practice offer valuable aesthetic tools which can reach at risk youth on deep personal levels, modeling positive expressions of vision and interaction with others, ultimately inspiring youth towards creativity in their lives, communities and in art. Artists survive to be inspired. Homeless youth are inspired to survive. Kulture Klub is dedicated to mentoring and supporting artists who want to share their knowledge with and learn from at risk youth. Kulture Klub is a bridge for at risk youth from isolation to expression, towards participation in one’s community with a voice.
Kulture Klub began with 3 key elements – access for youth to witness professional artistic presentations throughout the Twin Cities from cinemas, theaters and museums to public locations and private studios – consistent programming of artist residencies for youth interaction – consistent programming for youth to publicly present their artistic expressions.