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News & Views of Phillips Since 1976
Thursday June 20th 2024

Youth Explore Art, History, and Culture

Celebrating Four Years of Discovering and Creating guided by Mentor-Artists of In the Heart of the Beast Theatre called Phillips Project

Words By Bart Buch. All photos by Bruce Silcox

HOBT Out-of-School Program History

When I first came to In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre (HOBT) in 1998, as an Americorp volunteer, I was inspired by and starting working with the out-of-school programming at HOBT. Under the direction of Beth Peterson and Paul Robinson, HOBT had two out-of-school programs, Lake Street Theatre Club and the Artbus. Lake Street Theatre Club worked with elementary school youth afterschool twice a week and Artbus was a seven-week summer youth employment program for youth 14-18. Both of these programs helped youth tell their stories using puppets, masks, poetry and music. They had major impacts on the youth and the communities. The youth in Lake Street Theatre Club, mostly from the neighborhood, were drawn to flexing the muscle of their imagination and fantasy. The Artbus youth drew from stories of their lives exploring topics like teen pregnancy, peer pressure and recent immigration experiences. The Artbus performances shared these youth”'s stories by touring the shows around the Twin Cities. Both programs gave youth tools of expression, self-confidence and venues to share their voices. Artbus youth also mentored the Lake street Theatre Club”'s Summer camp following their summer tour. Coming from a past as an elementary teacher, I had not seen this kind of authentic, poetic, funky and fun opening-up and valuing of youth voices. Daily, I see youth wearing appropriate “masks” for their parents, peers and teachers. I also see youth being manipulated and being taught appropriate voices to speak in the world. I was profoundly affected to see youth turning the tables, choosing their masks and manipulating puppets and messages they found important for the world to see and hear.

After Beth Peterson”'s departure from HOBT in the early 2000”'s and many sources of funding for afterschool programs were terminated, HOBT had a hiatus from this work. In 2008, I came on board as Education Co-Director at HOBT and one of my missions was to re-start the out-of-school programming, with a redesign. Part of this work was starting the Puppet Youth Troupe, an out-of-school program during the school year for youth 9-18. Puppet Youth Troupe was extremely active from 2009-2013 as an immersive puppetry arts program where youth could explore puppetry with a long-term commitment. I also wanted to create a program doing this work with youth in our own back yard, in the Heart of the Beast, in the neighborhood, in Phillips. I started the Phillips Project in the Fall of 2010.

The Phillips Project

Many people ask why we call it The Phillips Project when technically the former Phillips neighborhood is now the Phillips community divided into different neighborhoods- East Phillips, Midtown Phillips, Ventura Village and East Phillips. One of the main goals of the program is to work towards uniting the Phillips community, its neighborhoods and individuals.

*Program partners and structure

HOBT partners with United Tribes of Little Earth and their Youth Development Center, Pillsbury House United Communities”' Waite House, and Project for Pride in Living”'s Collaborative Village Initiative. HOBT artists work with these partners bringing year-round arts activities to youth at each site almost every week. Programming is planned with a team of artists, partnering youth directors, site staff, youth interns, youth and myself. We have explored a variety of art forms and avenues of expression. Each season has a theme of programming and a culminating event in which all partners come together to celebrate and share. Winter programming- We study the cultural history of Phillips and come together for the Phillips History Museum as the culminating event. Spring programming- We create a section for the May Day Parade. Stilt-walking is the the most popular focus. Summer programming– We have been studying the natural environment and natural history of Phillips and stilting in the summers, also learning video filming and editing to create movies of our experiences for the Bike-In Movie Night in September. Fall programming- We have now made a tradition of getting back to basics with the puppets in the fall with each site creating big and small puppets for out annual Big Puppet Party at the HOBT theatre with a youth performance and feast for the youth, families and friends. This last year, we worked with 90 youth in the Phillips community. Over 150 Phillips community residents attended the Big Puppet Party in December.

Respect and understanding of
neighbors and place yield capacity for world view

*Further Intention- We live in an extremely wealthy community, rich in diversity of cultures. We also are an economically challenged community in Phillips. We want to build on, learn from and swap the wealth we have through the work and relationships in The Phillips Project. The many differences we have are a strength but dealing with the challenges of our culture and economy oftentimes weakens us and alienates us from our neighbors. Our hope is that we will start to build bridges between neighbors, cultures, and create deeper understanding and respect. The idea is if you can respect and understand your neighbor and the place you live, you can discover the capacity to respect the world, especially when the world is so uniquely well-represented in the Phillips community. As early leaders in the place-making movement, HOBT strongly believes place-discovering is the initial and an integral step in the place-making process.

*Helping the Phillips Project

Many community members ask how they can help this program. The main way is to tell people about it. The other main way is to donate to the program. We have recently lost a main source of funding and are looking for new sources. If you would like to help in any way with the Phillips Project, contact me at Or, just give a smiley “Hi!” to your neighbors!

Bart Buch is Education Director and Staff Artist

In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre

HOBT Phillips”' Artist Team – Nicole Amaris, Amy Ballestad, Gustavo Boada, Julie Boada, Ramon Cordes, Seth Eberle, Alison Heimstead, Madeline Helling, Laurie Witzkowski

Phillips Youth Director Partners – Julie Graves and Rachel Sell- Waite House, Frank Downwind- Little Earth, Kirsten Flaten- Collaborative Village

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