Partner Spotlight: People Serving People

A new outreach partnership with People Serving People began in September 2021 and continues through the spring of 2022. This partnership was born out of a short interaction between two community members in a neighborhood group.

A young participant posing and playing with their pottery creation.

People Serving People is the largest and most comprehensive emergency shelter for families and children experiencing homelessness in Minnesota. In addition to emergency shelter and meals, they offer holistic services that support the entire family. This includes supporting their youngest guests, encouraging children to grow and thrive with their bright futures in sight. Their education services are offered all year-round and provide specialized programming for children from infancy through school age. They work to meet families where they are, walking alongside them on their path towards stability and bigger goals for themselves and their children.

NCC teaching artist Abigail Cooper has been providing weekly classes for school-aged youth during after-school hours in collaboration with People Serving People staff and volunteers. Each week, students get the opportunity to make a clay project. The teaching artist demonstrates how to create an object and its individual components. Learners each get the chance to make their own piece based on what they are interested in that day. Sometimes the creations are all in the same theme, other days students need to make something that just feels good for them at that moment in time. Every project looks totally different!

Creating clay objects is rich in both immediacy—of mark-making and manipulating the material—and delay. The firing processes required to transform the clay into a ceramic object that will last and is food-safe can often take up to two weeks. Because People Serving People provides shelter for individuals and families experiencing homelessness, the group of participants varies week by week. Participants aren’t always in attendance to receive the project they made. The creative solution to this conundrum, is that students are given projects that are ready the week they are there to participate—made in the group two weeks previous. It might be something someone else made, or it might be their own project if they have been around for some time. Students are prepped with this expectation, and make pieces knowing they may be for someone else. The kids often ask thoughtful questions as they create for someone else, and try to make objects that will brighten the recipient’s day. It is a very community-oriented perspective and just one of the many ways that this partnership is unique and important.

In reflecting on our work together in the fall of 2021, People Serving People staff shared the following.

“What ended up happening is a full and total bond with our teacher … minus the clay. Abbey has become an intriguing part of our classroom—she has bonded to the teachers and students, and this is easily everyone’s favorite day. We have learned so much from her and we have a creative outlet … she has truly changed us for the better.”

—Haley Wireman Sobba, People Serving People

In order to continue to work with populations that are historically underserved with access to the arts, NCC applies for a variety of grants every year. We are lucky to have been funded by multiple organizations, foundations, and agencies to continue our work of bringing complex ceramic arts to people who otherwise would not have access—often at little or no cost to the organizations. This is hugely impactful as both participants and the organizations and schools serving them rarely have any excess funding to provide beyond basic needs, let alone to finance complex arts opportunities.

If you want to sponsor NCC’s ClayToGo programming, learn more about what a clay residency looks like, or set up a class or demonstration for your group, please visit our website or contact Alison Beech, Community Engagement Manager, at 612.339.8007 x 313 or