You could say Master of Professional Studies in Arts and Cultural Leadership student Lucas Erickson has been surrounded by the arts since childhood. He was born in New York City and his father was an actor. He has an undergraduate degree in theater from the University of Colorado, and he was a public relations intern at the Hennepin Theater Trust. He has also worked in the artistic relations department at the Guthrie Theater.
He currently works for Creative Community Builders, an organization that helps communities recognize their own cultural and creative assets, researching various projects related to creative placemaking and writing their newsletter.
Creative placemaking is a growing practice that focuses on building a community’s identity and character around unique arts and cultural activities. Erickson was first introduced to this idea when he served as Project Coordinator for Plan-It Hennepin, a project aimed to redesign Hennepin Avenue in Minneapolis into an arts corridor.
Plan-It Hennepin led to the birth of Made Here, a popular, highly visible program that puts local art in vacant downtown storefronts and where Erickson serves on the advisory board.
“We meet four times each year and curate all of the art in the windows. We meet to discuss what we want to happen in the future and what we want now in terms of store fronts, street events, new grants, etc. We also have two meetings per year where we discuss which art applications should be accepted (after we vote separately the week before). In this process we look for four key things: is the art compelling, is it viable, is it relevant, and quality. It’s a great learning experience, especially for somebody like me who has never curated art before!”
Creating a Community Dialogue
Erickson also runs a theater outreach program through Springboard for the Arts called On Stage: Creating a Community Dialogue Around Live Theater, where he brings local actors into college classes around the Twin Cities where they read scenes from a play in current production, then lead a discussion about the themes and relate them to what the students are learning in class, current events, and their own personal values.
Past plays discussed include An Octoroon and A Raisin in the Sun. He is currently starting to program discussions for Anna in the Tropics with The Jungle Theater and We Are the Levinsons at the Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company.
This effort fits in perfectly with Erickson’s ACL degree focus on theater education and audience development. “My program aims to make local theater relevant to a younger and nontraditional audience. I want to inspire a future audience of theater-goers. It’s a tall task, but one I want to take head-on.”
Finding His Own Creative Place
Even with valuable theater and arts experience, Erickson felt there was a gap in his management training that he felt the ACL program could fill.
“I was learning on the fly and making things work, trying to sound like I knew what I was talking about,” says Erickson.
“I was kidding myself if I thought I knew the first thing about how to run a nonprofit. But now I do!”
With business acumen added to his skill set, Erickson is prepared to expand his education and development initiative into the future, as he continues to think of creative new ways to get people to relate to theater.
The main takeaway from his degree? “Leadership, leadership, leadership,” he says. “This is the core of the ACL program: to discover what type of leader you are. While everybody is different, this program wants you to follow your true values as a human being and keep these values at the core of how you run your personal and professional life.”
In addition to ACL foundational coursework, Erickson chose electives that complemented his theater education and audience development focus area:
- Critical Literacy, Storytelling, and Creative Drama (TH 5183)
- Theater Activities in Youthwork and Education (YOST 5314)
“These are two amazing classes. In both cases, I was able to look at theater as a vehicle that ties in cultural differences, current events, personal values and narratives, and critical thinking. These classes are a MUST for all theater students.”
Tip for Future Students
“Take your time in the program! Networking with guest speakers and fellow classmates is just as important as the course work. Build relationships with students, teachers, and leaders in the arts nonprofit sector. You will need friends and mentors along the way.”
Read an updated interview with Lucas about his organization On Stage.
Center photo: Actors Kory LaQuess Pullam and Thomasina Petrus facilitate a discussion about A Raisin in the Sun at the University of Minnesota (AFRO 3120 Social and Intellectual Movements in the African Diaspora).