Inspired by and for Urban Spaces

Ben Alfaro on the St. Paul campus

Ben Alfaro

Writer, performer, and educator Ben Alfaro has a vision to shape cities into inspired, inclusive, thriving places. The Detroit native believes that arts and community organizations are central to that transformation.

As a student in the Master of Professional Studies in Arts and Cultural Leadership, he is tasking himself with achieving a deeper understanding of how different stakeholders treat public space “and how planners can develop robust and creative cities that will resist gentrification, displacement, and harm to working class families.”

Raising Voices

Alfaro, who majored in Urban Studies as an undergraduate, has taught in hundreds of classrooms, libraries, and community centers as a poetry teacher and group facilitator. He organized a high school poetry festival that convened schools and organizations from across Michigan and launched the Detroit Youth Poet Laureate prize.

Ben Alfaro in front of the bull sculptures

“A poem in itself may not change the world, but the insight, reflection, and conversation that a poem can bring about can directly impact the lives of people and places,” Alfaro says.

Today, Alfaro works on the Advancement Team that supports efforts around major gifts at Northside Achievement Zone (NAZ) in North Minneapolis. NAZ, whose mission is to close the opportunity gap and end generational poverty in the area, recently launched a $35 million investment campaign to sustain and expand programming. Prior to NAZ, he worked in development at Hallie Q. Brown Community Center, a human services organization in the historic Rondo neighborhood.

Alfaro’s knowledge of how cities grow and change has informed his art. “It helped me reconcile that place, whether a broad geography or an intimate setting, is always operating as a muse in some capacity.”

Mapping Goals

Before moving to the Twin Cities, Alfaro explored other master’s degrees in fine arts, public administration, and urban planning, but found those options limited in scope.

"The attention and care that the ACL faculty has shown supports an intimate, student-centered approach to graduate school."

“The ACL program is unlike any other program being offered in the country,” he says. “I can take classes from the arts, social sciences, and management departments to tailor my learning. Moving to the Twin Cities helped me evaluate where my professional strengths and weaknesses reside and provided an arts landscape that was rich with history and innovation.”

Nice Ride bike rack on St. Paul campus

Alfaro’s elective courses focus on urban spatial equity, and his goal is to master “the technical and professional skills to lead a creative and community-driven organization into the future.” Although he may return to Detroit someday, the tools gained here—the theoretical frameworks and the practical skills—can be applied anywhere.

“This program has met and surpassed many of my expectations… the attention and care that the ACL faculty has shown supports an intimate, student-centered approach to graduate school. They are eager to help students fine tune their education and coursework so that it yields the greatest possible benefit. I am proud to be a part of this legacy.”

Stand-out Course

Strategic Planning and Management (with John Bryson) “has offered some great lessons and exercises that were directly applicable to my professional work.”

Pro Tips for Busy Students

“The ACL program is ideal if you believe the arts are at the root of what you want to do professionally. Because of its flexibility, the program allows for more scaffolding than an arts administration degree and more professional pathways than an MFA. Consider how the graduate degree will propel you in your field and be intentional about what deliverable gains you hope to achieve in classes.”

“Something to remember is that the ACL degree is a professional degree, so there's no urgency to complete it in two years—take your time, get what you need, and always consider your physical and mental health first.”