‘The Art of Me’

Program allows Valley Friendship Club members to shine

Steven Crotty, 21, David Kaetterhenry, 17, and Haley Olson, 20, of Stillwater and Brandon Haug, 16, of Lake Elmo and artist Dylan Fresco from Upstream Arts work on a warm up act before entering their tech rehearsal Tuesday afternoon. The group has been attending an artist residency funded by a grant from the Metropolitan Regional Art Center over the past few weeks. It will culminate in a performance at Stillwater Junior High School tomorrow night. (Gazette staff photo by Avery Cropp)

Steven Crotty, 21, David Kaetterhenry, 17, and Haley Olson, 20, of Stillwater and Brandon Haug, 16, of Lake Elmo and artist Dylan Fresco from Upstream Arts work on a warm up act before entering their tech rehearsal Tuesday afternoon. The group has been attending an artist residency funded by a grant from the Metropolitan Regional Art Center over the past few weeks. It will culminate in a performance at Stillwater Junior High School tomorrow night. (Gazette staff photo by Avery Cropp)

The Valley Friendship Club has spent the last few weeks participating in a theater and arts residency program that culminates in a performance Thursday night by the residency’s 18 participants.

The club received a $5,000 Land, Water and Legacy grant for the program through the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council (MRAC). The Valley Friendship Club was founded by three mothers who wanted new opportunities for their special needs children. This grant was used so the group could partner up with a group called Upstream Arts to offer the art residency experience.

Upstream Arts is a Minneapolis-based non-profit group that strives to create partnerships with community groups to give people with disabilities the opportunity to participate in the arts and learn life skills.

“ ‘The Art of Me’ really allows people with disabilities to branch out and become participants and not just spectators,” said Susan Kane, a founder of Valley Friendship Club. “It’s all about being able to draw kids out of themselves and give them a place to shine and share their talents.”

Kane said MRAC officials told her that the grant awarded to Valley Friendship Club was a wonderful opportunity for the group to get more involved in the theater and arts.

“Their praise gave me goose bumps,” Kane said.

Although the residency was creative, Kane said there was an educational and social component to it. The days consisted of social role-playing situations, and other things that could help VFC participants in their daily lives. Kane added that the residency had a great impact on a couple of participants who were very shy before taking part in the program.

“It really caused them to step out of their boxes and really opened up an opportunity for them to shine and do something they can be proud of, where they didn’t have the opportunity before,” she said.

The partnership experience has been rewarding for both VFC and Upstream Arts and representatives of both groups hope to carry it forward with a fall program at ArtReach St. Croix.

“What’s so unique about this group (Valley Friendship Club) is that there’s such limited opportunity for social experiences for people with disabilities, and though the educational component is great it doesn’t have to be all about work. The fact that they have managed to work community and social development in tandem makes it a great experience,” said Julie Guidry, the executive director of Upstream Arts.

The evening performance, created by the participants in the residency, consists of poetry, singing, music and dancing. The free performance is 6:30 p.m. at Stillwater Junior High School. Cake will be served after the event and a free-will offering is appreciated.

Contact Avery Cropp at avery.cropp@ecm-inc.com

  • Jess B

    What a fun opportunity! I love it!

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