Summer Youth Programming at Minnetonka Center for the Arts

Minnetonka Center for the Arts offers a full palette of youth programming.

There’s a conversation happening at the Minnetonka Center for the Arts. “Art is a way of communicating,” artist Ruth Mason says. “It’s this wonderful language, and people can connect and reach other people.”  

For six years, Mason has served as an instructor for the center’s youth, summer camp and outreach programs. “I love their open minds,” she says of children. “They are open to new ideas. That part is so refreshing.”

Mason, who primarily teaches painting, said artists come from a place of “art making”—a place where uniqueness and experimentation is embraced. She said children respond to this teaching philosophy, and the synergistic relationship between artist and student is part of what Mason finds inspiring.

Students can discover their own inspiration through the breadth and scope of classes at the art center. This time of year, school-age children stand at the threshold of summer, when education and creativity don’t have to take a vacation. The summer arts camp, which runs June 15 to August 28, offers more than 150 classes that are brimming with creative ways for children ages 5 to 15 to learn.

Imagine spending summertime in a field of artist Georgia O’Keeffe’s poppies or immersed in the world of British environmental artist Andy Goldsworthy. Summer arts camp has featured classes highlighting those artists’ work, and others involving mosaic art, drama production, stone carving, comic book illustrations, black-and-white photography, graffiti and aerosol art, glass fusing, ceramics, sculpture, drawing and painting.

MCFTA offers a myriad of classes, from the basics of painting to stone carving and glass fusing.

According to Sara Skalle, communications director at MCFTA, this summer’s course offerings will feature returning classes and lots of new programming. Nicole Buchholz, the art center’s children and youth programs director, is making a concerted effort to feature mixed-media arts in this summer’s lineup. “I think that there’s a chance to make some artistic decisions to see how different mediums can work together,” she says. “It’s exciting to see how something can evolve.”
Minnetonka’s Sophie Billadeau, 8, has been enrolled in painting and summer camp classes at the art center for three years. Her mother, Julie Fenyk, says, “It’s broadening for her,” adding that the instruction is top quality. “The painting was phenomenal,” Fenyk says of the classes. “For what you get, the cost is reasonable.”

With approximately 2,400 children in classes, maintaining affordability for the broadest audience is an important mission, according to Skalle. Classes are offered below cost, with tuition taking care of 65 percent of operating costs and the remaining 35 percent coming from the Minnesota State Arts Board, the McKnight Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts and independent donations.

During the school year, after-school programs and Saturday art classes in many mediums for all ages are offered, as well as intergenerational family workshops. While some classes explore the basics of painting, drawing and ceramics, other programs delve into stone carving, glass fusing and illustrating students’ favorite books.

Students with varying artistic ability and experience attend the classes. “We try to develop professional artists when we can,” Skalle says. Part of the professional experience can be gleaned by experiencing the art exhibit process from beginning to end. Once a year, the center presents a nonjuried student art show open for students 16 years and older. Skalle says the experience provides students with confidence, adding the public event, “really builds community.”

The center reaches out to the broader community through several programs, including those offered to schools. “[We] also facilitate all-day or half-day art experiences for interested west metro schools, such as the Northwest Suburban High School [Conference] and Groveland Elementary School, hosting more than 100 students working in every studio in our facility,” Skalle notes.

As Buchholz creates the youth art curriculum, she recognizes that one of the essential elements in the program’s success is the quality of the teaching artists. Instructors hail from different corner of the art world. Teachers come from the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, art-related career fairs and through the recommendation of other art professionals. Buchholz emphasizes that it’s important for children to “have the chance to exercise that creative muscle and learn from a professional artist.”

Sign up for classes or learn more about the programming at or by calling 952.473.7361.