Arleta Little: Living and working in creative community

According to the 2013 Minneapolis Creative Index, Minneapolis reports 20,000 jobs in its creative sector. I believe it.

Rocket sculpture by artist Randy Walker at Brackett Park in the Longfellow neighborhood

Sculpture by artist Randy Walker at Brackett Park in Longfellow.

On a single walk through my Longfellow neighborhood, Biscuit (my Bichon Frise) and I pass the homes of creatives on every block. My neighbor to the east is the founder of a small theater. My neighbor to the north just completed her MFA and teaches writing courses. My neighbors to the south and west include current and former staffers at local presses and art museums, full-time freelance photographers, and part-time mosaic artists, just to name a few. Within my neighborhood, there are four novels in gestation (that I know about), five little free libraries (at last count), at least three significant works of public art, several murals — and the other morning, I passed the window of my local coffee shop and caught a glimpse of a woman reading sheet music as she sipped her morning brew.

Yep, I live here. This cornucopia of creativity is my home.

I have always had an experiential lifestyle and my work life illustrates the creative expression of a constitution that blends equal doses of idealism, love for art and adventure, and a commitment to community service. I started off studying creative writing, taught English in the Peace Corps, went back to school for graduate degrees in Social Work and Public Affairs, and spent 15 years building a consulting business that assisted nonprofits with grantwriting, planning, and program evaluation. For the past near decade, I made a living and a life as the executive director of an African American literary arts organization. I know well what it takes to run an organization and what it’s like to be on the other side of the grantmaking equation.

Over the last couple of months, I’ve been settling into my position as the new arts program officer at the McKnight Foundation. I’ve been surprised to find that this transition has been less about leaving things behind and more about bringing things along.

Me and Biscuit at home.

Me and Biscuit at home.

This job is chock full of reading, researching, and reviewing — working to capture and convey the stories of arts organizations and their work with artists. I’ve unpacked my writing skills. I’m navigating and connecting with people in diverse disciplines, cultures, classes, and communities reminiscent of my time in the Peace Corps. I’m frequently on the phone, listening, establishing links to resources, familiar work for any good social worker or public servant. I ask questions like I did as a strategic planner and organizational developer — sometimes exploratory, sometimes diagnostic, sometimes facilitative — but always a lot of questions. I also keep optimism, adaptability, humor, and other survival skills that I’ve learned along the way in my bag and ready to go.

I love to travel and there are many places that I could live. A dedicated member of Richard Florida’s Creative Class, I choose to live and work in a community that reflects my values and priorities. I live here in Minnesota because of the quality of creative and communal life that I have found here over the last nearly 20 years and I recognize this as the fruit of voluntary investments that have been made according to shared values over time. The McKnight Foundation has been a formative member of the community that I’ve come to call home. I am honored now to find myself in a position to take the Foundation’s commitment to creative community forward.

As part of this new work, in the coming months, Biscuit and I are looking forward to expanding our adventures to include arts destinations and happenings throughout the state of Minnesota and the region.  Creatives — Keep an eye out for us! We’re looking forward to meeting you!


alittleArleta Little
Arts Program Officer, McKnight Foundation