COMPAS Youth Boost with Nikki Hunt

Youth Boost are interviews with COMPAS' ArtsWork and ArtScope Alumni. ArtsWork and ArtScope are unique employment and arts training programs designed for youth to work alongside COMPAS artists. ArtsWork began in 2001 and ArtScope in 2012.

Hey Nikki, thanks so much for being interviewed today! Do you remember how you first became interested in the arts?

I've loved to draw for as long as I can remember. My earliest memory was drawing trolls (mind you, this was the 90's) and Disney characters for my friends. I also remember entering coloring contests and making posters. I was the kid who couldn't stop creating art.

What years were you in ArtsWork – what did you do?

I was lucky to be part of ArtsWork from 2001 - 2004 (including the inaugural year). I'd never painted before and my mentoring artist taught me how. I created many drawings and paintings, but my favorite projects were collaborations with other apprentice artists. Together, we painted a mural of downtown St. Paul on what is now the Schmidt Artist Lofts, and spray painted a van with iconic 60's imagery for A Taste of Minnesota.

How do you think ArtsWork made an impact on you that a “regular” job wouldn’t have?

Oh, absolutely. ArtsWork was my introduction to Minnesota's arts community. It gave me a sense of belonging and purpose, something I hadn't felt the previous summer while watering lawns.

Besides gaining artistic skills, what did you learn during your time with ArtsWork?

I learned it was possible to make a life in the arts in Minnesota. Prior to ArtsWork, I thought I'd have to move to New York or California to make it work. That's laughable now!

How did working with a mentor artist affect your choice of education and/or work?

When I started working as an ArtsWork apprentice, my "dream job" was to be a Disney animator. My mentor, Youa Vang, is a masterful artist who, coincidentally, had worked as a Disney animator! I'm grateful to Youa for believing in me, teaching me, and giving me a taste of what it'd be like to pursue that career. While I ultimately discovered that wasn't my dream job, it brought me closer to figuring out what was.

What are you doing now?

I work at Springboard for the Arts, a nonprofit economic and community development organization based in Saint Paul and Fergus Falls, Minnesota . We help artists make a living and a life and help communities tap into the resources that artists provide. Specifically, I work with artists to create tools that help communities navigate the healthcare system and connect to preventive care. I also work with community clinics to help artists get the care they need, and am a certified Navigator for MNsure, Minnesota's health insurance marketplace. You can learn more about what I do here.

Did your involvement with COMPAS play a role in that choice?

Yes! I knew I wanted to continue being a part of Minnesota's arts community and to do what I could to cultivate that community. I knew it was important to work in an environment surrounded by kind, smart artists who make me laugh, inspire me and push me to do my best. Springboard couldn't be a better fit.

Where do you hope to be with your work in 10 years?

Springboard's Executive Director, Laura Zabel, summed this up perfectly in an article featured on the NEA and Center for Cultural Innovation's CREATIVS website: What Artists Actually Need is an Economy that Works for Everyone. I believe that healthcare is a basic human right. So, in 10 years, I hope everyone has healthcare. I hope my work is about helping find creative solutions that improve the health our communities beyond basic needs.

How do you use creativity in your everyday life?

At Springboard, I help create new tools and programs that are shared -- for free-- with other communities. Please check out our Creative Exchange and click here to view and share the graphics and videos we’ve created to help people navigate the healthcare system and connect to preventive care.