June Artist Spotlight: Jon Lurie

* What’s your art form?

I am a nonfiction writer specializing in narrative journalism and memoir.

* Will you share a piece of advice for aspiring writers?

A writer is someone who writes, not necessarily someone who publishes or becomes famous. In order to become a great writer you must dedicate yourself to daily practice, just like anything else at which you desire to become skilled. Keeping a journal and adding to it every day is the best way to grow into a skilled writer.

* How does teaching your craft to youth affect your own art?

It reminds me of how far I've come, and how much I have learned that I can share with others. It also reminds me of the original passion that led me to pursue a career in the arts. It gives me great joy and confidence to engage young people in writing instruction.

* Do you remember how you first became interested in the arts?

I was five years old and sitting on the couch with my father watching football. The game ended and 60 Minutes came on. The first segment was about the great Russian dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov. This was the first time I had seen him dance, and the closest I have ever come to seeing a man fly. I knew what I wanted to do when I grew up, dance in the ballet. When I told my father of my intentions he looked like he was going to lose his lunch. I didn't know this at the time, but my father was homophobic and believed my desire to dance signaled something sinister about my sexuality. The day after the 60 Minutes episode my father signed me up for hockey. Throughout my childhood I longed to be involved in the arts. I wanted to be in the Children's Theater and take painting classes at the Walker. My father prevented me from fulfilling these endeavors with the excuse that I wouldn't have time due to my intensive hockey schedule. He had a point. Although I didn't much enjoy playing hockey I played it all the time: five or more days a week year around through high school graduation. As soon as I was allowed to make my own choices I quit hockey and turned toward the arts. At 18 I began a daily writing practice that eventually blossomed into a writing career. My daughters became dancers.

* By the end of a week with you, what are 3 things you hope most students have learned? 

  1. That if they desire to become writers they have the power to make that happen.
  2. Writing is difficult, but is accompanied by great rewards.
  3. Writing is the most powerful method by which to create whatever they want in their lives.

* What does being a COMPAS artist mean to you?

I am grateful for the opportunity to engage kids from throughout the state of Minnesota. Through COMPAS I have had the opportunity to become acquainted with places and people I may never have known. The staff at COMPAS is composed of wonderful, forward thinking people whose support has encouraged me to develop new methods and ideas, and to grow as a teaching artist.

* Why do you think arts education is needed in our community?

Our educational culture moves so quickly, and is so jammed with testing and other academic requirements that students rarely have an opportunity to reflect upon what they've learned. Thus, most of it is forgotten. The arts allow students to slow down and reflect. It is a process that encourages them to grow in any academic area. Moreover, it gives them an opportunity to get to know and define themselves.

* Could you tell me a little about your new Water project you’re working on with COMPAS?

I developed the idea for the COMPAS Waters Project after nearly three decades of leading canoe trips on Minnesota's waterways. It emerged from two central questions: Why are our waters suffering, and, what can be done about it? I concluded that the only way to overcome this immense challenge is to change Minnesotans' relationship to water. I designed a program that uses STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) education and the arts to do just that. Students in the COMPAS Waters Project learn a great deal about our waters, and then reflect on their learning through the practice of art. They are encouraged to share their artistic expressions with their communities as a way of spreading the word that our waters need help.