The Art House in Brooklyn Centre: Filling the Gap

The Old Brooklyn Community Elementary School no longer has an art teacher. Sadly, such is the case at many area schools—art is one of the first things cut in high-need, high-poverty, urban school districts facing difficult budget decisions. For nearly twenty years, the Art House in historic Brooklyn Centre, a nonprofit arts center, has tried to fill that gap by making art more accessible to those who need it through a variety of programs. And now, under the helm of Executive Director Laila Voss, their efforts have been recognized with a Stand for the Arts Award. Launched last year by Ovation TV (an arts television network), this initiative grew out of a partnership with the cable system Spectrum. The award recognizes outstanding local arts organizations in Spectrum markets across the US. Art House was chosen as one of twelve recipients of $10,000 for their continuing efforts to enrich lives and promote learning through the arts.

Much of this effort is shouldered by Laila Voss, who is a bundle of energy. During a recent visit to the Art House to discuss their award, I struggled to keep up with her as she toured me around their 3,000-square-foot studio, housed in a 1948 domed Quonset building. With facilities for ceramics, painting, printmaking, book-making, and more, on this day the Art House would be hosting Denison Elementary fourth graders for a painting class taught by local artist Augusto Bordelois. Through their Urban Bright program, Art House partners with local schools to provide meaningful, hands-on learning experiences for students. All the classes are taught by professional instructors, including many well-known area artists (such as Bordelois). The program focuses on providing services to schools in low-income, underserved communities in Greater Cleveland.

“I am acutely aware of the need for robust art programming in and out of schools,” Voss says. “Our free programs give children the chance to gain a broader world perspective and realize their full potential.” She explains that Art House is researching the best ways to service this need as broadly and deeply as possible. A nearby wall is completely covered with handwritten tables of their plans—goals, projects, mission statement, etc. Working at her desk she can look up and be reminded of these plans every day.

Voss is a well-known artist herself and an active participant in the Cleveland art “scene.” In her work Voss explores urban as well as psychological landscapes, and has exhibited installations, performances, sculptures, and drawings throughout the United States and abroad. In addition, she taught art for years at several colleges and universities in the Northeast Ohio region before accepting her post at the Art House two years ago.

Having inherited a very busy schedule of programs and workshops, and with only a skeleton staff, Voss oversees not only the Urban Bright program, but also StudioGO (fee-for-service workshops and classes for businesses, organizations, community groups, schools and other agencies), teen and adult art classes, and family open studios (free monthly workshops for families led by professional artists).

In addition, Art House hosts quarterly Community Culture Nights—free artist lectures featuring well-known local artists. Past participants include Kasumi, Natalie Lanese, Martinez E-B, and Robin VanLear. Coming up on November 30, award-winning filmmaker and comic book artist Ted Sikora will speak about his creative process.

Art House also holds an annual Chili Cook-Off, Day of the Dead workshops, and an Artist Inventory Challenge. For the Inventory Challenge, Art House invites a select group of artists to bring their own excess inventory, and along with the Art House’s overstock they use the materials at hand to create one-of-a-kind works of art. The resulting artworks are then sold to benefit Art House.

With a schedule this busy, Voss hasn’t had much time to devote to her own art, but as the children from Denison Elementary raucously start their painting class, Voss is right there to help a group of girls struggling with their clouds. Some of the students simply hold their paintings up into the air, trying to get her attention—“Miss! Miss!” they shout, wanting her approval.

As we sit and chat in her office, Voss describes the Art House as an anchor and a resource—but I’m wondering if that description is more apt for herself. Since Voss took the reins, in addition to the Stand for the Arts Award, Art House also received a Community Vibrancy Award from Metro West Community Development Organization, and has continued to bring more community partners aboard—increasing their programming along the way. Art House now serves over 6,000 children annually, and hopes to expand their staff and capacity in the future. For now, they’re fighting the good fight one student at a time. Voss explains, “Art shapes every culture. It is integral to the development of a whole human being. With arts learning, children grow up to be innovators and actively engaged citizens.” I couldn’t agree more with this assessment, and if anyone can lead the charge to action, it’s Laila Voss.

CAN Journal would like to thank the Art House for hosting our Winter 2018/2019 Issue Launch Party.

To learn more about Art House’s programs and upcoming events, please visit