Black-owned art studio draws in the community with art classes
The love of art runs in the family of entrepreneur Kenneth Caldwell, the owner of CaldToArt in North Minneapolis. The art studio offers art and painting lessons to people of all ages in person, as well as online.
Caldwell grew up in North Minneapolis. He graduated from North High School and decided to further his education. “I did three years at St. Cloud [University] and one year at MCTC [Minneapolis Community and Technical College],” Caldwell explained.
Although college courses were informative, he pays homage to his family. “My dad’s an artist as well, his name is Charles Caldwell—my first introduction to the arts was through him.”
His father is a well-known artist based in North Minneapolis who for over 40 years has created extraordinary illustrations of various subjects ranging from children and civil rights activists to jazz musicians.
According to his website, Charles Caldwell “has developed several bodies of work in genre including portraits, glass mosaic, wood carvings, pencil drawing, watercolor, parallels, layered paper sculptured art, acrylics abstracts, and murals.”
Kenneth Caldwell spoke about what it was like growing up around his father. “I remember peeking through the door at him at the table and the whole house was dark and he was working on a piece—I stood there and watched.” He was in awe of his father’s exemplary art that drew him in.
It’s important to note that the CaldToArt business was established in 2014-2015 at the Juxtaposition co-op in North Minneapolis. “I’m amazed every time I think about it because it doesn’t seem real sometimes. But when it’s your calling, it just happens,” Caldwell said.
There’s meaning behind the business name CaldToArt: “My calling is the arts, and it just stuck; I fell in love with it,” said Caldwell.
He elaborated: “The mission is for me to expose as many people as I can to the arts and to get it out there. I want people to be able to recognize that there is an artist living inside of you, you just have to tap into it.” Everyone is encouraged to attend a class.
The art classes are approximately 2 to 2½ hours long. “It’s mainly adult classes, but I do have youth classes as well,” Caldwell said. The age range is from 5 to 75 years old.
Those who sign up for the art classes can make special requests. “If they have ideas, they usually text it to me. Lately, I’ve been offering pre-sketched canvases.”
He emphasized, “I like to focus mainly around Afrocentric-type images. I know a lot of people in our community don’t necessarily paint landscapes with trees and flowers.” Participants can expect to pay $40-$45 per person.
Before the business came to fruition, Caldwell taught art for over a decade. “I’m actually an educator, so I’ve been working in the schools for about 15-plus years, maybe 20 now.” The job insecurity helped fuel his entrepreneurial spirit.
He said, “There was a time I had got laid off from one of the schools I was working at, and I took that severance pay and focused on creating a large body of work because I didn’t like the idea of being constantly let go when the arts department was getting cut.” So, he followed his dreams.
Caldwell aspired to establish financial stability. He said, “I started creating a bunch of pieces and I put everything together and had a one-man show,” which was very successful. His friends in the art studio and co-op encouraged him to start teaching classes.
He added, “This was at the beginning stages of the sip and paint taverns that were starting up. I had put on a class one day and taught a couple of people, and it grew organically from there into a business.” The classes, conducted online through Zoom, are quite popular.
There are rewarding and challenging aspects to running a business. “I just want to share this story,” Caldwell said. “There was a time where I had to ask [my supervisor] to join my daughter or son on a field trip—that made me feel some kind of way when my supervisor told me I couldn’t do that.”
Now he enjoys his independence, an upside of being a business owner. “That’s one of the biggest luxuries of being self-employed is the confidence and flexibility and the freedom it gives you,” Caldwell said.
The COVID pandemic caused challenges and opportunities in business. Caldwell explained, “I started teaching sip and paint classes.” He would send out pre-made art kits to pivot with the times. “It brought another perspective to my business in terms of adding another way to make income,” Caldwell said.
He offered advice to budding business owners and young people: “If you are passionate about it, don’t think about the monetary successes of it. If it’s something you love to do, it will pay off in the end. It doesn’t always come in the form of money—just be open to how the gift comes back to you.”
Ashley Lauren is a contributing writer at the MN Spokesman-Recorder.