In the basement of Powderhorn Park's Recreation Center on a recent evening, four middle school students sat socially distanced around instructor Mickey Breeze, a keyboard, laptop, speakers and other equipment, learning the ins and outs of music production and engineering.
"I already know how to make up beats and I didn't expect it," fifth-grader Nora Thul said. "But it was a good unexpected thing."
Playing on fields and playgrounds are what people usually think of when discussing after-school park programs. But the Minneapolis Park Board is hoping to foster different skills and interests through its new Creation Spaces.
The Creation Spaces are part of Assistant Superintendent of Recreation Tyrize Cox's plans to bring new classes to parks programming. Each space will be designed to give children an outlet to explore a different creative expression.
The production studio in Powderhorn Park is the first of four planned Creation Spaces, all of which will feature free programming for youth and teenagers. The funds come out of the department's budget.
"We want to bring it to kids for free," Cox said. "We see these spaces as a bit of an equalizer for young people who want to get into it when families may not have the resources."
The Powderhorn Creation Space is run by Urban World Management's Roberta Ryan and Tim Wilson. The two are music industry veterans and were drawn to the opportunity to give back to the local Minneapolis community.
With the studio outfitted with the latest technology, instructors start students with the basics of recording, producing and writing music before advancing into more complex topics and even diving into some videography work.
Milo Bergen, a 10th-grader at South High School, said the first few classes have been extremely useful, and creating a beat was the top lesson so far.
"I felt very free," Bergen said of the process. "Like, I can do whatever I want."
Ryan and Wilson don't just want the students to learn music production and songwriting — they want to provide an education that includes lessons on the business side of the industry and connections with professionals for one-on-one guidance and mentoring.
Ryan said instructors meet with the students and come up with an individualized plan for each based on what they like to do, what music they enjoy and other factors.
"The easy part is to make music," Wilson said. "That's the easy part for us. We want to take people through the other part of the business and just develop an interest level in other things."
They are hoping to eventually offer field trips for some students to Los Angeles and New York to meet with producers and visit some big-time studios. They are also brainstorming ways to get the students real world opportunities in the Twin Cities to showcase their developing talents.
Ryan said it is important to expose children to these different opportunities in the music industry, especially when there is so much focus on the performance side. Plus, she added, there is money to be made as a songwriter or producer.
"It's so important for young people to experience as much as they can, even if it's just one time," Ryan said. "A lot of times individuals don't ask kids, 'What do you want to do?' And all it takes is someone asking them that and then supporting what their interests are."
Cox is excited for the future of the Creation Space program. The Park Board is still figuring out the details on the next three spaces, but Cox said they are considering a design studio, a visual studio and a culinary studio. The budget for the remaining spaces includes about $1 million for construction and $231,000 for technology.
The design studio would focus on graphic design, architectural design and potentially clothing design. The visual studio would focus on videography, photography and documentary skills.
Cox is also hoping to allow people to sign up and use the space on their own time once it is safe to do so.
"I fully anticipate that this will be the hot ticket in town, that the kids will want to get into this because it is cool," Cox said. "I'm excited to see how this grows over time."
Peter Warren • 612-673-1713