Arts as an extension of identity

The Sabes Jewish Community Center in St. Louis Park will host an international arts festival for Jewish teens.

More than 180 Jewish teenagers from Israel, Canada and the United States will meet in the Twin Cities Aug. 17-22 to dance, act, sing, take photographs and design costumes from scratch.

It's all part of the JCC Maccabi ArtsFest, now in its third year -- an international festival that is being held in the Twin Cities for the first time, hosted by the Sabes Jewish Community Center in St. Louis Park.

The festival is designed to help teens develop their individuality through artistic expression, while also strengthening their bonds to their Jewish heritage, their community and Israel.

The five-day festival of performing, visual and literary arts features a combination of workshops, performances, exhibitions and recognition of excellence. It also incorporates community service and social activities.

"Arts are a great way for teens to explore who they are, how they relate to their peers, to their community, to their world, and expand their mental, social and emotional horizons," said Stuart Wachs, the CEO of the Sabes JCC.

"It's a way to enhance these kids' lives. ... They may be feeling like an artist, but not comfortable expressing an art -- feeling Jewish, but not comfortable expressing who they are as a Jew -- and this really gives them an avenue where they can express all that in such a comfortable place."

To help lead the way, 12 artists-in-residence from across the country have been selected based on their credentials and enthusiasm for working with young people. The teens will take cues from an award-winning photographer, costume designer, worldwide touring musician, documentary filmmaker and an acclaimed chef, among others.

Began with sports

Twenty-five years ago, the JCC Association created the JCC Maccabi Games with 300 Jewish athletes participating in a variety of sports. The Games now have grown to host 6,000 teens from all over the world.

But organizers realized that not all teens participate in and enjoy sports, so the JCC Maccabi ArtsFest was born.

"That's how the JCC Macabbi ArtsFest came to be," Wachs said. "It was a sister program [to the JCC Maccabi Games] that could attract Jewish teens from across North America and abroad around their passion for arts, and let them enhance their skills, explore their Jewish culture and faith, and become connected to Jewish kids from all across the world through this weeklong participation around arts."

The theme for this year's festival -- "It's Good to Give Thanks" -- will allow teens to participate in a community service project and share their skills and love for the arts with homeless youth at Mary's Place, a transitional housing complex in downtown Minneapolis, and with participants at the local Boys and Girls Club. ArtsFest teens will host an art carnival, helping kids with art projects such as book-making and collages.

At the end of the week, the public is invited to witness the culmination of their work when participants showcase their art at the Hopkins Center for the Arts at 7 p.m. Aug. 21.

Aimee Blanchette • 612-673-1715


    What: JCC Maccabi ArtsFest closing showcase

    Where: Hopkins Center for the Arts, 1111 Mainstreet, Hopkins

    When: 7 p.m. Aug. 21

    Tickets: $12; call 952-381-3499 or visit

    More info: Call 952-381-3439

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