Making Art Out of the Box at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts

You can do amazing things with a pizza box – you just have to think outside the box. For the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (MIA) and the Children’s Hospitals of Minnesota, that means using a pizza box filled with stickers, art supplies and pictures of museum objects in a fun art-making activity program called Art Out of the Box. Every participant gets his or her own box, which simultaneously addresses their needs as visitors and as patients.




An Art Out of the Box kit from the Children's Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota. An Art Out of the Box kit from the Children's Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota.

Click here to donate a kit to the hospital.


Art Out of the Box is a continually growing idea. MIA Community Arts Associate Krista Pearson puts it best, explaining, “We are a people’s museum (free admission) and programs like Art Out of the Box meet people where they are at, in the community.” Whether that is in libraries, in hospitals or in parks, the MIA follows the same basic format: lesson + resources + materials + lesson led by artist, instructor or presenter = successful responsive community arts program. As an artist herself, Pearson knows that programming is “not just the slideshows of art history surveys or the hallowed halls of encyclopedic museums…it happens offsite or outside the walls of the museum.”




Children enjoying the Art Out of the Box program at the Hennepin County LIbrary. Photo courtesy of MIA. Children enjoying the Art Out of the Box program at the Hennepin County LIbrary. Photo courtesy of MIA.

This idea first began as Art Bins with the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board’s Art in the Park program. It was essentially a small mobile studio that travelled from park to park so people had the space and resources to create simple hands-on projects. In 2007 the Hennepin County Library system approached the MIA interested in building a youth development art program. The Art Bins model fit right in and the following year Art Out of the Box premiered, using high-school students to teach group workshops for elementary-school-age children. Then came the Children’s Hospital program, which followed the same format as the library’s but in a one-on-one setting.


Being in a hospital can be tough for a child. Pearson notes, “even though I thought that the projects sounded fun and inspiring, I knew it was difficult for me to truly understand the value of art making as distraction.” Together the museum and the hospital work to satisfy the child’s needs as a visitor. Children are given the independence to complete projects on their own schedule and are assisted by talented volunteers and staff trained to deliver the program in a less structured, more adaptive manner. Projects are based around the image of a sun, which is warm, welcoming, and present in lots of museum objects. It’s also universal – everyone has ideas about it and everyone can draw it.













Sunburst, Dale Chihuly, 1999 Minneapolis Institute of Arts Sunface. Photo Courtesy of MIA.
A sculpture from the museum's collection and the art that it inspired from the Art Out of the Box program.
Sunburst, Dale Chihuly, 1999 Minneapolis Institute of Arts.


In the future, Pearson would like to add paid art educators and art therapists to deliver the hospital program and to expand its reach to include families, siblings, staff and other hospitals. They also hope to add resources such as iPads to connect participants to each other and to have virtual tours of the museum. The hospital program is currently funded through the Children’s Hospitals of Minnesota and generous support from Minneapolis-based financial services company Piper Jaffrey. Next up for the project is developing a series for diabetes patients, who can have extended, invasive visits to the hospital. While still in the development phase, it looks promising; participants are working around the image of a tree and connecting it to the metaphor that “trees are different, and you are different and that’s okay.”


For Pearson, working with this program is more than just a job - “what we’re here for is the learner, and in this case it’s the child, the patient.” She remembers a time when a young child was getting a painful, regular medical procedure and was given a pizza box as a distraction. By the end of the art-box making program they wanted to go to the museum. It’s examples like this that make the case that art can benefit a patient’s sense of well-being and is a valuable area of research.


The hospital is committed to researching and funding similar projects through their The Arts & Healing and Urban Renewal Project. To learn more, visit any of the links embedded in this article and watch this profile from TPT Saint Paul Minneapolis; scroll down to “Children’s Hospital in Minneapolis” (and watch the rest of the amazing clips of youth outreach programs). Sometimes the best ideas actually fit in a box – you just have to think outside of it first.





Krista Pearson, Community Arts Associate at the MIA. Photo courtesy of MIA. Krista Pearson, Community Arts Associate at the MIA. Photo courtesy of MIA.



Christian Hernandez is the Plinth contributor for the Central Region and an independent contractor for museums and cultural institutions in the US and Canada.