25 Stories: Lisa Denzer

Photo of a woman next to the title 25 stories for 25 years Lisa Denzer

25 stories for 25 years. Since 1995, Juxtaposition Arts has provided arts education, employment, and development opportunities for young people in North Minneapolis. In 2020, 25 years since we started our work, we’re sharing 25 stories that help illustrate the impact, growth, and learning opportunities these 25 years have provided. We’re asking some of our alumni, artist collaborators, donors, clients, board and community members, and current program participants to share their stories. Follow along as we share the impact JXTA has had in just a quarter of a century.

Want to help ensure our legacy of impact continues? Donate today! Gifts of any amount will ensure we can continue to provide programming, employment, and a space for creativity for young people. Thank you!

Please note: this article was written prior to the announcement that our annual Move The Crowd event on July 31st has been canceled.

Lisa Denzer is chair of the JXTA Board of Directors, is a recurring donor, a Capital Campaign committee member, and is the founder of our annual Move the Crowd fundraising event.

Lisa Denzer, a farm girl raised in a town of 500, was introduced to Juxtaposition Arts by two former JXTA art instructors, Nate Young and Caroline Kent. “I started on the fund development committee in 2013. That was back in the days when we had house parties. I had a successful house party that raised about $15,000 and as the party was wrapping up DeAnna and Roger asked me to join the board. I was thrilled that they asked me and immediately said yes.”

Lisa joined the board because she believes in JXTA’s mission. Lisa is a licensed professional clinical mental health counselor. “The meaning in my life is creating access and opportunities. When I think about my work as a mental health counselor one of the things that really matters to the wellbeing of people is having a sense of mastery or competence or being good at something. Having those skills develop over time and having an outlet makes people feel good and has the potential to be transformative. That is why I believe in the work of JXTA — there is a lot of meaning in the training and in the opportunities we provide. We are teaching skills and trade. We are teaching mastery where someone could say ‘I am good at this’. That transforms lives.”

Three people posing in front of a colorful backdrop.

Lisa Denzer (far right) with her daughter and co-Board member Ellen Schmidt pose at JXTA’s 2018 Move the Crowd fundraising gala event. Photo by Emily Barrera.

Lisa sees a correlation between her own access to opportunities and her work at JXTA; “I am a farm girl who grew up with my siblings and horses where the closest neighbors were a half-mile away. I do not think I was aware of this but working at the Minnesota Daily at the University of Minnesota changed my view of myself. All of a sudden, I became a person that was going to get paid for my creativity and ideas. That was a transformative way of looking at myself, which is what I mean about creating opportunity and teaching mastery and competence as a means of transforming an individual’s life.”

Lisa continues to throw events for JXTA and is the founder of JXTA’s annual fundraising event, Move The Crowd (MTC). Her role at JXTA, as she sees it, is to “tell the story of JXTA to a broader audience and ideally to get people to North Minneapolis for our events. I think it is really important that people experience North Minneapolis for themselves.  Before JXTA, there really was no reason for me to come to North Minneapolis in my daily life. Now I have the joyful memory of dancing on West Broadway on a Friday night in a room full of all types of different people. It is really powerful.”

Lisa had just completed her second year of chairing Avant Garden, the Walker Art Center’s annual fundraising event when the opportunity to start JXTA’s annual event presented itself. Lisa describes her experience planning the event: “We were intent on having a JXTA-centric event that was young, edgy, and let us do it our way and show people who we really are.” The event needed to be congruent with how Lisa sees JXTA: “a young, scrappy, nimble, super relevant, and a good problem-solving organization. At times we are also a little stubborn and I don’t mean that in a negative way. More so that JXTA and its staff are determined and individualistic. It is actually really refreshing as it requires a lot of confidence and pride in yourself and the work to see things through in the way you want it expressed.”

Two people stand in front of a painting and talk to each other.

Lisa Denzer speaks with visiting South African artist Kealeboga Tlalang at the opening reception of his solo exhibition in 2018. Photo by Riché Effinger.

JXTA’s mission is to “develop community by engaging and employing young urban artists in hands-on education initiatives that create pathways to self-sufficiency while actualizing creative power.” MTC is Lisa’s baby and she birthed it with the intention of showcasing JXTA and all the work the organization accomplishes on the Northside. JXTA creates access to opportunities for youth through youth apprenticeships in art and design. The goal of MTC is to let the apprentices be the stars of the event and show off our campus so that people can experience the specialness of our mission firsthand.

This year marks the fourth anniversary of MTC. Though it has shifted to a virtual event on Friday, July 31st due to COVID-19, it will remain true to JXTA and our legacy. “JXTA is not a formal place; it is an informal, active place,” says Lisa. “So, I think any event, including a virtual one, has to reflect the nature of JXTA. We want it to be very JXTA-centric and to showcase the apprentices.” When asked what she sees for the future of MTC Lisa shares that, “we cannot stay static; it isn’t always going to stay the same each year, but we have to stay true to who we are and change with the times and change with the demands of the organization. However, our hope is that it is always going to showcase the work of our organization and that the apprentices hold the spotlight. “

Lisa’s list of support for JXTA extends beyond MTC: she is also a recurring donor, the chair of JXTA’s Board of Directors, and a committee member of JXTA’s current $14 million capital campaign. She says, “supporting JXTA is personal. It is not just about writing a check, although we do want people to write checks. What I mean is that if someone really wants to transform an individual’s life, a family’s life, a community, then they must provide access to opportunities. That is JXTA’s recipe, through creative training and hiring of apprentices it is a pretty clear path to transformation.”

Today, in a time when many organizations question their survival under the current circumstances, JXTA is focused on building a legacy as a cultural organization. Reflecting on JXTA’s 25th anniversary in 2020, Lisa has aspirations for the next 25 years: “We must lead with our creative work. I see more funders investing in the legacy of an expanded and improved campus, as many of our buildings are over 100 years old and were never created to support our creative and design work. I also see more companies hiring us to do their creative work, providing fair wages for our apprentices, and the increase in and connection to more supporters as we continue to expand our story and hone and deepen our work.”

Please note: our annual Move The Crowd event on July 31st has been canceled. You can still support our work by becoming a recurring donor or by hiring us for creative services. You can also help provide access to opportunities by connecting our young people to meaningful paid art and design internships or entry-level employment opportunities. Further advocate for the arts and the expansion of access to careers in the art and design fields. For more information, please visit our website.