You must be able to adapt and readapt no matter what comes your way. There will inevitably be setbacks, but legacy-building organizations seize those moments and innovate through them.

For someone who wants to set aside money to establish a Philanthropic Foundation or Fund, what does it take to make sure your resources are being impactful and truly effective? In this interview series, called “How To Create Philanthropy That Leaves a Lasting Legacy” we are visiting with founders and leaders of Philanthropic Foundations, Charitable Organizations, and Non-Profit Organizations, to talk about the steps they took to create sustainable success.

As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Gabrielle Grier, Managing Director of Juxtaposition Arts (JXTA), a youth-focused social enterprise, gallery, retail shop and artists’ studio space in North Minneapolis. Gabrielle is a strong multicultural youth and family activist who believes in all dynamics of diversity, inclusiveness and education policy. She is passionate about the community and the importance of educating, mentoring and guiding young people (and the adults who support them) on their journey.

Thank you for making time to visit with us about a ‘top of mind’ topic. Our readers would like to get to know you a bit better. Can you please tell us about one or two life experiences that most shaped who you are today?

I grew up in Springfield, Illinois, and spent hours daily with my grandfather, who was a carpenter and had a woodshop. One year, he built this beautiful greenhouse, and I remember him telling me about the importance of creating an incubator and a hub, where no matter what was happening externally, things were still growing inside. It became the perfect metaphor for the importance of space design, and he taught me to think intentionally about what’s being created and designed and how those things would be used or operated. He was one of the first people who helped me understand that functionality and physical design truly go hand-in-hand.

In addition to teaching me about space, design, and beauty justice — which means that people, no matter their socioeconomic status, deserve to experience beautiful things and walk into spaces that were intentionally designed with them in mind — my grandfather also instilled in me a lifelong love of learning and creating. I respected him because he respected everything and truly moved through the world knowing I could also teach him things. I knew I wanted to be an artist, and I also wanted to inspire and guide other young people on their journeys too — just like my grandfather did with me.

You are a successful leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? We would love to hear a few stories or examples.

When I think about success, I really think about an open concept of balance and it being an internal dialogue meditating on the relationship between adaptation and authenticity. That balance can be molecular grounding and can be as practical as never changing who I am based on the room I’m in. There will always be people or opportunities who will want me to fit into their perception of who I am or the perception of the organization I represent, but it’s crucial for my return to balance.

The next is emotional intelligence. As leaders, it’s critical for us to remember that we don’t work with things; we work with people. We must recognize that all decisions and perspectives are shaped by and come from our emotional selves, which is true for me and has shown true with every area I have worked in.

Lastly, adaptability is also essential. As someone who likes order and consistency, working for an always-evolving organization like Juxtaposition Arts and navigating the world within all of my identities has taught me the importance of being adaptable. Change is the only constant, and it has been my experience that releasing the falsity of control brings so much more room for pivotal joy!

What’s the most interesting discovery you’ve made since you started leading your organization?

The biggest thing I’ve discovered is the importance of history and how it critically shapes the development of an individual’s or a space’s identity. If you don’t know the origins because you weren’t there, it’s imperative to just be quiet and listen. Often when people are talking about things that have happened in the past, it’s a simultaneous reflection of themselves as well. Geography and identity create a very important synergy.

Can you please tell our readers more about how you or your organization intends to make a significant social impact?

When Roger and DeAnna Cummings and Peyton Russell founded Juxtaposition Arts in North Minneapolis in 1995, it was initially started as an opportunity to demonstrate through a lifestyle what it means to be an artist. They created something that demonstrated that it was possible to merge making things and creating spaces for others to do the same. Fast forward to today, and with natural evolution, the vision for what they hoped JXTA would be is now a reality — people making things and making space for people to do just that.

JXTA develops community by engaging and employing young artists in hands-on education initiatives that create pathways to self-sufficiency while actualizing creative power. We offer comprehensive art and design training and creative sector employment for young people aged 8–22, and our creative services range from graphic design to textiles and screen printing, contemporary and mixed-media artwork, public art and murals, environmental design and design-based community engagement and urban planning. Because many young artists are under-resourced and undervalued, our goal is to ensure our youth are not only being celebrated but also valued for their skills and presented with the resources needed to put those skills to use.

As the only Black-founded and led arts and cultural organization of its kind in the nation, we believe embracing, supporting, and providing resources for the creativity and entrepreneurial spirit that exists in our city will build a legacy of Black leadership for years to come. We also hope JXTA is setting an example for other organizations and showing them the endless possibilities of investing in the next generation’s genius in their local neighborhoods. For nearly three decades, JXTA has made cultural practices visible and ensures that we can be a part of maximizing the livability of those practices by merging that with the next generation.

What makes you feel passionate about this cause more than any other?

As the African Sankofa principle teaches, we move forward, but we also look back to our roots. We don’t live forever; however, JXTA ensures constant extension and reach to community by continually planting the seeds that keep young people growing.

Without naming names, could you share a story about an individual who benefitted from your initiatives?

There are so many! One, in particular, was a young person who started exploring the importance of using the resources around them, personally and in their creative practice, more than a decade ago. It’s been absolutely phenomenal witnessing how those skills have now manifested for them in their mid-adult life and how they’re using that same integrity in those practices in major galleries nationally and in spaces internationally. And a big part of what JXTA provided them was just the space to figure it out.

We all want to help and to live a life of purpose. What are three actions anyone could take to help address the root cause of the problem you’re trying to solve?

So many people, unfortunately, see our young folks as throwaways. They think, “they’re not worth it.” “They don’t deserve beautiful spaces.” “They’re poor,” or “they’re less advantaged.” These social constructs marginalize our young people and automatically position them to feel like they’re less than. To counter that — beauty justice says “here are the things that you’re worth.” Everybody deserves to be stimulated by what’s around them. How we experience spaces and the people inside them has an impact.

In order to design these spaces with community, we must center tradition, develop intergenerational relationships and tap into our good old-fashioned intuition alongside contemporary frameworks that give birth to innovation.

At JXTA, young people are invited into a place where they’re hearing people say, “You’re at the table” and, “You’re here, and you matter.” We offer a combination of intergenerational relationships, the ability to keep Black culture at the center and the understanding that there is no hierarchy between a young person’s ability or an adult’s ability. We’re all just creative beings, and beauty justice strips away what shows up in traditional institutional spaces.

Based on your experience, what are the “5 Things You Need To Create A Successful & Effective Nonprofit That Leaves A Lasting Legacy?” Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Integrity

Integrity is vital to the fabric of a lasting organization. In order to be successful, you must maintain a commitment to who you are and where you come from and remember who you’re doing it for. At JXTA, we maintain a foundation of Black culture. For instance, many key parts of JXTA were born from the hip-hop movement, including our Free Wall program which incorporates graffiti. If we’re in true orientation of what it means to be connected in authentic ways, in community-based ways, it’s part of traditional forms of the Black experience.

2. Emotional Intelligence

It’s also important to provide an opportunity for everyone to be seen and heard. Doing so allows the space for authentic creativity, collaboration and change to happen. If your intentions are pure and you create an organization with emotional intelligence at its core, it will live beyond you.

3. Adaptability

You must be able to adapt and readapt no matter what comes your way. There will inevitably be setbacks, but legacy-building organizations seize those moments and innovate through them.

4. Maintaining Authentic Relationships

One of the toughest challenges in creating a lasting nonprofit legacy is fundraising. It can be tiring and overwhelming, especially because it needs to happen like clockwork year after year. You have to be committed not only to raising the money but you must balance it with your commitment to why you’re doing it, who you’re doing it for and who you’re doing it with. In order to do that, it’s essential to maintain authentic relationships and partnerships.

5. Reflection and Reflexivity

As my friend and JXTA Board Chair Nesret Theba has said to me several times, constantly ask yourself, “What value are you mirroring, and what value are they rubbing up against?” People who do that reflective and reflexive practice often are powerful leaders and can maintain their commitment to their cause and continue to find purpose in their mission. If you cannot articulate how you got there, there is no way to measure where you are going.

How has the pandemic changed your definition of success?

You can have a strategic plan that is well-thought-out and uses intentional time and commitment from all of the stakeholders, and then something like the pandemic can literally trash it, dump on it and make it irrelevant.

Over the past couple of years, I’ve redefined success by thinking about, “What is the bigger thing?” “What is the long-term and the immediate thing at the same time?” It’s about staying committed to taking care of the people who are showing up every day for the work, knowing we are all going through things. It’s also about knowing that without the people who are supporting our organization and the work, we are nothing. As leaders, we should be communicating the value of our people and demonstrating that in practice and in action.

How do you get inspired after an inevitable setback?

As a former athlete, I learned how to constantly have, accomplish, and push myself toward goals, and failing at some of them often created mental and emotional ambition in me. That ambition means being real and honest about where I am emotionally and where I know I will be — and holding both truths at the same time. It’s never committing to “this is the end” but knowing there will always be “both/and” situations in life. The transition of athletes into leadership means we know what it feels like to win big and start all over again in the gym. The repetitive nature of intrinsic motivation is the constant fire to keep pushing.

We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world who you would like to talk to, to share the idea behind your non-profit? He, she, or they might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

For me, it’s social practice designer, potter and cultural innovator Theaster Gates. When I was 16 years old, he was the first person who showed me that being an artist and a creative innovator didn’t fit within the boxes that were being taught to me. The first video I ever saw of him was throwing a pot, singing Black folk songs and roller skating across a ceramics studio, and I remember thinking, “Who is this Black man?!” I couldn’t believe how much he had mirrored so many parts of my identity. To see the way he’s evolved and transformed those same practices and is so unapologetic about it is beyond inspiring — he is my “forever” person. Theaster is a model of blowing up the traditional definitions of artist and designer and strategically shifting to make deep pathways for him and the whole tribe that is with him. Just powerful.

You’re doing important work. How can our readers follow your progress online?

They can visit or follow us on all major social media channels, including Instagram (@jxta_arts) and Facebook (Juxtaposition Arts).

Thank you for a meaningful conversation. We wish you continued success with your mission.