Duluth Folk School invites you to do three simple things: Work with your hands, engage with the community, and have fun. Those simple invitations lie at the heart of a place for community members in Duluth to gather, a place where they can share knowledge and skills as they create handmade items, all while sharing a drink and a bite to eat at Dovetail Café & Marketplace, its sister business in the same space.
“Duluth is full of crafting inspiration. We’re at the start of the Northland, between the prairies of central Minnesota and the North woods, right on the big lake, and a product of many cultures,” said Carmel DeMaioribus, co-Founder, and current Board Treasurer of Duluth Folk School.
DeMaioribus says every town should have a folk school. Duluth Folk School, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, was created in 2015 to fill a need in the Duluth community to help people learn how to work with their hands, everything from making canoe paddles, felting wool, keeping bees, sharpening knives, bicycle maintenance, to brewing beer.
“It is so satisfying to learn skills and work with your hands, and to do so with others is especially nice,” DeMaioribus said. “Building together is a great way to connect with people, and it helps preserve traditions and knowledge, and also creates a more self-sufficient, sustainable, and joyful community.”
A Sustainability Ethos
The trim of the windows in the current Folk School building was repurposed from wood of the original building, built in 1915. When a local school was selling furniture and other items, the staff of the Folk School bid on a whole science classroom. Even tabletops are made of flooring from an old church. This kind of sustainability – what DeMaioribus calls a “sustainability ethos” – permeates the handcrafting community of the school and helped to inform the way the organization wanted to grow.
“We have had so many things going on at Duluth Folk School that it sometimes felt like an unwieldy beast,” DeMaioribus said. “But now, we are all feeling like we are on the same page as a board and staff, and it is really exciting.”
Duluth Folk School is at the beginning of implementing a new strategic plan, created in partnership with Propel, that aims to expand programming, invite new teachers in, and create lasting relationships with community members who might not have thought of themselves as handcrafters in the past.
And, though it was hard to have him go, one of the founding directors left the school earlier this year for another opportunity, making the relationships created between board and staff during their strategic planning process more important than ever.
A Solid Plan
In late 2021, Duluth Folk School joined Propel’s Capacity Building Initiative: Greater Minnesota. Organizations were given the opportunity to identify a project and work with a member of Propel’s Strategic Consulting team to either plan or implement it. Duluth Folk School took the opportunity to create a strategic plan.
“We are a community-run organization, and that means there are a lot of dreams and visions; what this process helped us do was get on the same page and have a shared vision of what the organization could be,” DeMaioribus said.
“It felt good to have someone with a lot of experience with nonprofits come in and give suggestions, facilitate conversations, and give feedback,” she said. Without it, she thinks they would’ve felt a little lost.
As the board processed what to move forward and implement, the staff at Propel also connected the organization with someone who could provide accounting and financial guidance and assistance.
“Like many nonprofit leaders, we came to this work because we are passionate about our mission, but less knowledgeable about other aspects of the business, so it was great to find someone we trust to help us sort out some of our financial reporting; I am grateful to Mario for making those recommendations,” DeMaioribus said.
DeMaioribus and her fellow board members are having fun and sharing energy about the plans they have laid.
“What I really want is for everyone– our amazing community and visitors alike– to stop by and see the great things we’ve got going on here, to share a meal, and to join in the fun of learning something new and working with their hands,” she said.
How to get involved
There are many ways to get involved at Duluth Folk School:
- Take a class
- Teach: Instructors are the backbone of the Folk School’s community
- Stop by the café: Coffee roasted on premises; fresh baked goods; craft beer; and delicious food)
- Come visit
- Donate: Donations are very gratefully appreciated
Thank you to Carmel DeMaioribus and board members of the Duluth Folk School for their contributions to this story.