By: Halla Dontje Lindell
Cycles for Change is not simply a bike shop, but rather a community bike shop. In fact, some might say the organization is as much of an expert in fostering community as it is an expert in upcycling bicycles. Two artists in particular have contributed to the creation of the strong community that characterizes Cycles for Change.
Stephanie Schultz (she/her), Development and Communications Coordinator, hails from St. Paul, although she has lived in southwestern Minnesota and rural South Dakota as well. She describes her work as “design, communications, fundraising, and marketing…creating opportunities, assisting people in learning, and helping people find our classes and events.”
Skye Vang (they/them), Slow Roll St. Paul Organizer, grew up moving around so much that they attended nine different schools from kindergarten to high school, but currently considers South Minneapolis home. Skye joined the Cycles for Change team not entirely convinced that bicycling was a passion of theirs, but nevertheless they found their fit.
“I’ve always been about doing things that are a little bit slower, things you can take your time with, things that are a little more accessible to people,” Skye explained.
Their life philosophy aligns with Cycles for Change’s Slow Roll St. Paul program, which Skye coordinates. Slow Roll St. Paul occurs every other Wednesday evening from the beginning of June to the end of September, and is a no-drop ride for bikers of all abilities.
Stephanie is also grounded in the philosophy of slowing down and intentionally working to create things that increase accessibility to the public. She studied creative writing, graphic design, and art throughout undergraduate and graduate school. Afterwards, she tried out communications and design work in traditional environments, and found it wasn’t for her.
“I spent time working in both university and agency settings, and I disliked the way it was set up, the way the work was doled out to me, and the way I was micromanaged,” Stephanie explained. “I didn’t like making products that didn’t mean anything to me, or ones that were only seen by a small select group of people.”
Once Stephanie knew she wanted to find a different setting in which to contribute her skills, she applied to an AmeriCorps program called VISTA, a program specific to indirect service and capacity building in local nonprofits. Stephanie was part of a cohort of 20 other VISTA members, who were placed in different organizations throughout the city of St. Paul.
Stephanie finished off her first year with AmeriCorps VISTA and Cycles for Change, and liked it enough that she stayed for a second year. When her second VISTA term is over, she will transition to a full-time staff member in August to continue doing the work she’s done the past two years.
“I love this work. I love who I work with. I love getting to see all the different aspects of what we do,” Stephanie stated emphatically. “I go into Open Shop and a youth apprentice helps me, and I learn something about my bike that I never knew before. I’ve been volunteering with the Learn to Ride program, and even on day one some of them start pedaling. It’s amazing how fast it happens. Last month there was a participant who asked my name, and then said ‘Stephanie, I’ll always remember you when I ride my bike.’ Things like that help me know that this work really matters, even if it’s just that one person that said something to me. That’s why I want to stay here. I’m not always doing direct service stuff; it’s mostly sitting at a desk. But I’m doing that desk work so the participants can have awesome experiences.”
Skye, on the other hand, applied to an opening at Cycles for Change when they found out the organization was specifically seeking Queer/Trans and People of Color for an open position due to the trend of overarchingly white demographics within bicycle nonprofits. Skye brings previous experience working in the nonprofit world and appreciates working somewhere dedicated to “bringing on more people on who have those different voices and perspectives that can make our work better and more well-rounded.”
Skye works directly with community members, local businesses, and artists and arts organizations to create a specific feel, vision, and space for Slow Roll.
“Slow Roll is a space for people who don’t generally have space in larger society,” Skye said. “We’re unapologetic and explicit about that. That’s what I really like about Slow Roll—that we can make it as accessible, inclusive, and welcoming as we can. If people come into this space and are mad that we are trying to be inclusive, I can talk to them and say, ‘Hey, you can probably go to any other ride in the Twin Cities and feel like you fit in.’ I’m not here to make you feel better about that, and this is one space that a lot of people get to come to and not feel like they are being mistreated or the subjects of microaggressions or bigotry.”
Skye further acknowledges that Slow Roll is a small piece of a larger shift.
“This is one space, but I want it to be part of something bigger,” they said. “We’re not doing something that’s brand new. Grease Rag [a Woman/Trans/Femme bicycling collective] is doing things that we can only aspire to do. But every space can be better, more inclusive, and radical in ways where we aren’t doing things that are harmful to other communities.”
Stephanie and Skye continue to create in platforms outside of Cycles for Change, too. Stephanie does creative writing and poetry alongside her work at Cycles for Change.
“It’s a way for me to process the world and try to make sense of things,” she said. “It’s just everyday things that happen, it’s wondering about all these the things that go on in our lives, it’s writing about place and how I fit in here, how we all fit in here, and what it all means.”
As for Skye, choosing one medium is impossible.
“I’ve always been a person who’s fond of all sorts of expression. I’m into music. I’m not a performer in any way, but I’m into music production. I’m into all sorts of visual arts, cinematography and film, sculpture, pottery, painting, photography, fashion. My dream job is to be a fashion stylist, and just style people to look cool… Well, that’s one of my dream jobs… I just love all things that you get to make your own, that you put a little of yourself into, or you show a little bit of other people and their souls.”
Stephanie and Skye both agree that fashion is an important part of their lives and personal expression. Stephanie is an avid garage-saler and thrift store shopper.
“I think for someone like me who’s introverted and quiet, my treasure-hunting is an artform. It’s the way I express myself, through my clothes, and I don’t have to say something to do that.”
For Skye, fashion allows them to exist outside of socially-imposed parameters of how a person can or should be.
“Clothes have no gender and you can wear whatever you want to wear,” Skye said. “When you allow yourself to take gender out of clothes, makeup, or hair, you allow yourself to show up authentically more in real and cool ways that a lot of people don’t allow themselves to do because they are so confined by these parameters or cookie-cutter molds of how people should show up. When we allow ourselves to shop at thrift stores and wear floral or lace and cut our hair however, it expands expression. That in itself is an artform—living and breathing and doing these things.”
Showing up authentically is important to Skye, particularly when interacting with the youth apprentices at Cycles for Change.
“As a queer and trans Asian person, I exist a little differently than most people in the queer/trans community and I exist a little differently than most people in the Hmong community,” they said. “I show up in the world, and I try to be authentic. That is both hard and dangerous. I’m going to be 25 next week, so it took a long time to be able to do that. I feel like the youth apprentices who are working here, especially the queer and/or trans Hmong youth, are fond of me because they are like me and I am older than them. That is really amazing to me, because I feel like if I was their age, 18 years and younger, and I had someone like me who existed in an authentic way and loved doing that, that that would have been so life changing for me. I think about the folks that I met when I was older than 18 who changed my life, shaped my leadership, and impacted me so much, and I can only hope to do that for the [youth apprentices]. I think that it is really telling what it looks like to have folks in an organization that really reflect your community and for youth to have people to look up to, talk to, and ask questions of without fearing that they will be judged or misunderstood.”
Stephanie and Skye, and the skills and experiences they bring to Cycles for Change, are invaluable. Stephanie’s fundraising and communications work is pivotal in creating opportunities for others. By coordinating Slow Roll St. Paul rides, Skye can show up authentically and be a role model for young people in the community. In whatever creative form—fashion, creative writing, or community organizing—both will continue to bring art into their work.