When Mini-Golf Goes Rogue, Artists Win

ON August 19, 2016

Struggling artists fared even worse than usual during the Great Recession when many arts organizations went out of business. Nonprofit professional Jennifer Pennington wanted to change the dynamic so artists and the organizations that serve them could be self-sufficient. She wanted to make a night at the arts accessible and fun—not silent, incomprehensible or smattered with inappropriately timed applause.  

So Jennifer and her husband Chris created Can Can Wonderland an enormous minigolf arena with artist-designed holes. By building the course in the old American Can building, they are both preserving a landmark and creating jobs for local residents. Jennifer may not know it, but at heart, she’s part of a growing breed of “social entrepreneurs.” Unlike those whose only goal is to maximize profits despite any consequences to society (think Trump), social entrepreneurs want to do good and do well—not one or the other.

Sounds great, right? I bet you have some awesome sounding ideas too. But how in the world did they find the money?  

With unusual collateral (artistic golf holes) and an unproven concept, Jennifer knew she couldn’t get a bank loan. Angel investors seeking the next Google aren’t interested in a solid but low growth social business. That’s when she called for business advice and financing from local nonprofit organizations NDC and LISC who help people start and grow businesses.  

The story doesn’t end there, though. Who helps the helpers? Luckily several MCF member foundations stepped up to support NDC and LISC. The Saint Paul Foundation and The McKnight Foundation understand that the for-profit sector can be a force for good. Ah, it’s great to see the Twin Cities Impact Investing Ecosystem at work!

Noodles donated by MCF member Target; Photography Leila Navidi – Star Tribune

Stay tuned for what’s next for Jennifer and Chris as they pursue their dream. Plus, I’d like to hear your do good/do well ideas and how you got them launched.  

At Can Can Wonderland’s grand opening, I can’t wait to hit the toad! Tweet me your social business ideas @susan_hammel.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

What I'm doing now

Top of my mind these days is investing in line with Diversity, Equity, Inclusion values. Many institutions promised bold moves after George Floyd was murdered. Who is following through and doing this well? Racial justice requires new pathways for capital flows. I’m excited to be part of the McKnight Foundation’s Groundbreak Coalition, aiming to deploy $2b in flexible capital over 10 years to disrupt the status quo. In Minnesota we are a generous state, a charitable state, a hard-working state: we need to try new approaches to create that famous quality of life for all. We are leading a session on Place Based Impact Investing at the Mission Investors Exchange conference in Baltimore. Reach out if you’ll be there so I can include you in the informal MN meet-ups.