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Community art endeavor welcomes public participation

A middle school student sculpture in North Dakota, shown here, inspired the environment-friendly Park Rapids community art project, called "The Art Within: Finding Our Voice Together." Using plastic bottles colored with permanent markers and cut into fanciful designs, a Dale Chihuly-inspired chandelier will be crafted and hung in the Park Rapids Area Library. (Submitted photo)

"Portable art studios" await creative individuals, clubs and businesses willing to collaborate on a community art project.

The Park Rapids Area Library and Hubbard County Developmental Achievement Center have partnered to offer "The Art Within: Finding Our Voice Together."

The project consists of three main components: a community-created sculpture, a one-day event featuring art by Hubbard County Developmental Achievement Center (DAC) clients and a special presentation by guest speakers.

The first phase of the project launches July 10. Portable studios will be placed around the community, each tote containing instructions and materials necessary to create a Dale Chihuly-inspired sculpture.

"Who is Dale Chihuly?," you may ask.

He is an American glass sculptor who, since the 1970s, led the avant-garde in the development of glass as a fine art. His work is included in more than 200 museum collections worldwide.

Chihuly is recognized for his convention-shattering techniques and natural, organic aesthetics. He relies on a communal, or team, method of glassblowing — particularly after accidents left him blind in one eye and injured his shoulder.

Finding a voice

The idea to create a collaborative sculpture in Park Rapids originated with Leann Willenbring, the library's youth and teen services coordinator.

"One person, with one well-placed idea, can set the world in motion," said Park Rapids Library Manager Jodi Schultz. "This project grew from something that would have taken an afternoon in the library to a multi-phase, two-month, community-wide program."

Willenbring envisions a Chihuly-style chandelier hanging in the library's vestibule that faces Highway 34.

Through conversation and collaboration, the idea went beyond a library activity for teens and tweens to a community endeavor, Schultz said.

Laura Johnson, executive director of the Hubbard County DAC, wants to incorporate more art experiences for DAC clients and facilitate their integration into the community at large. She also had befriended a mother and son, A. J. and Devin, who speak about the healing power of art.

"In Devin's case, art acted as the catalyst for speech. In effect, it helped him find his voice. Their story moved me, and immediately I felt the connection between their message and our art project, and proposed a partnership between the library and the DAC," Schultz explained.

CHI St. Joseph's Health approved a request for a financial contribution, donating $250 to help cover project expenses. Hubbard County Solid Waste agreed to provide recycled plastic bottles.

The Park Rapids Lakes Area Arts Council also enthusiastically supports the project.

Organizers submitted a grant application for Legacy funds through the Kitchigami Regional Library System, which would pay for the guest speakers at the Sept. 16 event. They will soon hear whether that funding is approved or not.

How to get involved

Beginning July 10, portable art studios will be distributed to host sites or made available through the library.

Each kit contains instructions, permanent colored markers, vinyl tablecloth, mesh bags, prepared plastic bottles and a guest book/art journal.

Individuals or groups are invited to color plastic bottles that will be cut, heated, curled, twisted and assembled to form the chandelier-like sculpture.

"One of our primary project goals was to foster a sense of community, to invite participation from residents, guests, anyone who would like to be a part of creating something bigger than oneself," Schultz said.

Bottles may be personalized by writing names, favorite quote or other inspirational words.

Four traveling studios may be reserved through the library. The library also has an in-house kit for clubs or organizations that would like to participate as a group activity in a library meeting room. For more information, call 732-4966.

The Nemeth Art Center and Creative Corner (in Nevis) have agreed to house kits that are open for public participation. More host sites are welcome.

Portable studios will be accessible through the week of Aug. 20.

Assembly and celebration

On Sept. 16, there will be a day-long event that includes a DAC art show, guest speakers and the final assembly of the sculpture by attendees. Nevis art teacher and artist Tiffany Besonen will be a consulting artist on the day that the sculpture is constructed. She'll offer guidance about form and balance.

"It is our hope that our project will foster greater awareness and understanding of those among us with disabilities, including mental illness," Schultz said. " The sculpture itself will beautify our space and incite conversation, leading to more connections between the people in our community."

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