A community art project promoting tolerance, inclusion, teamwork, unity and peace is now underway in Park Rapids.
Starting Wednesday with students at Century Elementary School, but open to groups of all ages throughout the community, Peace by Piece invites participants to use colored markers, gel pens and four-by-four-inch craft paper tiles to draw what peace means, looks like or feels like to them.
Kits with the art materials are available at the Community Education office in the Frank White Education Center and at the Park Rapids Public Library.
Local piano teacher and art coach Jody Ziemann brought the idea to Community Education director Jill Dickinson last fall.
"It started out as an idea similar to the international Peace Pole Project," Ziemann said.
Described online at peacepoleproject.org, the worldwide project displays the message "May Peace Prevail on Earth" in multiple languages on the sides of a square post planted outdoors.
"We talked about creating poles in buckets of concrete, and they would be portable; they would be indoors; and they would hold the four-by-four tiles that we're still using in our project," said Ziemann. "But then we started looking at materials, and they were cost-prohibitive, and they weren't quite the right dimensions. So, we changed it to the panels that we're using now."
When completed, the art tiles will be mounted on two-by-four-foot masonite panels, laced together at the edges to form three-sided, free-standing displays, each holding approximately 170 tiles.
"We're hoping to build about 10 of them," said Ziemann, who is self-employed and teaches weekly art classes for inmates at the Hubbard County Detention Center. She has also taught classes for Community Education and facilitated creative endeavors for a local gallery.
She said that, like the Peace Pole Project, the aim of Peace by Piece is "to help people be more aware of the peace that we all yearn for and strive for."
In addition, she said, "It's a way for people to express themselves artistically, to share their ideas with others; to be more aware of creating peace and tolerance."
Students at Century School were the first to experience the roll-out of Peace by Piece, starting with middle school students during their Camps and Cabin time on Wednesday. Dickinson said this ensured that each student had an opportunity to contribute at least one artwork to the project.
Middle school teacher Bryan Hirt explained, "We had a wonderful opportunity with our cabins to be able to do that with all 600 students at the middle school. I just told them that I wanted them to draw what peace looks like to them, what they feel it is. I also let them know that it could be seen by thousands and thousands of people in our community."
Sixth grader Jaydon Hafner drew the earth with people holding hands around it.
Tyler Hillukka, an eighth grader, explained his drawing: "It's just an empty chair with nothing else there. So, it's peaceful."
Eighth grader Tori Horn drew an outdoor scene with stick-people, explaining, "It's summer, and we're all going to the beach."
"Through April, anybody in the community will have an opportunity to make a peace panel," Dickinson said, noting that Tupperware totes containing the art supplies will be available at the library and the Community Education office.
The project will culminate in an art show on June 6 at Calvary Lutheran Church, with a concert by singer-songwriter Peter Mayer of Stillwater.
After that, Ziemann said, Community Education is talking with local churches and businesses about hosting the three-panel units during the summer. In the fall, they will return to Park Rapids Area Schools to be displayed at various points around the campus, to allow students, staff and visitors to view their work.
"Each of the units will have a little explanation card on it of what this project was and our hopes for its influence on the community," said Ziemann.
Dickinson added, "We hope to have them out at the 2nd Street Stage, in the banks - that's what our vision is, to truly show that it's a community of peace."
Later still, said Ziemann, the project may find another home, or perhaps go on the road. "I don't want it just stuffed in a closet somewhere and not shared," she said, adding that the idea could spread to neighboring communities or grow into an annual project.
During her research for Peace by Piece, Ziemann learned of a similar art project titled "A Peace of My Mind," by photographer John Nolter, which developed into a book and a traveling exhibit.
"He has literally taken his project all over the country," said Ziemann. "Now he's offering it in digital video format, so that it can be shared even further."
With some funding from 3M Wonewok, channeled to the program through Kim Donahue, there is also a chance of preserving a lasting memorial to the Peace by Piece project at Pioneer Park.
"The vision there is having a wood structure on two sides of the electrical station, and then get photographs from the art show and the concert printed on metal panels," said Ziemann, adding that they have talked with a Walker-based metal art fabricator called Next Innovations about how to do this.
The weather-worthy metal panels can be changed out, she said, allowing different images to be displayed at different times.
"We want people to know that it's not just a youth project," Ziemann stressed. "We want to involve people of all ages throughout the community. Kids' and adults' work will be interspersed on each of the units, so it will be a sampling of everyone's work."
Dickinson said they are talking with different organizations in the community, such as Living at Home and the Developmental Achievement Center, about participating in the project.
"Everybody has it available if they want to do it," she said.
To inquire about using a "portable art studio" to contribute to the project, call Dickinson (237-6606) or Gina Williams (237-6603) at Community Education or the library at 732-4966.