by Dennis Dalman
The artistic visions of 395 artists will come together in a vast mural at the Gallery Saint Germain in downtown St. Cloud.
Artists from throughout the greater St. Cloud area, including Sartell, contributed one by one to the ambitious project. All of the creators suffer from disabilities of one sort or another, and for some of them, participation in the mural project was their first artistic endeavor.
The public will have a chance to see the huge mural from now until Oct. 12 at Gallery Saint Germain, which is located right across the street from the Paramount Theater in downtown St. Cloud. The title of the exhibit is the “Minnesota Disability Mural Project.”
There will be a reception from 6-8 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 10
The gallery hours are 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Wednesday through Friday and 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday.
Four months in the making, the mural project is sponsored by VSA Minnesota, a state organization whose mission is to create the conditions in which people with disabilities can learn through, participate in and have access to the arts. The state organization is affiliated with the VSA Accessibility wing of the John F. Kennedy Center’s Education Department in Washington, D.C.
The two teaching artists for the mammoth project were Sheri Pfau of Sartell and Stacey O’Connell of St. Cloud. Pfau has multiple sclerosis and O’Connell has muscular dystrophy. Both are long-established artists.
Since June 22, the two women have been conducting many workshops at places where people with disabilities either live or meet. Those places include Opportunity Matters and Legends in Sartell, Independent Lifestyles in Sauk Rapids, Wacosa in St. Cloud, at the Paramount Theater art studios and in Pfau’s home in Sartell. O’Connell and Pfau helped to inspire the participants by giving them art materials and magazines from which to make cut-out collages.
Each budding artist was given a 1-foot by 1-foot “tile” of masonite. The tile could be used for a painting, a drawing or a glued collage. Since June, 395 tiles have been created, and all of them were hung on wires to comprise the giant collage at Gallery Saint Germain. The tiles later will be taken to Minneapolis and combined with a similar massive project done by people with disabilities who live in that area.
“The mural project was wonderful,” Pfau said. “It’s one of my best experiences in the arts. Since I have a disability, I believe in this whole concept. It’s good to be able to sit down with artists and other people with disabilities. Most of these people had never done any artwork before, and they were discovering for the first time the joys of art.”
Some of the participants, at first, were stumped. The maker of each tile was asked to express in visual terms the question, “What does access to the arts mean to you?” Pfau and O’Connell, to help them out, brought a list of evocative words and magazines to the workshops, springboards for ideas. It wasn’t long before ideas “clicked” and participants began to paint, draw and cut out collages. Magazine photos featuring food, music-makers and animals were popular choices as things that made the creators happy.
“Some wonderful things came from people who had never painted before,” Pfau said. “They created some wonderful designs using amazing colors.”
One young woman said she loves white so Pfau encouraged her to follow her love of white. The woman painted her tile entirely white, not once but five times.
Pfau herself made a tile (a sign on a post saying YES in bright red). Pfau’s daughter, Jodi Campbell, created a tile showing two Egyptian-style eyes, one sad, the other peaceful; and Jodi’s son, Roland Kosbab, drew a pencil sketch of his controller for his video games.
Besides VSA Minnesota, other contributors to the project are Arts Access, the Paramount Theater and grants from the McKnight Foundation, the Minnesota State Arts Board’s Legacy Grant program authorized by taxpayers and the National Endowment for the Arts.
Dalman was born and raised in South St. Cloud, graduated from St. Cloud Tech High School, then graduated from St. Cloud State University with a degree in English (emphasis on American and British literature) and mass communications (emphasis on print journalism). He studied in London, England for a year (1980-81) where he concentrated on British literature, political science, the history of Great Britain and wrote a book-length study of the British writer V.S. Naipaul. Dalman has been a reporter and weekly columnist for more than 30 years and worked for 16 of those years for the Alexandria Echo Press.