Molly Wiste's art classes at Bemidji Middle School wouldn't normally have the funding needed to create a large-scale art piece. But after discussing with herstudents what community meant to them in an era of nationwide division, Wiste wanted to do exactly that.
That’s where the Bemidji 31 Education Foundation Fund comes in. The organization, though still in its infancy, hopes to put grant dollars into the hands of local teachers to expand in-classroom opportunities.
While there are often booster funds for athletics, music and individual school parent-teacher-organizations, there are not always the extra funds in the classroom for projects, resources and field trips. This fund fills a gap classroom budgets can’t always stretch to cover, which will benefit all students, particularly those that might not be able to afford to participate in those extra activities.
“Many other school districts in Minnesota have partner foundations or organizations whose purpose is to assist those districts in meeting their academic goals,” the foundation website explains. “While Bemidji is blessed with many smaller groups full of people that do great work, we do not have an organization that is equivalent to those of our peers. The mission of the fund is to provide resources for classroom academic activities and create community partnerships in a lasting and sustainable effort.”
You can see the grant funds in action for yourself as Wiste’s class’s most recent project is currently on display as part of the Bemidji Sculpture Walk.
Standing on the shores of Lake Bemidji is the colorful triptych piece, made of durable wood panels. Each of the three pieces has a painted background depicting LakeBemidji at different times of the day. Affixed on top are circles painted by students in Wiste's middle school art classes, representing the meaning of community for each of them.
“Middle school art students looked at the idea of community, what it means to be a part of a community, and did some thinking about what communities they themselves were a part of,” Wiste said. “The idea was to promote the positive aspects of community when it might seem like we are so divided.”
Some took the concept of community to a very small scale, like their Girl Scout troop or 4-H Club. Others expressed it more broadly, like being a part of the community of citizens of the United States or Minnesota, or those with Anishinaabe heritage. Several images depict community abstractly, with butterflies or clouds.
“I think it was amazing for them to be able to work on something that we couldn't normally afford to do -- something large-scale,” Wiste said. “It was so meaningful to the students because we, with the focus on community, were able to just think about things in a different way.
“It has a huge impact on them to be able to see it up in downtown Bemidji with other artists that are professional artists, and the community is seeing it and telling them how amazing it is. It's just been a great experience for them to see more of what real artists do. Because they're now artists outside the classroom, out in the real world and that's been really cool.”