State money, grants make new art possible, he says.
Chances are, if you've driven or walked down Second Street in the heart of downtown Crookston, you've taken in the latest piece of artwork to grace the community: a historical, tile arrangement of the Palace Hotel, located on the west wall of the Chamber of Commerce building.
Recently completed by Crookston High School art teacher Gary Stegman in a total of 611 hours, the 1,350-piece project began when the Northwest Minnesota Arts Council, as a part of the Clean Water Land and Legacy Amendment, granted Stegman money to complete an effective piece of communal art.
"The Council has what they call goals they wish to accomplish with the money they give out," Stegman explained. "That basically means that they desire to know that the piece has an impact on the community, that it means something significant to the people of Crookston."
There were definite setbacks as well as highlights from the beginning to the completion. "Originally, we wanted to involve students in the process," Stegman recalled. "However, there wasn't time in class, and it's a liability to have students helping install the actual tiles. However, students were able to see the process and understand how an undertaking like this goes from an idea, to an actual process, to a finished product.
"This project has had a fishbowl effect on me," he continued. "I've heard so many stories from people walking by when I'd be working on it. There were three sort of categories of questions/ comments I would receive. The first category was the older generation, the ones who told me, 'Oh, I went up those stairs!' or 'I stayed in that hotel as a young man!'
"Then there are the younger ones, who don't have a connection to the hotel but instead find meaning in the text," Stegman went on. "The final category simply enjoy and appreciate the art as well as the artistic process."
The work the State Legislature has done to direct this funding to the Regional Arts Council system and the Minnesota States Arts Board has ensured that this money is bringing access to the arts in every corner of the state, including the community of Crookston. "If they weren't around," Stegman explained. "I can think of at least four pieces of art in the community that wouldn't be around."
The mural has, for Stegman, been very enjoyable. "It's rewarding – not necessarily financially – but to hear the stories and connections people are making with it, and to see people walking away with a smile – that is so satisfying."