Arts in Harmony show brings fine art to the people

Above is John Ilg’s entry in the Arts in Harmony show at the Sherburne County Government Center. At right is his medium.

by Britt Aamodt, Special to the Star News

Right before the big opening, Lynn George sailed through Sherburne County Gov-erment Center’s atrium. And came to a screeching halt.

The opening was for Arts In Harmony, the second-largest juried art show in Minnesota (next to the State Fair show), held every winter in the government center.

The exhibit was in place. Government center employees and patrons were checking it out. All seemed in order, until central services coordinator George noticed some gaps.

"Ewe and Lamb" by Michelle Combs, Plymouth

One of the pieces had been altered. No, devalued was more like it, by at least a couple bucks.

“The artist had rolled actual dollar bills into a mesh,” said George. “That was the artwork. I’m guessing there were at least $300 in bills.”

Make that $298. There were gaps in the mesh.

George called the Elk River Area Arts Alliance, event sponsor, and reported the theft. The ERAAA forwarded the call to organizer David Beauvais, who phoned the artist, John Ilg.

Ilg laughed.

He’d designed the piece with the gaps. But even if bills had been stolen, that was nothing next to the show at Normandale Community College.

“Someone actually ripped the artwork from the wall and ran off with it,” Ilg said. “Of course, I found out nearly the same day that the piece had been accepted into Arts In Harmony.”

“Bird Watcher” by Pat Saunders-White of Loveland, Colorado

What’s an artist without art to do? Simple. Make a duplicate. The duplicate currently hangs in the Government Center, and will be there through March 24, along with over 200 pieces from around the country, for the 16th annual Arts In Harmony show.

Ironically, Ilg’s provocative artwork is titled ‘Honesty’—the word spelled out in dollar bills.

Art hangs year round at the Government Center. But Arts In Harmony is the largest exhibit. Though George’s momentary panic stands as an exception, the show has stopped a number of hearts over the years.

“People come to the center to renew driver’s licenses,” said Dave Lucas in zoning. “But they see the art and they stop to look.”

"Catherine" by Chloe Briggs of Elk River

Lucas is an artist, whose ceramics have appeared in past shows. “The art is great to have. It’s a nice distraction from gray walls.”

The presence of art has not only distracted but engaged Government Center workers for 16 years.

“I overhear comments,” said Rachel Leonard, county commissioner. “People say, ‘Oh, did you see that piece?’ Or if a painting’s too modernistic for them they might have an opinion.”

Though employees are quick to declaim the title of ‘art critic’, they have learned that they don’t need a Master’s of Fine Arts to know what they like. Discussing art provides a diversion while walking laps inside during cold winter months.

For Leonard, the shows are democratizing, because they take art out of the museum and bring it to the everyday person—to the employee in planning or the social services client.

Government Center employee Dave Lucas especially enjoys three-dimensional work in Arts In Harmony. If his off-hours he’s a ceramicist.

Ramona Olson works in social services and has bought at least four pieces from the shows.

“I buy them for my home or for gifts,” she said. “I certainly have an interest in art but I don’t think I would have bought the art if I hadn’t seen it hanging here.”

Center employee Julie Mayo chose “Potato Picker” by Claire McGillic as her favorite, remindful of her home farm near tiny Wolvelrton, MN.

Arts In Harmony has already sold four pieces—and the show only went up Feb. 7. But why buy art? Why buy a painting that could put you back $250 or more?

“I visited a hospital recently where they were having a craft sale—jewelry, sunglasses, scarves. Great, but I already have enough of that,” said Olson.

She bought a painting from a Government Center show that the artist painted to honor the children in her life. The image attracted Olson but the meaning behind it even more. The painting now hangs in her office in social services.

“The art shows are nice because the art isn’t behind ropes,” said Olson. “The halls aren’t crowded. You can spend at much time as you want, and the art is here five days a week, while the center’s open.”

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