There's a standing reservation at the Tweed Museum of Art.
Each spring, work is unearthed from campus studios and carefully placed under the museum's spotlight for the Art and Design Student Exhibition. An exhibit featuring students' art isn't unique, but UMD turns the opportunity up a notch by coating the entire process in professionalism: through the jury process to the opening reception, and especially the venue, an art museum, the artists experience an authentic slice of post college life.
"Inside the museums, infinity goes up on trial," sang Duluth's native son, Bob Dylan and Assistant Professor Fatih Benzer says the student exhibition is preparing students for the proceedings. "Students are learning, step by step, how to be professional artists. They learn how to submit their artwork for a professional exhibition just like they would as independent artists and designers. This is a big value to them."
Here's a look at the exhibit before it opens, framing artists' tenacious creativity in a professional setting.
Most artists reach for traditional tools like paintbrushes and canvas, but there are those who start the creative process here and the material becomes a launching point for the rest of the project. Seniors Jill Petracek and Elise Diesslin are the latter.
They spotted their canvas in a dumpster and dove in to retrieve it. The "canvas," in this case, was a piece of the Ven Den's counter, which was being remodeled.
They wanted to create something authentically Duluth with it, reflective of the backstory, but inspiration took its time finding the motley duo. The reclaimed counter top sat in the studio for six months while its new existence was contemplated. Just days before the deadline for the student exhibition, they were galvanized into action by the ubiquitous gum pressed under the counter by Bulldogs from days gone by. The muse had spoken.
Jill and Elise started chewing... and chewing... and chewing some more. They needed gum, and lots of it. They estimate 500 pieces were used to illustrate "Those who can" in the most flavorful way ever, a cheeky take on UMD's contended positioning statement.
"Now I know how gum actually gets stuck and the different consistencies that gum can have, depending on how much you chew it," says Elise. "At first we'd chew it too fast and it'd have too much saliva in it."
Dabbing and learning as they went, they kept on chewing until they just could not endure another piece. Jill explains, "After chewing so much gum, my teeth really started to hurt. It was painful, like I was chewing on rocks. So we decided to switch to mashing it with our hands." Even after switching methods, Elise says they'd bite the gum to add teeth marks to it before placing it on the counter.
They had a little help, too. Elise's stash of gum was spotted in her backpack during a political science class. Her classmates coveted, she complied, and then she collected, "I had them spit the gum into a baggie after class and then I took the chewed gum back to my project."
There's no need to describe this project as unique, that's evident. But what's surprising is that Jill and Elise say they're not. "A lot of people at UMD like to do quirky things like that, and that's part of the reason that I love this place so much," says Jill. "Everyone here is a little weird. People come to UMD with a 'Why sure! Why not?' attitude - which is nice."
Yinghui Meng studied art in China before transferring to UMD, and he says the teaching methods were vastly different. "In China, the professors ask us to paint the way that they like, so we're painting to make them happy. But here it's more like a helper, standing on the outside and listening, not just shaping our mind and forcing us to make something for them."
Adjusting from technique to concept-centered learning helped him as an artist, says Yinghui, whose parents are both engineers. Yinghui's mom and dad understand their son's need to create, he's been drawing since he was a little boy. They designed a window of opportunity for him that's allowed Yinghui to fully immerse himself in his passion with the caveat that the window may close.
"They say, 'You like art. We'll give you two years to do that. If you are successful, you can go to graduate school and do what you like. If not or if you change your mind, you can come back.' So maybe in my life I just have two years. I'm really going to pay attention and see where I can get."
I am. You might think. Actually. Those six words grew into 480 and then back to 120 through Losa Jung's sculpting. She asked 80 students to fill in the blanks for a stereotype project initiated by the International Student Services Office. Through diplomatic negations with her committee, the 20 most compelling stories were chosen.
Losa took the rough idea, took the pictures, and took it a step further. She asked the featured students to write their statements in their own handwriting, scanned the handwriting into Illustrator, and created a corresponding font for each. The final product is compelling enough to get noticed in the sea of posters lining UMD's walls, no easy task and the ultimate goal of every designer, a role Losa says she's ready for.
"Working as a graphic designer for the Office of Cultural Diversity is the best job that students can get on campus because they respect you. They are my clients. Yes, they are my staff members or friends from school, but they're also my clients. I might execute something and they might not like it, and I have to take the feedback and not get hurt by it. I'm getting that client experience on campus. I think that's great experience to have as a graphic designer."
A mere 30 miles separated Molly Streiff from her hometown of Hastings, Minn. and the largest university in the state, but she decided to point her car north to Duluth.
Molly says she choose UMD over the U of M Twin Cities, in part, because it was the right distance from home-- just far enough away. But it was the Tweed Museum of Art that sealed the deal. "Coming to UMD, that's what stood out to me - there's a museum. That was part of the deciding factor. It's so great to have a place that we can come to on campus and look at famous works of art."
Preparations for someday having her pieces among the famous works of art is underway, thanks in large part to experiences like this. "The application process was a little stressful, I'm not going to lie. Just because it was so new to me, but I felt very professional - taking pictures and formatting them to make them look the best they can be, coming up with the title and all the details that you need to submit your work. It was a new experience but it showed me what it will be like for the real world."
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