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Addressing a Community Issue Through Art

group photo
Ryuta Nakajima, associate professor, Art and Design, student Randi Omdahl, senior studio art major and American Indian studies minor, and Margie Helstrom, a UMD staff member.  

It’s a brutal, complex, and widespread crime and it happens all around us, often in plain sight — Human Trafficking.

That’s why student Randi Omdahl, suggested it for the community art project in two painting classes taught by Ryuta Nakajima, associate professor, Art and Design.

Ryuta says, “I asked the classes to decide on a topic that would be for the betterment of our area.” He also wanted to make sure the project had an impact. Many issues were brought to the table and in the end, the classes agreed with Randi. They dove into the work, looking for ways to use their art to make a difference.

Researching the Issue
The classes discovered that hundreds of thousands of U.S. minors are victims of commercial sexual exploitation. The most vulnerable are young women and girls, whose lives have been marred by broken homes, abuse, drug use and neglect.

Randi, an Anishinaabe student from Minneapolis, Minn., is a senior studio art major and American Indian studies minor. "Many of these victims are born into these circumstances and are easy targets for traffickers," Randi says. "We see a real problem with our women and children disappearing, never to be heard from again."

The traffickers find their victims in bus stations, schools, parks and malls. They offer food and a warm place to stay, but all too soon the victims are drugged and sold for sex, in motels, apartments, and even aboard the oceangoing ships slipping in and out of the Duluth port.

Connecting to the Community
The UMD students met with many organizations to learn more about human trafficking and to discover how they could help.

“We found out one of the biggest ways we could make a difference was by creating an awareness campaign,” says Margie Helstrom, a UMD staff member who takes art classes for her own enrichment. The UMD students in the class took on designing a poster and sticker decals.

A coalition called Mending the Sacred Hoop was so impressed by the student work, they funded the printing of the poster.  Mending the Sacred Hoop offers culturally specific services for Native American women who are victims of sexual assault.

The class is designing an information website and “offering the artwork as open source,” says Ryuta. The art is free to any person or organization that wants to use it. The class also raised funds to print sticker decals and distributed the posters and stickers throughout the Twin Ports.

art poster

Partnering with the Community
The students worked with many organizations before finalizing the design and working on the outreach plan.

Commission for Women
Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies
Multicultural Center
American Indian Studies

Community Organizations
City of Duluth Indigenous Commission
Mending the Sacred Hoop
Program for Aid to Victims of Sexual Assault (PAVSA)
American Indian Community Housing Organization (AICHO).
Human Trafficking Task Force

UMD Studio Art students designed this poster to help raise awareness about human trafficking in the Twin Ports.  

“The best change we can make is to be aware. We can look out for each other, at the mall, on the bus, in parks,” Randi says.

Margie says trafficking is occurring in Duluth neighborhoods. "We hope that awareness will bring about change,” she said. “Thankfully, the network to help victims is snowballing.

The team is pleased that they could make a difference. “We want girls and young women to be safe,” says Randi. “We want to support victims in reaching their potential and achieving their dreams.”

School of Fine Arts

By Cheryl Reitan, July 2016.

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