Although St. Olaf boasts a strong art program, a trip to view art in Northfield is worthwhile. The student work in Dittmann and around campus is impressive, but is it enough to see the same paintings in the hallway by the Cage for a month? Even with a nearly endless supply of music, dance and theatre performances, we can always use more art in our lives. Is it really necessary to leave campus to enjoy the arts? Well, you'd be missing out on a lot if you spent your four years on the Hill without venturing downtown.
Artwork is everywhere in Northfield. Many of the restaurants have paintings and prints on their walls, like the Ole Store, Hogan Brothers and Goodbye Blue Monday. Outdoor sculptures, like the fountain at Bridge Square, as well the architecture of buildings and bridges, make the downtown area beautiful. The towns trees, bodies of water and open skies provide natural beauty. Even with multiple antique stores, the town doesn't feel stuffy or debilitated by Midwestern boredom. Being a college town probably helps, and students certainly play a role in Northfield's art scene.
To begin with, the galleries in town are pretty amazing. If you haven't already, visit the Northfield Arts Guild, ArtOrg's Moving Walls gallery, or any of the several others galleries in Northfield. A few times during the year, ArtCrawl is held, an event stretching from St. Olaf to Carleton. Businesses and galleries are often open late, encouraging people to spend a night out on the town and enjoy art while gorging on wine and cheese. Some local artists even open up their studios for people to see their workspaces.
Gallery openings are big public events and fun for all Northfield community members, especially when the artist is there to discuss his or her work. Last year the Northfield Arts Guild held a show for the St. Olaf and Carleton art apprentices, featuring unusual electronic and mechanical works as well as ceramics and prints. The galleries usually feature local artists and sometimes big names from elsewhere. Well-known visitors included Mary Grandpre, American illustrator for the Harry Potter book series, and John Berkey, a long-time science fiction painter.
Last week, ArtOrg put together the 100-foot Day of the Dead banner, which was displayed in the Buntrock Crossroads. This project involved a number of local artists who created their own woodblock prints, inked them up and set them down in a line to be run over by a steamroller. A print of this size is quite an impressive feat. ArtOrg said in an online statement that they were immensely proud to be able to produce such a unique prints.
Steamroller printing is a unique craft ... The printing itself requires a small community of people to help; for example over 100 people were needed to carry the long print to its drying spot after printing," the website said. Each piece is well-done, many showing skeleton calaveras inspired by the Mexican holiday. Dozens of people volunteered to help make this work, and a video of the event was on display with the print.
"[The print] represents the hard work and artistic content of the local Latino community, the Minneapolis-based Grupo Soap del Corazon, and the community arts group ArtOrg, according to the online statement.
There's so much art in Northfield that some of its citizens are campaigning to have it designated as an official Art Town. This designation would be determined by the number of galleries, studios and performance spaces, as well as the strength of the community and diversity of artistic vision. The town certainly seems to support creativity, if one looks at its businesses. The downtown features not only galleries, but also graphic design firms, a tattoo gallery and a NASCAR video game company, Monster Games.
It would be difficult, if not impossible, to completely avoid the art scene. Music is everywhere bands such as the Big Wu and Cloud Cult are often in town. Just go to Reub N Stein or wait for the next big outdoor festival in the spring. If you're interested in theatre, the Northfield Arts Guild is putting on a production of Disney's Beauty and the Beast this month. For dance lovers, a production of Tchaikovsky's The NutCracker is scheduled for December.
Northfield also has a charter school dedicated to the arts, ARTech, which is both a middle and high school. Students learn about different expressive mediums, like music, theater and the visual arts. There's also a big emphasis on technology, allowing students to experiment with digital art and photography.
If you are interested in developing your artistic skills, the Northfield Arts Guild and ArtOrg offer classes for adults, usually on the weekends or late on weekdays. Some of these courses aren't available on campus: for example, glass blowing, textiles and figure drawing of live animals. ArtOrg also has weekly printmaking and life drawing studios, which are fairly cheap at $10 to $15 per session.
The arts really are for everyone to enjoy. It's fun to coat ones hands in clay or ink, or simply to enjoy the work of other people. Spend some time wandering around campus, looking at the sculptures, or go down the Hill to sample the local flavor.
So the next time you're in town, go catch a local band or see an art gallery. Maybe even walk around town after going to a play, enjoying the town's scenic landscape. Navigate the ArtCrawl, stopping by both colleges you may be able to locate a local artist to show you a personal studio. There's no way you'll be able to exhaust this town's art scene.