Creating a landmark

A St. Scholastica art professor is leading a public art project that could help define a neighborhood of Duluth.

Assistant Professor of Art Paul LaJeunesse has been selected by the Duluth Art Institute as its first artist-in-residence. Between now and July 1 he will create a large public mural for Duluth's Lincoln Park neighborhood.

The painting will be on the side of a building, using a collage effect of layered imagery that represents the people, businesses and culture of the locale.

"It's a project that will have a large and lasting impact," Amber White of the Duluth Art Institute told the Duluth News Tribune newspaper.

To help determine the mural's visual content, LaJeunesse is interviewing neighborhood residents and business owners, photographing the neighborhood, and involving young people in helping execute his design.

He joined the College faculty in 2015 and teaches a variety of art classes, from introductory to advanced levels. He feels the project will be of value for his students.

"When students see their professors work on large projects and public commissions, they see opportunities that are available beyond school. They see the example of working for (a client); you have to satisfy them, but you also have to do what they can't - you're the maker. The client has an idea in their head but you have to be able to talk to them and help make that vision come to fruition."

Pragmatic aspects of being an artist are also evident.

"The business side, the practical side - there are a lot of lessons that can translate," he said, "for our advanced students especially."

Doing such work also informs his teaching.

"The thing is," he said with a laugh, "advice that I will often give to the students in the class, I'll go home and I'll see that I'm doing the exact same thing in my own work and I need to give myself that same advice."

He's familiar with working on a large scale. In 2014 he did a similar public mural in Chattanooga, TN, which was well received.

"It's a rewarding process to make a public work, making a design that's for a group of people. It's not quite advertising but you are commissioned to make something of the promotional interest and ideals that they have in mind. For them, it's ‘what makes this a special part of town?'

"The final product is something that makes a space and a place. It becomes ‘meet me at the mural' - it becomes a landmark, hopefully. You can kind of anchor a neighborhood's identity this way. As opposed to making an easel painting that maybe goes in someone's home or an exhibition."

The project is funded by the Arrowhead Regional Arts Council.

Connecting our community through art

Paul LaJeunesse isn't the only St. Scholastica art professor having a big public impact.

Last year Sarah Brokke Erickson, assistant professor of art and department director, led the creation of a mural at Laura MacArthur Elementary School in Duluth. This year she's doing the same for Safe Haven Shelter and Resource Center and Harbor City International School.

At the elementary school, Brokke Erickson, her students and LaJeunesse worked with children as young as first grade. For the Safe Haven mural, she and her students worked with high school-age students from Harbor City International School as well as with clients and staff from Safe Haven.

Planning began last November, including brainstorming mural ideas with Safe Haven clients and staff around themes of diversity, inclusivity and empowerment. In January, Brokke Erickson and her team, which included artist Shawna Gilmore, led the high school students in finalizing the design and other prep work. The painting was completed in April.

"The CSS Art Department is committed to connecting to our community through art and the Benedictine values," Brokke Erickson said. "The Mural Initiative Project was created to form collaborative relationships with organizations in our community that are emblematic of those values. Through this collaborative work, our students are able to give back to the community and foster inclusive connections with others. It is incredibly valuable for our students to create images that connect to their own experiences and to the lives of others through art. Through it, they can truly touch the world."

Planning is already underway for another public collaboration next year.