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Districtwide contest connects students to the community through art

Cornelia art teacher works with students during the public art lesson.

Edina elementary students embarked on a unique project this spring designed to introduce them to the world of public art. Shannon Steven, art teacher at Cornelia Elementary School, is leading students from every elementary school through a project she created called “Classroom to Community! Edina Student Public Art Project.” It is a collaboration with Edina’s Arts and Culture Commission and is supported with an Educator Grant from the Edina Education Fund.

Art teachers began the project in April by sharing with students brief lessons on public art and its role in shaping “culturally vibrant and sustainable” communities. The idea for this project grew out of Steven’s personal passion for public art.

“Although a rotating sculpture is in Cornelia’s back yard, few Cornelia students know about the art,” she said. “Fewer still experience it up close, and even fewer ever imagine that they could produce a piece of public art.”

The project seeks to help students understand that people of any age can be public artists.

While every grade learned about public art in concept, fourth graders went a step further through their participation in a special category of Public Art Edina’s 2018 Call for Sculpture.

Students created “maquettes,” which are smaller versions of sculptures they would like to see created. Students worked to create designs that describe something about who they are as a person. A buffet of wire, cardboard, pipe cleaners and Popsicle sticks was at their disposal, in addition to any materials they brought from home. Over several class periods, students created maquettes that are sturdy, fit within an imaginary 12-inch-cubed box, and abide by the “I Am” theme of the city’s guidelines.

Art teachers will select five finalists from each school whose maquettes will be displayed at the annual Public Art Edina reception. Students whose projects were not selected but that won ribbon awards in various categories will also be displayed. Edina art teachers, a member of Public Art Edina, the Edina Art Center, and the Edina Arts and Culture Commission will judge the contest. The overall winner will then be paired with a working artist whose style complements the sculpture the student wants to create. They will work together over the summer to create a full-size version of the student’s maquette, and the sculpture will be installed in the fall as a part of the City of Edina’s rotating sculpture exhibit.

“Often, students and the general public think of art as works exhibited in a museum, created by artists who are inaccessible, available only during open hours, and experienced in whispered tones,” Steven said. “[Public art] is a free, accessible and exciting form of art [that] is open to everyone and possible to experience during everyday activities.”

This story was originally published in the spring issue of Experience EPS during the 2017-18 school year, which was mailed to the community in May 2018.