MOORHEAD — At the end of a historic semester for higher education across the country, one ambitious art class at Minnesota State University Moorhead is rethinking the gallery experience by filling MSUM Gallery's Instagram account (@msum_gallery) with work from students taking the course.

When classes went virtual in March, instructor Kelli Sinner had to make hard decisions, explaining, "I knew we had to scrap everything we had done so far."

The professor of art set two new requirements to fulfill in the class: the artwork must be meaningful, and it needed to be something that the students will look back on and be proud of.

Truly a first of its kind for Sinner, who has been an MSUM faculty member since 2005, she experienced something special despite the distance of online teaching.

"Their adaptability demonstrated how art can be a powerful tool to connect people, even when digital connections are the only option," Sinner says.

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As they pivoted course, Lauren Kensok, the social media manager for the school of art and a student in the class, set out to use Instagram as a baseline for the new virtual course.

Scrollable installations

"I had a hard time figuring out how to approach this project," Kensok says.

With her original idea to install a large musical staff sculpture on campus no longer a possibility, Kensok took a turn down introspection lane in "I'm okay," a stencil she designed to place throughout her daily life.

Another light of positivity came through when Rebecca Oehler decided to crowdsource nostalgia for "Kiddin' Around," a collection of childhood photos she received from friends, family, professors and strangers.

"They create a positive atmosphere, remind us of our own childhoods and allow us to get lost in the nostalgia for a while," Oehler says. She even included professor Sinner in the project.

Majoring in photography and printmaking, senior Rebecca Oehler crowdsourced nostalgia for her class project “Kiddin’ Around.” Minnesota State University Moorhead Gallery / Special to the Forum
Majoring in photography and printmaking, senior Rebecca Oehler crowdsourced nostalgia for her class project “Kiddin’ Around.” Minnesota State University Moorhead Gallery / Special to the Forum

Virtual forms

Tobias Zikmund approached the new class format with a passion for painting and an eye for the little things. Using materials collected from his surroundings, he painted finely detailed faces on a series of rocks.

"Initially, I wanted to display the rocks in a pile, mimicking the rock piles around my house," Zikmund says. "But now I plan to display it in a flat pile to better show the faces and the somewhat unnerving stares."

Cole Hovind worked in the class to create a large-scale installation entitled "Galaxy Organics." Hovind's work centers on existence and being remembered after we are gone.

The work will be installed as part of his upcoming certificate show, "Festering Functionality."

Amanda Frost worked with natural dyes made from beet, cabbage and spinach to create a cozy place with her pillows that channel inner quarantine reflection.

"I wanted to try hand-dyeing fabrics with natural dye I created from vegetables," Frost says. "My fabric was too big to dye in my apartment, so I had to cut it up into little squares."

What was originally planned as a tapestry turned into tiny pillows, each stamped and painted with a unique personality.

"This concept turned out stronger than my original tapestry idea because the pillows felt way more personal," Frost says.

So many plans went out the window, like an entire syllabus in the case of the professor, or a a last celebration with friends for the four seniors out of the five taking this class.

But art inspires adaptation.

"These projects show artists at their best, receptive to new possibilities that open up, rather than focusing on what's lost," Sinner concludes. "Artists are inherently hopeful people, and that comes through in the art that was generated in this class."

Favorite Instagram follows

  • Lauren Kensok ( @renovationhusbands, @farmhousevernacular
  • Rebecca Oehler (@epicbecca777): @bonappetitmag, @print_witch
  • Tobias Zikmund ( @cheapoldhouses, @what_style_is_that
  • Amanda Frost (@amandafrostart): @biofabricate, @bttrprss_

This article is part of a content partnership with The Arts Partnership, a nonprofit organization cultivating the arts in Fargo, Moorhead and West Fargo. For more information, visit