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Public art class gives Way Park a makeover

This fall, the Topics in Art class, led by Visiting Assistant Professor of Art Michon Weeks, is creating an art piece you may walk past if you are wandering down St. Olaf Avenue.

The Topics in Art class covers a wide range of themes. Weeks explained that the class encourages students to develop a personal basis for their artwork through the investigation of a specific topic. It promotes work across varied media by expanding the student’s definition of art practice, and encourages development through research, process, media, sketching and model building. The class put students in contact with advanced students working in other media within a common theme. Participants will develop a broad source of ideas, approaches and possible solutions in addition to realizing creative connections between ideas generated on a common theme.

The course is offered every fall and revolves around a different topic each year. In years past, the class has focused on topics such as the role of art in the home and central identity through artist Cindy Sherman. This year’s topic is projects in public art. Students are examining art outside of the museum, and works that are more accessible to the public.

“Students explore public art in its many manifestations,” said Weeks, “from contemporary memorials, site-specific projects, political actions, projects that work with communities, environmental, temporary, ephemeral and permanent projects.”

The students started the course by working with group public art projects. To begin the process, the students went to Way Park for a project in re-arranging nature as temporary installations. After that, they moved on to a more permanent project: creating a design for the Way Park warming house.

Thirteen students submitted their designs to a panel of members from the Friends of Way Park Board, the Park and Recreation Advisory Board, the Arts and Culture Commission and the City of Northfield. They were asked to make the design site specific, and to accompany Way Park’s theme: “a park for all seasons.”

The students had to think about the history, environment, purposes and users of the park. Daniel Bynum ’15 submitted the winning design.

Bynum said he created his design through artistic elements that support the motto and mission of Way Park. Each of the four sides represents a different season, and the colors correlate to hues he associates with winter, spring, summer and fall. There are silhouettes around the four sides of people doing various activities in the park.

“These figures are meant to imitate the way someone may act or pose in a park,” Bynum said in his design description. “The images have been broken up when one color intersects another and the design breaks up the obvious image, leaving more to the imagination, and draws the viewers’ eyes longer to figure out the picture.”

Since then, the class has been working on painting Bynum’s creation. Problem solving has been another major aspect of the class. Bad weather slowed the process, and enlarging the silhouettes of Bynum’s original design created a problem.

“It was really stressful for a while,” Bynum said. “Between the rain and enlarging the silhouettes, I was out here from 12:00 to 2:00 a.m. with a projector retracing the silhouettes.”

Even though there have been some challenges, Bynum says he has a great team of people getting the job done. Silhouettes are scheduled to be finished by the end of the week as long as the weather prevails.

“The students have learned a lot about team work and project management,” Weeks said. “Students are managing the projects so they’ve learned how to work on quality control, setting goals, getting everyone to work together and problem solving.”