Duluth Art Institute connects youth with creative outlets

Two Duluth Art Institute led programs connected children at the Damiano Center, Steve O'Neil Apartments and Lincoln Park Middle School with artists to create their own larger masterpieces and develop their creative voices.

Lincoln Park Middle School sixth-grader Natalie Rasch points out her favorite part of a mural she worked on with the Birkenstein Art Movement summer program at the Duluth Art Institute. The collection of three murals are on display at the Dovetail Cafe for a month before they are moved to a permanent home in the new Ecolibrium 3 community center. Teri Cadeau / Duluth News Tribune
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The walls of the Dovetail Cafe inside Duluth Folk School have been livened up with fresh artwork created by students in the Duluth Art Institute's programs.

Multiple media landscape artist Nelia Harper worked with the DAI's Birkenstein Arts Movement students and a group of 30 children at the Damiano Center and Steve O'Neil Apartments to create the collection of artwork. Both of the free programs were made possible by grants from the Minnesota State Arts Board and the Arrowhead Regional Arts Council.

This summer was the DAI's second year hosting a free eight-week art camp at the Damiano Kids' Kitchen. The students worked on painting birch tree scenes, stained glass-style paper artwork and created papier-mache masks.

"We wanted to do some simple projects which focus on shape, form and color," Harper said. "And we didn't want to just do painting, we wanted projects where it's all about getting your hands into the mix."


Denfeld freshman Michael Rasch looks over the mural he worked on the most with the Birkenstein Art Movement and the Duluth Art Institute this summer on Sept. 9, 2021. The mural is one of a collection of three paintings that represent water and connection in the Lincoln Park neighborhood. Teri Cadeau / Duluth News Tribune

The Birkenstein Arts Movement is a DAI program for students at Lincoln Park Middle School. Here students participated in high-level visual arts workshops and leadership training at no cost. Ten students learned both technical art skills and how to apply the creative process to problem solving throughout the year.

"The program is inspired by Jean Birkenstein Washington, a civil rights activist and artist from Chicago," said DAI community outreach coordinator and Americorps VISTA Liz Axberg. "She was also the mother of one of our board members. She used to take in gang members in Chicago and teach them about art and how to express themselves through art. She was really passionate about teaching art to students no matter what their background."

Children from the Damiano Kids Kitchen pose with their artwork on display at the Dovetail Cafe at an opening reception on Sept. 9, 2021. The artwork was made over an eight-week summer program in collaboration with the Duluth Art Institute. Teri Cadeau / Duluth News Tribune

This year, students in BAM worked on a tile painting project and a triptych of murals that represent both water and connection in the Lincoln Park neighborhood. The multimedia murals were created in collaboration with Ecolibrium 3 and will be permanently installed in Eco 3's new Lincoln Park community center later this year.

Students in BAM said they really appreciated the opportunity to learn and grow as artists.

"They didn't restrict us at all," said Natalie Rasch, a sixth grade student at Lincoln Park Middle School and member of BAM. "Like in this painting, I hid a little penguin on the beach. And when I told them, they said, 'Oh, neat!' They didn't say, 'Oh, no, you can't do that. That doesn't make sense there.' They didn't mind at all."


Natalie mostly worked on the third painting in the triptych, which portrayed a section of Lincoln Park that touches Lake Superior. She said her favorite part was learning to work with different forms of media.

The Duluth Art Institute's summer art collaboration with Duluth community youth will be on display at the Dovetail Cafe throughout September. The art was made with students at the Damiano Center, the Steve O'Neil Apartments and the DAI's Birkenstein Art Movement program for students at Lincoln Park Middle School. Teri Cadeau / Duluth News Tribune

"You could paint, you could draw, you could cut things out of a magazine. I even put some stickers in there," Natalie said. "We even used tissue paper to create ripples in the water. I hadn't done that before, but it was really fun."

For Natalie's brother, Michael Rasch, a fellow BAM member and a freshman at Denfeld High School, the best part of the program was learning how to paint.

"It was really fun to learn the different painting techniques," Michael said. "I wasn't very good at it, but it was OK because I could do other things to add to the murals."

"That's the great thing about these murals, you don't have to be good at any one specific part in order to help work on them," Harper said. "That's part of what made it such a fun project."

The artwork will be displayed inside the cafe through September.

Teri Cadeau is a general assignment and neighborhood reporter for the Duluth News Tribune. Originally from the Iron Range, Cadeau has worked for several community newspapers in the Duluth area for eight years including: The Duluth Budgeteer News, Western Weekly, Weekly Observer, Lake County News-Chronicle and occasionally, the Cloquet Pine Journal. When not working, she's an avid reader and crafter.
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