WHEN ART INTEGRATES into a community in a publicly accessible way, I celebrate. There’s a reason I feel such gratitude. I grew up in rural southwestern Minnesota with minimal art exposure. Yet, today, I work as a creative. Expressing myself via writing and photography is my passion. My path to creativity began with the Little House books read aloud to me and my classmates by a grade school teacher. As I listened, words painted images of the scenes Laura Ingalls Wilder described in her writing.
That’s the backstory behind my deep appreciation for the arts—from visual to literary to performing.
I believe art should be accessible to everyone no matter their location, their income, their anything.
So when I happened upon a new mural in the heart of downtown Cannon Falls recently, I felt grateful. Here, on the side of the Cannon Falls Area Chamber of Commerce building at a busy intersection along Minnesota State Highways 19/20 (4th and Main Streets), a colorful mural depicts the culture, heritage and history of Cannon Falls and the surrounding area.
The art reveals much about this small town along the Cannon River, about the early influence of Native Americans and French fur traders. Today, outdoor enthusiasts are drawn to canoe that same river. Others bike, walk and run on recreational trails.
The mural shows, too, the importance of art and agriculture here. On the day I visited Cannon Falls, a farmer steered his John Deere tractor, pulling a wagon heaped with corn, through downtown. Past the mural. I love moments like this when art and reality intersect. This mural truly reflects its community.
A close up look reveals the words Burch Park on a scoreboard behind a ball player. That references nearby John Burch Park, home to the Cannon Falls Bombers, Cannon Falls Bears and other teams. Sports, in most small towns, are a source of community pride, of togetherness.
This new public mural also brought people together. Under the artistic leadership of Cannon Falls native and New York artist Kelli Bickman, some 30 community members and students joined to make this mural happen. Bickman is the founder and director of Youth Mural Arts, which taps into student talent to create public art. A $3,000 grant from Southeastern Minnesota Arts Council to the Cannon Arts Board along with a Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation Paint the Town Grant (for 15 gallons of paint) made the project possible.
As I stood viewing and photographing Cannon Falls’ newest mural, I wondered about the middle and high school students who painted the scenes before me. I hope they feel valued, appreciated and, most of all, inspired. Art opens doors. Doors to the future. Doors to seeing the world in a new way. And that is powerful.
NOTE: Please check back as I take you inside the Cannon Falls Library to view more art.
© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling