Art Education Student Finds Unique Way to Share Art with Others During Pandemic

As a part of MSUM’s Art Education program, most students enrolled complete an art therapy field experience course. While it’s just a requirement for some, junior Katie Lou Sandberg decided to go further.

She partnered with a rural Minnesota tribe, the UMD Medical School and Dr. Brenna Greenfield, Ph.D., LP, on the Anji'bide – Changing Our Paths project. While usually held in person, COVID-19 turned the project into a weekly virtual artist web series.

Katie started working with the tribe in the spring of 2020, but her love for art began much sooner. Ever since she was a kid, art played a big role in her life.

“Art personally has always been a passion in my life. It’s something I grew up with, something I can and want to share with others.”

This passion led her to MSUM’s art program and art therapy minor. Through these programs, she’s worked with the community and brought her ideas and talent into the local area to help others.

Last spring, Katie was set up to be a project coordinator for an art show, working with a five-year grant that Duluth Medical School presented. This grant would be used for the recovery and prevention of opioid misuse. Linking art and opioid recovery and prevention brought the Anji’bide – Changing Our Paths project to life. As a student who needed field experience in art therapy, Katie’s role was to simply coordinate these art shows. That is, until the pandemic.

“I’ve really found this experience to be a challenge with the pandemic,” Katie says, “but it’s also been the most rewarding experience because I really feel good about the work I’m doing.”

Adapting and adjusting to COVID-19 was completely novel at the time; Katie really wasn’t sure what to do. With case numbers rising, the idea of having live, in-person art shows was quickly fading. While transferring to an online art show was seemingly the only option available, she considered other avenues.

Katie, in partnership with a student from Bemidji State University, put out a call for art within a 50-mile radius, asking the community to send in art for a coloring book contest. These coloring books would then be redistributed into the rural Minnesotan tribe’s schools, treatment centers, ERs, and community centers. The coloring books contain beadwork patterns, ribbon skirt sewing instructions, an Ojibwemowin language page, the submitted coloring pages, and include a coloring contest.

“Whether it’s people in recovery from drug addictions, people with mental illness or children in settings, there’s just so many outlets and ways that this program can help people, all ages too.”

After this, focus was brought back unto the art show itself. With having time from the pandemic and resources from UMD, the Anji’bide – Changing Out Paths project was turned into a web-series. This series compiles different indigenous artists on multiple media platforms to present live web classes. Most live classes can be found on Facebook for those who want to watch and/or learn themselves.

As time passed, Katie’s position changed as well. Originally, she was working a temporary position for 45 hours. As her work continued and the community grew stronger because of it, her hours and contract kept getting extended. Lots of doors have opened for her, job and opportunity-wise, though she would like to continue working with the people she is now.

“I think it would have been harder without the program; I did end up finding this opportunity on my own, but I was so happy I could use it for my practicum. I could see myself working later, down the line, as an art therapist on the reservation.”

This past fall, Katie helped to spearhead a virtual art show with selected artists at Gizhiigin Arts Incubator in Mahnomen. More information can be found on the project Facebook page Changing Our Paths. Katie plans to continue the artist talks on the web series, as it is, “a great inspiration to those in recovery that find the classes helpful.”

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