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‘Be Smart, Save the Arts’

Artisans Protest Recalibration

Kim Powell | Staff Writer | 02/02/2011

Despite the frigid temperatures and snow flurries, students, teachers and community members protested the recalibration of BSU under the arch outside of Deputy Hall on Monday.

The protesters bundled up and gathered under the arch with their picket signs while chanting, “Be smart, save the arts,” throughout the afternoon.

“It started at noon, but some people are coming and going for their dedication to their art history classes,” said Shanna Olsen, a junior fine arts major.

Olsen held a sign with the message, “Administration already reached their dreams, give the students a chance to reach theirs.”

The recalibration plan will eliminate the Art History and Theatre programs, as well as reducing faculty in the Visual Arts and Music departments.

After the news broke out about the cuts in the visual art department at the forum on January 20, students and professors retaliated by creating a Facebook group called, “Save the Arts of Bemidji State University,” which racked up over 23,000 views in just nine days, and over 400 members. There, the protesters joined and began planning their rally.

“‘At Bemidji State University, you’ll find numerous ways to stretch your thinking, stimulate your passion or enrich your busy life.’ That is a quote on the ‘news and info’ page of BSU’s website,” said Candace Lockrem, a member of the Facebook group and BSU alumnus. “I’d like to see them stick to that statement with all the art, theater and music cuts they are making. I sure didn’t feel stimulated, passionate, or enriched while sitting in a math or science class.”

Other students expressed their anger at the protest with signs that read, “Why don’t you take the cuts” and “BSU performs major surgery, removes the heart of Bemidji’s fine art culture.”

Nearly every car that drove by honked at the crowd of artisans to show their support of the BSU art department.

Members of the Facebook group were encouraged to contact Representative John Persell, Congressmen Collin Peterson, Senator John Carlson and Senator Amy Klobuchar. Carlson responded almost immediately.

“I do have an appointment to meet with Dr. Hanson,” Carlson said. “My main concern will be with the amount of spending at the administrative level that may have an impact on the amount of money that is available for programs and the classroom.”

In a letter that BSU student Jeremiah Liend spread around Facebook, he stated, “BSU hired an axe-man named Hanson to save them from over-investing in hockey futures.”

Liend went on to talk about the history of Bangsberg and BSU over the past 50 years. “Hanson claims that he is restructuring, but really he is just cutting down. I call him an axe-man because a hatchet man would have left at least the Art History major to keep the basement of the [Art] Education building naked.”

Signs sat in the snow at the protest with a picture of President Hanson that read, “Hey Paul Bunyan, there’s a new hatchet man in Bemidji.”

“You can’t restructure something by tearing it down. You repair it so it can work,” said Liend.

Another community member who was at the protest, Steve Ross, said, “The arts are the backbone of our culture. Without art, we’re just work, and we need more than that.”

“We just want them to reconsider us,” added an anonymous protester. “They haven’t even stepped into the art department once.”

Sandy Kaul, the director emeritus of the Talley Gallery, wrote a letter to the Bemidji Pioneer saying, “I hope this plan to eliminate the visual arts degree programs, and the other BSU arts programs, can be reconsidered, and that a way can be found to retain these departments and their ongoing contributions to students, the university, community and region.”

The protesters called it quits before 7 p.m., but their message was clear: “Keep art off of the endangered species list,” as one sign said. There were also signs of Mona Lisa crying.

As Kaul put it, “This is not Bemidji State University’s finest hour.”