The Free Press, Mankato, MN

January 3, 2013

Jail letters: Mankato artist Dana Sikkila starts blog about experience

By Tanner Kent
The Free Press

MANKATO — In the coming days, Dana Sikkila will check into the Blue Earth County Jail.

When that time comes, Sikkila knows she will be asked to remove her piercings. She has more than a dozen, and she hasn’t taken them all out at a single time -- ever. Even members of her family, her friends and boyfriend have never seen her without them.

Of course, Sikkila will comply when asked. She is a community-oriented person ordered to serve 10 days in jail for a past mistake -- she isn’t looking for trouble.

But the act will mark a powerful symbolic moment for the Mankato artist. Sikkila classifies herself as a private person, not prone to telling secrets about herself. She likened her piercings to a “security blanket” and said she’ll be exposing a side of herself known to no one but her.

And that’s what January Darts is all about

“I don’t usually share things like this about myself,” she said. “But I want to show how positive people can also run into negative situations.”

January Darts is the name of the blog that Sikkila has started while undergoing one of the most trying experiences of her life. (The web address is januarydarts.blogspot.com.)

Though she declined to name her offense or the exact day she begins serving -- “I like to build hype,” she said wryly -- Sikkila said she plans to bare all as she explores the impacts of temporary incarceration on her life and art.

Sikkila will serve in the county’s work release program. As such, she’ll be allowed to work during the day -- she’s a digital press operator at Cosco in North Mankato -- and will return to the jail at night. While there, she plans to draw, write and ruminate. And though she’s not allowed to post directly from her cell, she’ll be posting during her lunch break at work and with the help of friends.

Despite her taste for personal privacy, Sikkila said she chose to pursue the project as a way to learn more about herself as well as change perceptions.

“When you hear that someone is in jail, it’s easy to just think they are a horrible person,” she said. “And that may not necessarily be true.”

What’s true about Sikkila is that she owns a master’s degree from Minnesota State University and is a talented artist with a host of exhibition credits to her name.

While friends and fellow MSU classmates were eager to leave Mankato after graduation, Sikkila stayed. She runs the 410 Project art gallery and teaches art classes. She likes Mankato, and feels proud to contribute to the fabric of the community.

Yet, she admits she’s nervous about the reaction to her blog. She said she’s prepared for the criticism that may come and is hoping that readers will understand her motivation.

“I think it takes some guts to admit I did something wrong,” she said. “I want to turn it into something I can grow from, as a person and as an artist.”

As for the name of the blog, Sikkila said she’s terrible at playing darts. The title is a reference to her observation that sometimes she’ll hit a bullseye; then, using the exact same technique on the next throw, she’ll hit a 2.

Similarly, January will be a month of highs and lows for Sikkila. After she’s released from jail, she’ll have just four days to prepare for the Jan. 18 opening of the 410 Project’s collaborative show with Landlocked magazine.

“I’ve got a lot of big things in January,” she said. “Bad and good.”