The Free Press, Mankato, MN

January 10, 2013

Validation granted: Prairie Lakes' grantee exhibition elevates emerging artists

By Tanner Kent
The Free Press

ST PETER — A check for $1,000 is nice.

But recipients of the Prairie Lakes Regional Arts Council’s Emerging Artist grants seem to receive something even more gratifying than money.

Kay Herbst Helms is a Mankato photographer who received an Emerging Artist grant in 2011. She used the grant to purchase a new lens for her camera and pursue a tutor who could teach her the finer points of developing photos digitally.

With new equipment and knowledge in tow, she went on to capture a series of photographs that depict the hands and landscapes of rural south-central Minnesota. She exhibited them at the Arts Center of St. Peter in March of 2012.

The black-and-white photographs proved a powerful commentary on nourishment and sustainability. And, Herbst Helms said, the grant-funded project felt like an arrival of sorts as a recognized member of the arts community.

“Absolutely,” she said, “whenever you get something like that, it feels like a validation of your work.”

The Arts Center of St. Peter is hosting a group exhibition of artworks created by PLRAC Emerging Artist and Fellowship grant recipients, beginning Saturday and remaining on display through Feb. 17. Saturday’s reception also includes samples of grant-funded performance art.

The PLRAC is one of 11 such regional councils established by the Minnesota State Arts Board. In 2012 alone, the PLRAC distributed more than $323,000 to area artists, organizations and educational facilities through a variety of grant programs.

Among those are Emerging Artist grants, which include $1,000 for projects or materials that advance the work of artists who are in the formative stages of their careers.

“I still consider myself very emerging,” said Pat Branstad of St. James, who also received one such grant in 2011. “I’m learning more and more all the time.”

Though her enjoyment of photography began as a young girl, Branstad said she never really considered herself an artist. For many years, she was mostly content to shoot pictures of her children, and of her trips to Germany, which she shared with her high school language students.

A couple years ago, however, a friend encouraged her to begin sharing her work. Soon after, she had works accepted into a few juried exhibits. Her confidence began to grow and she even began to sell a few pieces.

When Branstad received her grant, she attended a workshop by well-known Oregon nature photographer David Cobb. She returned with a host of ideas and techniques that have inspired new directions for her art.

“I’ve been trying to see myself as an artist and not just someone who takes pictures,” she said, adding: “It’s very humbling to be part of this exhibit.”

Other Emerging Artists included in the exhibit are: Sheila Becker, LeCenter; Leo Derkowski, Sleepy Eye; James Ihrke, Madison Lake; Lorna Rafness, Mankato; April Rao, St. Peter; Geraldine Tostenson, Mankato; and Jacob Zieher, Mankato.

Fellowship Grantees include: Tom Barna, Eagle Lake; Debra Evans-Paige, LeSueur; Charlie Heymann, Winthrop; Steve Mark, Springfield; Nicole Roberts Hoiland, St. Peter, Dave Ryan, Mankato; Janet Schultz, St. Peter and Amanda Wirig, Eagle Lake.