LeAnn Atchison of Clara City receives 2018 Prairie Disciple Award


LeAnn Atchison of Clara City receives 2018 Prairie Disciple Award

The Southwest Minnesota Arts Council is pleased to announce LeAnn Atchison of Clara City as the recipient of the 2018 Prairie Disciple Award, which acknowledges a person – this year, an arts educator – who has been instrumental in promoting the arts in the 18-county area of southwestern Minnesota. LeAnn started her teaching career in Raymond, MN, in the fall of 1983. Eventually the school combined with Maynard and Clara City to form the MACCRAY public school system. LeAnn has been teaching at MACCRAY for 35 years and counting. Melissa Sparks, LeAnn’s nominator and the current principal at MACCRAY, explained that LeAnn was always proactive and resourceful from the very beginning.  She was charged with developing a comprehensive art program with little to no budget. Her first year teaching, LeAnn jumped right in and entered her students in their first art contest through the Willmar radio station, Q102. Some of the students won, resulting in $1,000 of cash prizes for the school! LeAnn used that money to help fund the start of the art program and has never stopped finding creative solutions to support her student’s creativity since. In fact, even a partial list of grants she’s brought into her life and classroom is extensive: 1996 Comprehensive Arts Planning Program Grant, 2006 Best Buy Teach Award, 2010 Minnesota Beatle Project, 2010 ACE Grant with colleagues Diane Holien and Kathy Stalnaker, 2012 SMAC Individual Artist Grant, 2017 Partner of a Legacy Grant to produce artwork for the city of Willmar, and numerous artist in residency grants.

Melissa Sparks said, “LeAnn has reached out and touched the lives of all who entered her classroom, regardless of their level of artistic ability.” Many of her students went onto pursue the arts as a career, Jeremy Holien is one such student, who is a State Visual & Media Arts Education Specialist through Perpich Center for Arts Education and the Minnesota Department of Education. Jeremy said “Over many years, LeAnn has fostered the development of many successful artists and arts educators, often serving as the catalyst for significant professional and personal contributions to the field. LeAnn has tremendous influence on students. Personally, LeAnn’s encouragement expanded my aspirations and led me to make arts education my career. I attribute much of my professional success to LeAnn’s early influence, depth of knowledge, superior instructional skills and overall support.”

Carye VanDerPol Mahoney, former student of LeAnn and now an artist and illustrator, said LeAnn “encouraged and nurtured that creative spark in all of us; she showed us the value of creating and expressing ourselves. When the school had concerts, she made sure our artwork was also on display, our very first gallery experience.” Carye goes on to say that LeAnn encouraged students, including herself, to enter works in competitions and to attend arts enrichment camps. Carye attended an arts camp through Minnesota State University in Moorhead and her experiences led her to study art there after graduating high school. She earned her BFA in illustration and has worked in the creative arts ever since.

Carrie Ammermann, Associate Creative Art Director in Advertising at Baker Street Advertising and former student of LeAnn’s, said “of all the teachers that have shaped my journey, there is one who I must give the greatest amount of gratitude for her influence and guidance. Her name is LeAnn Atchison. LeAnn has touched countless lives through her work. As a teacher, she is patient, empathetic, engaged, resourceful, open-minded, and nurturing. LeAnn’s art room was a sanctuary for me, a community where I was encouraged to flourish and recognized for my achievements, no matter how small….LeAnn has instilled in me a lifetime hunger for the arts and I carry it with me every day.”

This past fall LeAnn was nominated and selected by her peers as the Art Educators of Minnesota’s Secondary Art Educator of the Year, speaking again to how instrumental she has been in promoting the arts for our region. Carrie Ammermann said above everything else, LeAnn has a passion and enthusiasm for teaching art, and that’s “demonstrated year after year by her inherently caring attitude, her ability to trigger receptiveness to new techniques and an uncanny knack for coaching her students in meaningful ways.”

When we asked LeAnn what she wanted to share she responded with saying that “everyone is capable of enjoying art and finding an area where they can excel in. It is so rewarding to see students develop their abilities and strengthen their appreciation for art. I hope to create a passion that they will use for the rest of their life and they will have a lifelong participation in the arts.” SMAC believes the response she’s gotten from her students and peers through this nomination and award proves she is doing just that.

Jeremy Holien summed up his support of her nomination with this: “LeAnn is engaging, knowledgeable, and a superb advocate for the arts. Based on her qualifications, skills, and professional contributions, she is most deserving of this award and I highly recommend her.” SMAC’s board of directors agrees, and we are proud to recognize her contribution to promoting the arts in our region. The public is invited to celebrate with LeAnn as she is publicly acknowledged for this award at SMAC’s Annual Celebration of the Arts and Artists on September 29, 2018 in Ortonville at the “Off the Green” restaurant and bar. Watch our website for more details on the celebration at www.swmnarts.org.

   Look forward to:

Brothers 2: Don Kanten (above) and Lee Kanten (below)
  • Open Art Studio Tours in Ortonville
  • Live entertainment from Brothers 2
  • Social Hour & meal provided by “Off the Green: Restaurant & Bar
  • Presentation awards to Prairie Star Travis Erickson & Prairie Disciple LeAnn Atchison
  • SMAC’s Spirit of the Region raffle baskets
For more information click here and watch your mailbox for the invite!
If you would like to confirm you are on our mailing list for the invite, please email info@swmnarts.org or call 800-622-5284.

More about the Prairie Disciple Award:

The Prairie Disciple Award ($500) provides awareness and recognition of one individual per year from southwest Minnesota, whose activities and involvement have substantially contributed to the arts over an extended period of time. The accomplishments of arts advocates working in the region are often not widely known or appreciated. In recognizing these individuals publicly, the awards will raise the profile of the arts in their community and throughout the SMAC region.


(July 1, 2018 – June 30, 2019)


Nomination Guidelines & Questions  COMING SOON

Nominations must be submitted through our online grant system.  LOG IN to begin your nomination.

Nomination Deadline: April 15, 2019
SMAC Board action regarding the nominations will take place April 23, 2019.


Past recipients include:

2017 – Andy Kahmann, Montevideo
2016 – Brian Pearson, New London
2015 –  Raeanna Gislason, formerly of Willmar
2014 – John Voit, Ghent
2013 – Jerry Deuschle, Luverne
2012 – Tricia Mikle, Worthington
2011 – Nancy Geiger, Willmar
2010 – Ruth McKinney, Walnut Grove*
2009 – Joe Paddock, Litchfield
2008 – Violet Risch, Appleton
2007 – Bob Whitney, New London
2006 – Carol Westberg, Montevideo
2005 – Louise Mack, New London*
2004 – Patrick Moore, Montevideo
2003 – (no award)
2002 – Karen Reede, Marshall
2001 – Rallah Madison, Lismore
2000 – Mercein Holzemer, Madison*
1999  – (no award)
1998 – Ben Vander Kooi, Luverne
1997 – Tina Anderson Richards, Walnut Grove
1996 – Patricia Enger, Marshall
1995 – Vernon Stevens, Dawson*



Questions? Comments? Contact us!


Carolyn Olson August 4, 2018 - 9:28 am

Congratulations to LeAnn!

Betty Ammermann October 10, 2018 - 12:36 pm

Congratulations to LeAnn Atchison on her award in this field. She truly is a superb teacher in the fine arts field. Her influence and guidance have overwhelmingly contributed to many of her students continuing their art career after high school. LeAnn is a very caring person and enjoys teaching her students, bringing out their creativity and art skills. She does an amazing job and is always eager to hear from former students, many of whom got their start in her classroom. Best Wishes.


Leave a Comment


Join our email list

© 2024 Southwest Minnesota Arts Council. All Rights Reserved.

This website uses cookies to improve your experience. We'll assume you're ok with this, but you can opt-out if you wish. ACCEPT READ MORE

Privacy & Cookies Policy
Skip to content