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Art Mobile in Worthington

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The project is funded through a grant from the Southwest Minnesota Housing Partnership

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WORTHINGTON — Next month, Worthington’s Artmobile will set forth on its journey to reach people of all ages, backgrounds and cultures in the world’s universal language.

Although the benefits of art are well documented, most people get little to no experience making art in their lifetimes. The Artmobile looks to change that by bringing art supplies right to the people — and setting up mobile workshops — to give Worthington residents a chance to show their creative side.

Art instructors Gail Holinka and Bobbie Alsgaard-Lien are the brains — and the drivers — behind the operation. The duo will soon strip a decommissioned Head Start bus of its 16 seats and fill it with art supplies, tables, chairs and display cubes.

The bus will make its first appearance on April 21 at a community arts celebration at Memorial Auditorium — whether it’s been fully customized or not.

The Artmobile will make a handful of appearances throughout the spring and summer, whether it’s at scheduled events such as the Worthington Windsurfing Regatta and International Festival or making impromptu appearances.

The bus will primarily travel to neighborhoods in Worthington that don’t get as much exposure, such as Sungold Heights.

“Mainly we want to reach the community, we want to find those artists that think they can’t make a living in art and start opening the doors,” Alsgaard-Lien said. “They might just be what I call closet artists. We’re looking for artists that are kind of in the shadows.”

The project is funded through a grant from the Southwest Minnesota Housing Partnership, which received an up-to $3 million award from ArtPlace America’s Community Development Investments program in 2015.

The bus has a dual purpose — to engage the community artistically and practically.

In accordance with the grant, Holinka and Alsgaard-Lien will work with the Southwest Minnesota Opportunity Council (SMOC) to inform Worthington residents about public transportation opportunities of which they may not be aware.

Those engaged in art projects will learn where the bus route goes and how they can get discounted taxi rides through SMOC. Community members will also create flags, mosaic boxes and planters that will alert Worthington residents of bus stops around the city.

They’ve worked on the project for more than a year, but to Holinka and Alsgaard-Lien, the Artmobile feels the product of decades of work in trying to make Worthington a more art-accepting city.

In the early ’90s, Holinka, after 10 years as a registered nurse, decided she wanted to get into a new field. As her art instructor at Minnesota West Community and Technical College, Alsgaard-Lien convinced Holinka she could make art — something she’d always loved — into a career.

In the more than two decades since, the two have worked together to challenge Worthington to accept and value art. They’ve had success: getting an afterschool arts program for District 518, forming the Public Arts Commission and commissioning several public arts projects, including a large mural on the east side of the Worthington VFW.

In 2015, Prairie Elementary hired a full-time art teacher — finally answering Holinka and Alsgaard-Lien’s prayers. The two said they have noticed a heightened interest in art among students and community leaders in the last few years.

“I think the younger generation has really learned to or been educated to embrace the importance of public art and the importance of art,” Alsgaard-Lien said. “Because when I first started teaching, trying to get people to be interested in having public art was like pulling wisdom teeth with pliers.”

Holinka has already enlisted the help of students, both to transform the bus into an Artmobile with paint donated by Arnold Motor Supply, and to help explore neighborhoods diverse with various cultures and languages.

“When we go into the neighborhoods, we’ll have kids that know the neighborhood and who can communicate with those who don’t know English,” Holinka said.

Either Holinka or Alsgaard-Lien can drive the bus. Holinka has experience driving buses for Client Community Services, and Alsgaard-Lien used to drive for Head Start.

The bus will try to pull in adults of all ages in addition to kids. One of its destinations is the Center for Active Living.

“There’s adults that don’t get the chance to create … they just don’t,” Holinka said.

This summer, those who created works of art through the Artmobile can enter their pieces into a community art exhibit at the Nobles County Art Center.

The grant expires as summer transitions into fall, but Holinka and Alsgaard-Lien want to keep it going afterwards through donations, grants and paid services. Alsgaard-Lien said she wants to bring the Artmobile to small communities in Nobles County in its second year.

The goal of the Artmobile is to get more people into art. But it’s also meant to connect communities, and in general, to get people engaged and interacting with each other in a positive way.

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