GRAND RAPIDS, Minn. – A mural titled “Niibii,” the Ojibwe word for water, is being created for placement on Blandin Foundation’s building. Local artist Leah Yellowbird is leading the work.
“Grand Rapids is a vibrant, thriving community,” said Kathy Annette, Blandin Foundation president and CEO. “Art brings this to life. Our founder Charles Blandin believed this. His foundation’s first investments were in arts and recreation, including the Grand Rapids Marching Band and Blandin Beach. He knew then what we know now – arts create a sense of place, a certain quality of life, that draws people here.”
The mural will depict an underwater scene with fish, otters, beavers and other creatures with different themes important to the Itasca area woven into the design, like forests/timber, the four seasons, recreation and local symbols. It will fully cover the west-facing exterior wall of the Foundation’s building.
“The mural is all about pushing wisdom on,” said Yellowbird. “In the Ojibwe culture, rocks are the oldest, wisest beings on Earth. When water flows over them, it carries the wisdom along for future generations and, in many ways, I think that’s what Blandin Foundation does. They pass on resources, so people can step forward into the future they want.”
Yellowbird is a Grand Rapids-based painter and beadwork artist. With her Anishinaabe heritage as an inspiration, her work often reflects beadwork, with animals and Ojibwe floral motifs rendered in a pointillist style.
She is currently creating the mural at the third floor of Old Central School (10 NW 5th St, Grand Rapids). Community members are welcome to visit and view the project and even participate in creating it. The creation process will go through August. Installation will occur in mid-September, shortly before Grand Rapids will host the Rural Arts and Culture Summit.
“We are excited to create a piece with and for the community in a way that honors what we all love most about this place we call home,” said Annette. “We’re lucky to live in a community brimming with talented artists and natural beauty that inspires people of all kinds to invest here.”
Art is also an important economic driver in Itasca County. A 2016 study by CreativeMN found that, in Grand Rapids alone, the total economic impact from arts and culture was almost $5.1 million annually with an additional 139 jobs created.
The community is seeing and appreciating this impact. According to Rural Pulse, a survey of rural Minnesotan perceptions and issues, nearly three out of four Itasca area residents believe that their community provides diverse arts and culture opportunities.