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Who Knew Then: An Arts-In story spanning 40 years and 1400 miles

I have always said that 4-H introduced me to the activities and experiences that I enjoy most in my life. I thrive on travel (4-H trips to Washington D.C.) enjoy teaching people, (demonstrations with the Lively Lassies 4-H Club of Isanti County) love to be in the garden and "put up" vegetables, pickles and jams (Isanti County Fair 4-H competitions), perform folk music (4-H Share the Fun) and bake lavishly for my family and book group (4-H food projects).


But of all the wonderful experiences I had as a 4-H'er, the one program that had the most powerful and long-lasting impact on me was the Minnesota 4-H State Arts-In program. Developed in the 1970's, youth from all over the state came to the 4-H building on the Minnesota State Fairgrounds to do drama and music or concentrate on visual arts.

Our visual arts group's mission was to make large hanging banners for the entrance of the 4-H building and build colorful displays for throughout the exhibit hall. The adult leader for our group was Joan Shultz, a truly amazing woman and perhaps the first living female artist I ever met. Our mission seemed daunting but she made it sound like an easy adventure. She taught us to use crayon batik and dye to transform plain muslin into banners and transform old crates into show stopping window displays with simple latex paint. The memories are so fresh I can still smell the paint feel the hot and steamy air of Minnesota in August.

In addition to the hands-on art training we received from Joan, we were also able to visit various professional arts organizations throughout Minneapolis-St. Paul such as the Dudley Riggs Brave New Workshop, the Minneapolis Art Institute, Swedish Institute, Walker Museum and a special tour of the costume and prop shop of the Guthrie Theatre.

After many days of sewing, painting, sanding, installing and creating, our show was finally ready to unfold under the stage lights. We were all stars! The climax of our Arts-In experience was a special evening at the Chanhassen Dinner Theatres to see Fiddler on the Roof. At one point I heard the clink of glasses and eventually a toast; two people from our group announced their engagement. What a night it was - being dressed up, eating a fancy dinner, celebrating with friends and seeing the most beautiful of live theater performances!

Fast forward nearly four decades. I have an MFA in Visual Arts from Vermont College and have lived in Massachusetts, Maine and Germany. I enjoy my time being an artist, teaching printmaking and painting, gardening and playing hostess to lots of summer visitors.

One of the places I exhibit my artwork is the Boothbay Region Art Foundation. One day while hanging an art show I heard a distinct Minnesota accent coming from the gentleman at the other end of the canvas. "You Betcha!, I'm John Seitzer," he said. We talking for a bit and discovered that we had been in Minnesota 4-H's State Arts-In program at the very same time! In fact he was the groom-to-be that special night in Chanhassen those many years before. John also lives in Maine, operating Joy to the Wind Gallery and creating the most lovely picture frames, inspired by his own experience as an Arts-In participant. How special to be reconnected with John Seitzer and have yet another reason to remember fondly my wonderful years at a Minnesota 4-H'er.

I am forever grateful and Forever Green!

By Debra (Lang) Arter
Isanti County 4-H alum

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To share your special Minnesota 4-H memories, please contact Erin Kelly-Collins, alumni engagement coordinator at the Minnesota 4-H Foundation, at 612-624-7667 or erinkc@umn.edu.


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