Vermillion honors King’s legacy with artistic touch

Norma Wilson paused for a moment, viewed her surroundings at the Washington Street Art Center Monday afternoon, and smiled.She was surrounded by art, brought in my artists and school children and photographers, all to honor the legacy of Martin Lutheran King, Jr by participating in the center's first Art for Peace exhibit.  "We just issued a call for artists, and we contacted as many teachers as we could, and as many artists as we could, to bring their art, and as it turned out, some poets brought their poems – I brought a poem – and a couple other poets brought poems, and then we got a variety of different kinds of art, photographs, oils and watercolors," said Wilson, who serves as president of the Vermillion Area Arts Council.Monday's Art of Peace exhibit, she added, was particularly fitting for the day, not only to recognize King's legacy, but also to serve as a reminder that the nation is involved in war."I thought it would be good, particularly at this time that we're living in, to have an Art for Peace exhibit, because our nation is at war, and part of King's legacy has to do with nonviolence, and he opposed the Vietnam War, particularly towards the end of his life," Wilson said. "I think we have to keep in mind the importance of thinking of ourselves as part of the world community, and valuing our diversity rather than having our ethnicity divide us. I'm glad that some of the art addresses that issue as well, as well as the issue of peace."She is particularly grateful for the assistance she received from Susan Heggestad, a Vermillion artist."I called her to ask if she would be willing to work with the VAAC on the event, and she agreed to do so," Wilson said. "She helped with publicity, she hung the art, and she and several of her children created art for the exhibit. Susan's contributions to the event are much appreciated by the VAAC."There were no special guidelines given to artists who chose to participate in Monday's exhibit. The result was a wide spectrum of art, all dealing with the central theme of peace."There is such an interesting variety here of what you think about when you hear the word 'peace,' and as an artist, how you express that," Wilson said. "For me, I didn't think of the fact that I have some poems that talk about the need for peace, and I do, because it's a big concern of mine. I think that we often think of art as a craft, as the technique, rather than the message that it might convey."My view of this exhibit the whole time was just to see what the artists will bring, to see what comes to the center, and I'm very pleased," she said.Wilson hopes to urge the community to continually recognize King's legacy through art. Next year, the Washington Street Arts Center will host another show in his honor. "Next year, it may not be art of peace, it may be some other theme," she said. "We might have to set some limits in terms of size, that sort of thing, but I like the freedom of it. And, I'd like to see even more. I'd like to see music. But this year, we're just getting started. We're seeing what we can do this first year, and we'll have time then, to think about what we may want to do next year."Art, in Wilson's mind, fits in perfectly to help commemorate the work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr."Art has the capacity to raise consciousness, so I would hope that when people view this art, they may think to themselves, 'what does that have to with peace?'" she said.Part of Monday's exhibit included several photos taken at Spirit Mound."People looking at that could get the sense of the importance of valuing nature," Wilson said, "and not want to destroy it. That has a great deal to with peace, because war is very destructive to the natural world, and we are part of nature, too. We value the creation, we value all of the people who are part of the creation, so the different forms of art – the paintings, the photographs, the poem that are presented here – have many different messages, and I think that it's instructive to experience art, in ways that we can't even articulate in words."Four students from the University of South Dakota are assisting with activities at the art center this year."It occurred to me that this was a chance to do the kind of exhibit that we haven't done before, so I ran it by the (art center) board, and we decided to go ahead with it," Wilson said. "And, I just thought it would be a good thing to do something in the community to honor Martin Luther King."

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