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Concordia students’ sculpture on display outside Plains Art Museum

“An Emergent Belonging” is on display until May 2019. Photo by Anna Knutson.

There may be a sculpture of a oversized bird’s nest in Fargo, but “Sesame Street” is not coming to the area.

Just outside of the Plains Art Museum in Downtown Fargo, visitors can see a sculpture of a giant bird’s nest, entitled “An Emergent Belonging.” The piece was created by a group of Concordia art students last May and will be on display until May 2019.

Students Ashley Raduns, Helena Langr, Katelyn Mitchell, Elizabeth Vought, Ruth Peterson, and Chelsea Steffes created the sculpture under the supervision and guidance of Concordia art professor Dwight Mickelson.

The piece was designed under a program at the Plains called the “Sculpture Art Pad Collaborative Experiment (S.P.A.C.E.).” In this program, the museum partners with the art departments from North Dakota State University, Minnesota State University-Moorhead, and Concordia College. The three schools rotate on a two-year cycle to create a piece to be displayed at the museum, and last year, it was Concordia’s turn to design a piece.

“None of us had ever really worked collaboratively before,” Mitchell said. “So it was definitely interesting.”

The students began by creating designs on their own and then were placed in pairs. For the final project, the six students all worked together. Mickelson gave oversight to the entire process.

“My job was to come up with a class that had projects leading to the creation of the large public piece. So we didn’t just make it, we started with other projects first,” Mickelson said.

Designs for the S.P.A.C.E. display are voted on by both campus students and museum visitors, and the one with the most votes is the one that is ultimately installed at the museum.

Steve Jacobs, Plains Art Museum director of collections and registrar, has worked closely with the program and attests to the rigorous process.

“The voting process takes about a month. Based on the [designs] that were presented during the last round of voting, which were conceptually very strong, the competition must have been fierce,” he said.  

The S.P.A.C.E. installation provides students with the opportunity to work collaboratively, think critically, and design creatively. However, it does not come without challenges of its own.

“When proposing works for the S.P.A.C.E. program students are required to think in a larger scale and beyond the conceptual.  If their work is chosen for the sculpture pad they must have a plan for scaling up their ideas and realizing them with materials that can withstand the stresses encountered by all public art such as weather and encounters with overly enthusiastic viewers,” Jacobs continued.

The sculpture has elements of steel, found wood, and hypertufa, a type of porous, manufactured cement.

Mickelson agrees with Jacobs, explaining how designing for this project is different than submitting personal work.

“When you make a public piece, you have to deal with the public. And you have to deal with constraints, like materials that have to last for several years, working with staff at the museum, dealing with people’s reactions to it. It’s all collaborative along the way,” Mickelson said.

But despite these difficulties, the students worked hard to make the piece hold meaning.

“For me, it’s kind of a work about how you can leave home, but there’s always a part of you still there. Even if it’s just a shell. We talked a lot about leaving home, but also being present. There were a lot of different ideas revolving around that spirit,” Mitchell said.

Each student contributed in their own way, and brough different ideas around a central theme to create the final piece.

“We tried to take the vision of six people and present that in an authentic way,” Mickelson said.

The artwork can be seen at the Plains Art Museum until May 2019. For more information, visit

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