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7 Investigates: A Need to be Heard Pt. 3

An unexpected art collaboration
Published: Sep. 16, 2021 at 8:50 PM CDT
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AMHERST, Wis. (WSAW) - Two students from Amherst High School are hoping their artwork inspires more civil discussions between people with different viewpoints.

The Tomorrow River School District faced several scenarios in the 2020-2021 school year related to diversity and inclusion. One of those scenarios happened in January when the two mentioned students had their artwork temporarily taken down or covered up. The reason, the principal said, was all about the timing. The content of the artwork explains a little about why.

A lot has happened in the world over the last two years, with social justice issues taking center stage. Lauren Bird and Skylar Linde, a junior and senior, respectively at the time, were in the same art class working on separate projects during the first half of the school year. They each took those current events as opportunities to explore some unrelenting feelings.

Bird took the art teacher’s prompt about communication and observation to create a piece supporting police.

“I watched a lot of TikTok and I see a lot of thin blue line stuff on my ‘For You’ page, and I’ve looked into it a little bit and I have high respect for the officers,” she said.

She used spray paint to create a layered piece.

“It ended up being an officer watching over the city, while I slept so he was sacrificing his rest to make sure that we got ours,” Bird explained.

She ultimately expanded the project to include two more pieces, one to honor firefighters and another to honor EMS personnel.

Lauren Bird (right) and Skylar Linde (left) pose in front of Bird's pieces after the two had an...
Lauren Bird (right) and Skylar Linde (left) pose in front of Bird's pieces after the two had an unexpected art collaboration.(Amherst High School)

Linde piece jumped off of the prompt, “movement.”

“So instead of like physical movement, I wanted to take the Black Lives Matter movement as a whole,” she explained.

She researched the movement, finding the website showing the names and photos of Black people killed by police.

“So, I started writing them down, and I filled like three or four notebook pages, two rows front, and back. And I was like OK, like this is, I should do something with this.”

She created an oil pastel piece that filled a large bulletin board with names from 2017-2020.

Lauren Bird (right) and Skylar Linde (left) pose in front of Linde's piece after the two had an...
Lauren Bird (right) and Skylar Linde (left) pose in front of Linde's piece after the two had an unexpected art collaboration.(Amherst High School)

“So, just trying to bring the attention that I’m in that with them, and I know that they’re going through all these struggles right now and I just want to help them and be there for them and help them put their, put their thoughts on a pedestal,” Linde said.

While those two perspectives have often clashed in public discourse, the two helped each other to make each other’s projects the best they could be.

“It was more of an art perspective that we complemented each other’s like you could do this better, you could add some of this you could maybe adjust this a little bit, things like that,” Bird stated.

Though, the artistic collaboration also naturally opened a dialog about the content of each piece too.

“All of our like, collaborative talking is all very respectful, even though we’re opposite sides,” Linde began.

Bird agreed, adding, “Just having that respect for other people’s point of view, this crucial too.”

They literally wrote that into their pieces because their ease with discussions felt like an anomaly. Their artworks were displayed next to each other in one of the hallways. In between the two pieces, they wrote a statement, hoping their collaboration inspires people to take time to understand differing opinions.

Lauren Bird (right) and Skylar Linde (left) pose in front of the explanation they wrote about...
Lauren Bird (right) and Skylar Linde (left) pose in front of the explanation they wrote about their unexpected collaboration, hoping to inspire people to have more civil discussions.(Amherst High School)

“Not everybody is as open to talking about it as 50-50 and--,” Linde started to say.

“A lot of people are very closed-minded on their views like they don’t want to hear anything that’s not what they believe,” continued Bird.

“A lot of my friends are very not Black Lives Matter-oriented, so it’s a little harder to have conversations with them about it because they just joke about like constantly and it’s harder to actually talk when they’re just slamming jokes all the time,” Linde added.

“A lot of kids in the school are pretty divided like yeah, it’s you’re they’re very one-sided or you’re very toward the other side and to find someone that’s more on the border is very rare or find someone that’s open to talk about it, respectfully, it’s very rare,” Bird stated.

That division is something district administration recognized too.

“We have a lot of students who like to be fairly political in their ways, whichever way that may be. So I could definitely see that maybe boiling over,” Mike Klieforth, the high school principal said, and here is what he meant.

The artworks went up the day of the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. Klieforth heard about the artwork after the school day had ended and thought, “this is definitely a case where it could create a disturbance at school because the political aspects boiling over.”

That evening, he temporarily had the spray-painted pieces taken down and the oil pastel covered up due to the size. He said he wanted to get more information.

“I got a call from my art teacher, and she told me about and I was like oh wait what,” Linde said.

“we’re on a zoom call for an hour and a half that night talking about the entire situation,” Bird continued.

They were not happy, to say the least. They did not believe the insurrection was a reason to even take them down temporarily, but retrospectively, they said they understand where the principal was coming from.

“We weren’t really trying to cause, like, a whole event that happened that that just…” bird began.

“Just happened,” Linde finished. “It was weird timing with the…”

“The Capital riots happened,” Bird said.

“Talked to the students and it’s actually a really neat idea they had,” he said.

Within the next day or two, the pieces were on display again for several weeks.

They both said they do not understand why people cannot get along when they have different viewpoints. So, they have some advice for people.

“Stop and listen to each other for a second, like why do they believe this? Why do they believe that?” Bird urged.

Two students from Amherst High School are hoping their artwork inspires more civil discussions...
Two students from Amherst High School are hoping their artwork inspires more civil discussions between people with different viewpoints.(Amherst High School)

When asked if they think people will be able to make that happen, they said “Yes, but also no.”

“I hope so,” Linde plead. “I really hope people can start to learn to love each other a little bit more. I really, really want that to be the case. I just, I know our country is very divided. I know every town is divided. I hope there can be those middlemen that can start to use collaboration and everything, but we’ll see.”

“This ain’t gonna happen in a day either. Good things take time, and I’m sure that with time this will all come together,” Bird assured. “And once people realize that, okay, maybe this isn’t so bad, and start talking about it I think things will go a lot better.”

The two were working on a single piece together inspired by this unexpected collaboration in order to continue the conversation. The piece was going to feature a Black Lives Matter Fist and a blue line flag, with two hands coming together in the middle to join together. However, they were not able to get the piece completed before the quarter ended and both had busy schedules. Linde also graduated, so the piece was not completed.

To learn more about the other scenarios that happened at the school district and the district’s response, click here. To see how a middle school teacher handles tough questions and conversations from students, click here.

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