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Creative kids: ArtWise offers children's artworks for businesses to lease and display

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Artist Pirjo Berg measures a mat before cutting it to fit a piece of artwork by a local elementary school student as part of the Art By Children lease program on Thursday, May 31, 2018. Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald2 / 6
Madison Pinard (right), a third-grader at Ben Franklin Elementary School, watches as Pirjo Berg, an ArtWise staff member, cuts an art mat to complete a framing project on Thursday, May 31, 2018. Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald3 / 6
ArtWise project assistant Pirjo Berg demonstrates the process of matting artwork to Ben Franklin Elementary School students Madison Pinard (left) and Madison Hess (center) on Thursday, May 31, 2018. Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald4 / 6
Ben Franklin Elementary School students Madison Pinard (left) and Madison Hess display their framed artwork which will be available for local businesses to display as part of the ArtWise Art By Children lease program. Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald5 / 6
Current and past ArtWise artwork projects by elementary school students fill ArtWise headquarters at Ben Franklin Elementary School. Photo taken Thursday, May 31, 2018. Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald6 / 6

The picture of a large caterpillar was an obvious choice, a few years ago, when Julie Starren selected artwork by local school children for display at her workplace.

After all, the office manager at Butler Machinery Company said, "We're an equipment dealership, and we sell Caterpillar and AGCO."

The artwork of the worm-like larva was leased by the company through a program called "Art By Children," sponsored by the local ArtWise organization.

Butler Machinery has leased art from ArtWise for more than 20 years, Starren said, but the caterpillar piece stands out in her mind.

"That was one of my favorites," she said. "It was a very large piece. Very colorful."

Every year, at the ArtWise annual art show, a team of three or four artists, who are not with ArtWise, selects about 100 artworks for the organization to include in its lease program and calendar, said Rita Haag, director of ArtWise.

About 40 of those pieces are selected for publication in the printed calendar. The remainder are matted and framed for lease, Haag said.

The calendar, published in September, includes the schedules of local arts organizations and public schools, high school athletic team schedules, and a list of calendar sponsors.

At the March art show, jurors chose from about 3,500 artworks created by kids in kindergarten through fifth grade in local public, private and home schools.

The 100 or so pieces they select are kept by ArtWise for three years, and leased to businesses for whatever time span they choose, Haag said. After three years, the art is returned, with its mat and sometimes also its frame, to the family.

Business support

Three art pieces by local children are on display at Butler Machinery, Starren said.

"I have one—a watercolor by a fourth-grader at Lewis and Clark (Elementary School)—in my office," she said. "It's a picture of a vase with flowers. It looks like someone's living room—very homey."

Starren also chose a picture of a lion's head, she said. "I put that in the heavy equipment sales office."

"I try to select pieces according to what our customers and our associates would like," she said.

She looks for artwork by children at different grade levels and art that reflects different media and subject matter.

"I try to mix it up a little," she said.

Customers and staff react to the artwork "all the time," she said. "People are impressed by the talent of the students."

Dozens of local businesses and other entities lease art through ArtWise, Haag said, but she's hoping more businesses will decide to get involved by attending a public reception from 5 to 7 p.m. Thursday at the UND Hughes Fine Arts Center where they can choose artwork.

The cost of leasing ranges from $100 to $300 per year, depending on the number of pieces selected. Special pricing is available for businesses that lease six or more pieces.

Starren said, for many years, the Butler Machinery Company has leased children's artwork for display in its offices because "we want to promote the education for students, and to help them develop their talents."

Staff members of the nonprofit ArtWise, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary, rely on and are grateful for generous donations of matting, framing and other supplies from local businesses, Haag said.

Promoting art education

Such donations are critical to the mission of ArtWise, which is to give children in the Greater Grand Forks area opportunities to explore their abilities through the visual arts, to foster their self-esteem, and to increase the community's awareness, appreciation and participation in children's visual arts activities.

In addition to its annual spring art show, ArtWise hosts the Summer Art By Children Artist Reception and Business Art Lease program, and art camps for kids in the winter.

The most recent art camps, led by area artists in February, included instruction in pottery, by Carrie Sapa; printmaking, by Gabbie Walberg; weaving, by Sheila Dalgliesh, and painting, by Terri Berg.

Artists who provide classroom art instruction in elementary schools, through ArtWise, are Berg, Sapa, Dalgleish, Katie Fayette, Rachel Kopp, Mary Kulas, Karla Nelson and Jeanne O'Neil and Sapa.

The Artist in the Classroom program is funded in part by a grant from the City of Grand Forks through the Community Foundation of Grand Forks, East Grand Forks and Region.

'Art By Children' Business Lease Reception

5-7 p.m. Thursday

UND Hughes Fine Arts Center Gallery

At this public event, interested businesses and other entities may view and select local children's artworks to lease and display in their lobbies, offices or other public spaces.

Or, to arrange a viewing of artworks that are available for lease, call (701) 787-4260 or send an email to

For more information, call Rita Haag at (701) 787-4260 or visit