Northfield potter Sue Pariseau has sold ceramics virtually during the pandemic, but it doesn’t offer the same sense of connection as in-person transactions.
“I miss seeing someone’s face when they pick up a piece they love,” she said. “Though I’m sure it is there, I don’t get to witness that kind of joy online.”
Pariseau and 23 other artists throughout Faribault, Northfield and Farmington will have a chance to meet with customers face to face once again Friday through Sunday, during the 2020 Studio ARTour of South Central Minnesota.
In its 16th year, the annual Studio ARTour again offers a variety of woodwork, ceramics, textiles, jewelry, paintings, glass and metalwork in 10 different studios. The tour itself is free and requires no pre-registration.
Some studios open their doors from 4 to 8 p.m. Friday, and all studios welcome customers 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday.
To ensure the health of ARTour participants, the committee asks those who stop at the studios to wear masks, use the hand sanitizer available and practice social distancing. Some of the artists will set up their studios outside to make social distancing more achievable.
Paradise Center for the Arts Operations Manager Julie Fakler, a participating artist, said plans for the ARTour typically begin in March. But with the coronavirus pandemic growing more serious around that time, the planning committee wasn’t sure what to expect in October. They didn’t release a large brochure listing all the artists and their studios this year but instead sent information to a smaller mailing list. Tourists can access a printable map and learn more about participating artists at studioARTour.com.
Fakler won’t host her portion of the tour at her usual location, her home studio, this year. Instead, she plans to bring her acrylic paintings, raku firings and relief printmaking pieces to the Paradise Center for the Arts upstairs studio. All of her pieces are animal-themed.
Like Fakler, pottery artist Dianne Lockerby will sell her functional and non-functional pottery pieces at the Paradise Center.
“COVID has kind of forced us here, but it’s nice because we’re going to showcase the art studio,” Lockerby said.
The biggest concern for Lockerby and Fakler in hosting their leg of the tour at the Paradise Center was the steps leading up to the art studio. The main doors will be locked, but those who are handicapped or have mobility issues can access the studio via elevator by calling the Paradise Center at 507-332-7372 when they arrive at the location.
Both Fakler and Lockery plan to give tutorials on how to make their art pieces during the tour. Lockerby also pointed out that Faribault artist Suzanne Klumb of Glass Garden Beads has her studio right across the street from the Paradise Center, giving participants a close walk from one location to the next.
Throughout the pandemic, Klumb said she’s sold her glass beads through social media, private groups, consignment shops and her downtown Faribault store. However, she noted the shopping community impacts the success of pop-up events.
“For brick and mortar shops, the foot traffic decline is very significant,” Klumb said. “We all just need to stay patient and positive. I think this is a great opportunity to rejoin an activity that is social and visually enjoyable.”
Even as the pandemic alters every facet of American life, one area organization is providing more support than ever for women and families going through the heartbreak of losing a child during or shortly after pregnancy.
Founded in 1987, Infants Remembered in Silence provides a variety of services for grieving families, including support groups and bereavement packages that are delivered to area hospitals and funeral homes by a dedicated team of volunteers. IRIS started small and in some ways remains so, with just one paid staff person in addition to founder Diana Kelley. Kelley founded IRIS just two years after her son was stillborn and local doctors began referring patients to Kelley for support.
Now, Kelley says she receives calls from people across the globe asking for support and wanting to know how they can help women and families in their area. According to Kelley, the IRIS website —irisremembers.com — has been visited more than 500,000 times by viewers in 217 countries, and translated into 220 languages. While its paid staff may be small, IRIS boasts a team of more than 300 active volunteers. The organization primarily serves Dodge, Goodhue, Le Sueur, Rice, Steele and Waseca counties, where it distributes typically about 500 care packages a year.
Part of IRIS’s mission is also to show mothers and families that they are not alone in their grief. Each year, IRIS works to get as many proclamations as possible recognizing the tragedy of infant loss from cities, especially those in the region.
Another way IRIS works to increase awareness of infant loss through its lighting campaigns. At IRIS’s request, major buildings in the Twin Cities such as U.S. Bank Stadium and Target Field have been lit up in pink and blue, in memory of the loss so many suffer.
The March of Dimes reports that as many as half of all pregnancies may end in miscarriage. The exact number is hard to gauge because miscarriages often happen before a woman knows she’s pregnant.
In 2014, about 24,000 stillbirths were reported in the United States.
Stillbirth — the loss or death of a baby from the 20th week of pregnancy through delivery — affects about 1 in 160 U.S. births; about 24,000 babies each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“That is about the same number of babies that die during the first year of life and it is more than 10 times as many deaths as the number that occur from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS),” it reported.
Kelley said that IRIS has gotten a lot more calls from grieving parents than normal this year. By Aug. 1, the organization had already given out as many packets as it did all of last year.
Even as demand has risen for IRIS’s services, Kelley said that donations have fallen. Support groups for grieving parents have been cancelled as well, with attempts to hold meetings over Zoom largely falling flat.
“Nobody wants to sign up for support groups on Zoom,” she said. “It’s not the same thing to do something on Zoom as it is face to face.”
IRIS’s biggest fundraiser of the year, the annual Thanksgiving Day Turkey Trot, will continue even with COVID.
A much more low-key event, designed to help those grieving parents, is scheduled for Oct. 15. This year’s IRIS Memorial Service, the seventh annual, will be held to honor the memory of all children who have died, regardless of the cause or time of death. To symbolize that memory, bereaved parents, grandparents, family and friends can make a heart and send it to IRIS.
IRIS is encouraging participants to make two copies of the heart, one to send and one to keep. Along with hearts received over the last few years, all hearts received by IRIS will be displayed in and around the statue of an angel weeping over an empty crib in front of IRIS’s Faribault office. Hearts can be of any shape or size, decorated in any way and made of any material, from cardboard or paper, to wood or fabric. Even pictures can be added to the heart if the grieving person finds it meaningful.
At 7 p.m. Oct. 15, supporters of IRIS will gather outside the building for a candlelight ceremony. Kelley said that battery-powered candles are preferred due to the reduced risk of them blowing out in the wind. To minimize the risk of COVID transmission, IRIS asks all participants to wear a face mask and stand at least 6 feet apart even though it will be an outdoor event. IRIS’s front yard is small but additional space is available across the street.
According to Kelley, more than 7,000 hearts have been received and more are coming in each day. In a normal year, 60 to 80 people would attend the normal service, but Kelley expects a much lower figure this year.
Still, Kelley expects that IRIS’s in-person gathering will be joined by people from all around the world via livestream. In addition, 117 Minnesota cities have declared Oct. 15 a day of remembrance for lost infants, and dozens of buildings across the country will be lit up in their memory.
Despite the challenges posed by COVID, Kelley said that at this time of pandemic-inflicted isolation, many feel the loss of their beloved child like never before — and hunger for a meaningful memorial.
“It’s so dark here on our part of the street when we do it,” she said. “Those candles really shine.”
Despite the challenges posed by COVID-19, the Faribault Area Chamber of Commerce and Tourism found a way to hold its fourth Pizza and Politics luncheon, giving local candidates an opportunity to speak before voters decide their fates.
Early voting is underway, and voters have a ballot full of local candidates, with six running for Faribault City Council and 10 for School Board, though only three seats are available on each. Contested races will also be on the ballot for two seats on the Rice County Board as well as the state legislature.
On the Council side, incumbents Jonathan Wood and Royal Ross spoke along with challengers Faysel Ali and Sara Caron. Four Faribault School Board candidates were in attendance: Travis McColley, Casie Steeves, Damian Baum and Terry Pounds.
Not at the forum was the board’s only incumbent seeking re-election, Jerry Robicheau, along with Richard Olson, Bradley Olson, Andrea Calderon, Ahmed Hassan and Sonny Wasilowski. Wasilowski had reserved a seat, but missed the event due to a family emergency. On the council side, John Rowan and Adam Gibbons were not present.
Also in attendance were all four candidates for the state legislature. DFL Senate candidate Roger Steinkamp kicked off the event, followed by his opponent, Sen. John Jasinski. Steinkamp took the opportunity to introduce himself to those largely unfamiliar with his experience as a businessman and agricultural educator.
“I understand what it’s like to start a small business and I understand why three out of five go out of business in the first five years,” he said. “It’s tough.”
Bound by strict time limits, Steinkamp didn’t go into particular detail on his policies. Instead, he promised to address disillusionment with the political system by listening closely and working hard to represent all constituents.
Jasinski, a former Faribault mayor, was quick to highlight his experience local government. At the capitol, he touted his success in achieving funding for local projects, as well as tax cuts passed by the legislature in 2017. Still, Jasinski acknowledged that 2020 has not gone ideally, with the pandemic turning a surplus into a $2 billion deficit and legislators struggling to find common ground. Jasinski was critical of Gov. Tim Walz’s approach to the pandemic, arguing that it has disproportionately harmed greater Minnesota. Jasinski said that at this point, COVID has caused just a fraction of the deaths Walz warned it could, mostly in the Twin Cities metro.
Jasinski was cited this weekend for driving while impaired, and he touched on it in his remarks, pledging that he would continue to serve the district and expressed gratitude for the support he’s received.
“I’m proud to serve, I’ll continue to serve, and what happened on Friday night has no impact on how I’ll continue to serve you,” Jasinski said.
Next to speak was Jasinski’s Faribault counterpart at the legislature, Rep. Brian Daniels. Daniels has compiled a staunchly conservative record and if re-elected said he’d look to lower taxes. Daniels also touted the work he’s done on a bipartisan basis to secure funding for the academies and help children with autism, down syndrome, dyslexia and other conditions.
His opponent brings a very different perspective. A young working mom with five children, Ashley Martinez-Perez would be the area’s first Latina legislator and said that her life experiences have guided her views and activism.
Martinez-Perez said she would work to make life affordable and create opportunities for Faribault’s working class. She said that Faribault’s sizable immigrant and working class community has been hit hard by COVID and not enough has been done to help them.
“We have a lot of people who have lost their jobs, lost their homes, lost their health care,” she said. “We need to try to make sure we help them.”
Only one candidate for country board attended the meeting, Kim Halvorson. She’s running for the board in the Fifth District, which includes western Rice County. A turkey farmer, Halvorson is running against three-term incumbent Jeff Docken, who she says hasn’t done enough to represent the southern part of the district.
Docken easily beat her in 2016, and in the 2020 primary, but Halvorson was upbeat about her candidacy. She pledged to bring new ideas and a fresh perspective to the board, citing her experience on the county Planning Commission and District One Hospital Board as proof that she can get things done.
The first of the council candidates to speak, Sara Caron is a Faribault native, but would be a newcomer to city government. Currently, she works as production manager at the Paradise Center for the Arts and bartends at The Depot.
She pledged to bring additional affordable housing to town and preserve downtown Faribault. On the other hand, Caron says she would speak for those in the community she doesn’t think are heard at City Hall. Caron specifically called for additional assistance for Faribault residents with mental health and addiction issues. She recently lost a friend to addiction, a story she said is all too common.
“Addiction and mental illness have touched many in town, and yes there is a lack of resources,” she said. “I pledge to support the creation of programs and institutions, especially non-traditional solutions, to address these issues,” she said.
Following Caron was Royal Ross, the council’s only elected incumbent. As he did four years ago, Ross insisted that he comes to the council with no “pet projects,” just a willingness to listen and serve and a commitment to finding solutions.
“I’m the person who’s always asking how we can make things happen,” he said.
One issue that the councilor has focused on over his tenure is reducing regulations. Ross is proud to have taken a fiscally cautious approach on council, pushing staff to reduce unnecessary expenditures and shifting toward an increased focus on franchise fees rather than property taxes.
Following Ross was Jonathan Wood, who was appointed to the council after Steve Underdahl was elected to the county board. Wood, a local builder who owns his own construction company, is seeking a full term on the council. Wood started his own construction firm in 2009, at the nadir of a painful recession, and has since built about 300 houses. He said that making the business work required a full and energetic commitment, and that he’s brought the same energy to Council.
“Hard work is what it all comes down to,” he said. “City Council is a full time job if you want to be successful at it.”
Wood said that his deep engagement in the community has also made him a better council member and better representative for Faribault. He and his wife are active members at First English Lutheran Church and he is currently a leader of Faribault’s Masonic Lodge.
A member of Faribault’s growing Somali community, Faysel Ali is a first-time candidate who currently serves on the city Planning Commission. Like Caron, Ali said he decided to run because he feels a lot of Faribault residents are left out too often of the halls of government. As a first-generation American, Ali said he is eager to give back to the community. As a father of four children, he said he doesn’t take anything for granted and is wants to help make Faribault the best, most inclusive community it can be.
“What I’d like to see here in Faribault is greater civic engagement from our elected officials and community leaders,” he said.
Damian Baum, who currently serves as IT Coordinator at Cannon River STEM School, is making his first run for the board, though he unsuccessfully sought a seat on the Faribault City Council. At the forum, he highlighted improving communication between the community and the district.
“(My) three kids are the primary reason for my wanting to run for Faribault School Board,” he said. “My primary goal going into running for school board is to provide communication and connection to the community.”
A staff member with the Chamber, Casie Steeves is a working mother of two with another on the way. A staunch supporter of the district’s 2019 referendum campaign, Steeves decided to run because she wants to see the district provide the best education it can for all students. Steeves promised to be fiscally cautious, focusing investment in those areas that most make a difference for students. She promised to work to strengthen the district’s relationship with South Central College and local businesses to provide a variety of career paths for students.
Like Steeves, Terry Pounds is a first-time School Board candidate. The father of three children said he’s participated in local campaigns since he moved to town in 2006, but decided this was finally the time to get involved.
“When something is important to you, you should do your best to contribute to it,” he said. “That’s why I’m here today.”
Pounds said he would work hard to make the district’s recently passed strategy and mission statement a reality, with a focus on closing the racial achievement gap, boosting graduation rates and creating new pathways to success for students.
Travis McColley was the final candidate to speak. A longtime activist with the Rice County Republican Party, McColley is also the father of two kids who have spent their entire careers in the Faribault Public School system, and he wants to make it better.
McColley said that he would bring a can do attitude to the board. He’s pledged to comb through the district’s budget line by line, eliminating unnecessary spending so the district can weather the COVID-inflicted fiscal storm and focus on providing a world-class education for its students.