Sometimes life comes full circle, and if we're lucky, something truly beautiful will come from it.
After having been instrumental in bringing an elevator to the Owatonna Arts Center when he acted as business director, local artist Scott Roberts said fate would have it that he is now in need of special entrances, doors and elevators. Just over two years ago, he was involved in a home accident that rendered him in the hospital for three months and left him diagnosed as a quadriplegic.
Throughout the months of January and February, Roberts will be hosting an art exhibition at the Owatonna Arts Center titled “ADA, Me and the Minnesota Arts Community: My road to recovery paved in clay”
“Up until two years ago, I had taken art — or better, the creation of art — for granted,” Roberts said. “An accidental fall in the end of 2019 rendered me a quadriplegic, or involuntary paralysis of all four limbs, due to injury to my C2-C4 spinal cord area.”
Roberts had been involved in the arts community in one way or another for most of his life, recalling that he first realized he had a creative imagination while playing with LEGOs at a young age.
He admits that while in the hospital following his injury, with two titanium rods in his neck, he was unsure if he could even create art anymore, but knew he needed to try. Roberts said that traditional physical therapy was tedious and oftentimes boring, which is when he decided to speak with his doctors about working with clay as a means for physical therapy. Kneading the clay and painting covers his fine motor skills and allows for exercising his hands to build up strength
The idea Roberts had when he applied for the Minnesota State Artist Grant through the Southeastern Minnesota Arts Council was to give himself focus and something to do with his hands, which he still has mobility in. He said he.wanted to give both disabled and able-bodied artists encouragement to keep going when confronted with adversity.
“I don’t plan who or what I will sculpt; it usually starts with an activity or object,” Roberts said. “From there it is what you see. Images, emotions, memories, can all be found amidst the bright colors and whimsical cartoonish characters.”
For one of Roberts’ pieces, he utilized a paper towel roll to construct a “Batmobile” and then turned the cartoon character Mr. Magoo and his dog, McBarker, into Batman and Robin.
“Most people have been considered disabled at one point or another in their lives. Mr. Magoo is essentially blind in the cartoon, but I created that piece to show that even with a disability, people can go on to do incredible things,” Roberts said. “Just because someone is or looks handicapped, doesn’t mean they live a disastrous life or are unhappy all the time.”
Roberts spoke about how prior to his accident, he wasn’t hard to miss in a crowd, standing at 6’4" and being a former football player in college. But now that he uses a wheelchair, he said he’s become invisible.
“It was amazing how no one saw me,” Roberts said. “I don’t see it as something to be ashamed of. I wasn’t chosen to be handicapped because of something I did — it's just life and it's my new normal.”
He compared the accident and subsequent injury to his own personal “monkey paw condition,” which stems from a short story from the early 1900s where an explorer found a monkey hand which could grant wishes, but each wish came with a counter reaction because the wishes were changing destiny.
“I used to say that I would love to be able to sit in my studio and create art all the time,” Roberts said. “Be careful what you wish for, because now I have all the time in the world to sit and do my art, but that came out of having my accident.
Roberts said he wants the public to see his shows as encouragement and to understand that even when bad things happen, it is possible to move forward and to continue to do good things.
Roberts will have around 50 sculptures on display at the Owatonna Arts Center until the end of February. He will be present at the Arts Center for an artist reception from 1-4 p.m. on Sunday, Jan. 9.
Like many businesses and organizations throughout the region, the United Way of Steele County was unable to host many of their traditional events to raise money to support their programs and commitments made for 2022 due to the COVID-19 pandemic and were forced to get creative.
This Saturday, UWSC is hosting a benefit concert featuring Mariachi Mexico at the Steele County History Center to help in their fight for health, education and financial stability for each person they serve in Steele County.
“We have never done a fundraising event like this before, so this will be a first,” United Way President Annette Duncan said. “The concert is sponsored in partnership with the Steele County Free Fair, who has been our community campaign leader this year.”
Traditionally, a leadership dinner is hosted in the fall, but due to COVID-19, it was unable to be held this year.
“We wanted to have a creative way to engage the community and have a big bang to end the campaign which closes out on Jan. 15,” Duncan said. “We are hoping we will raise enough at this event to close the gap in our $800,000 goal for the year.”
Mariachi concerts aren’t common in Steele County and many have been wondering how this concert came to be.
Duncan said at the Steele County Free Fair this year, Mariachi Mexico played a small set prior to the rodeo. United Way was heavily involved in the fair this past year, with volunteers working every event at the grandstand.
“Hundreds of people heard the music prior to the rodeo and asked how they could get in to see the band, not knowing the music was just a pre-show to the rodeo,” Duncan recalled. “There was such an interest in the music that we thought it would be great to have a mariachi concert that people could attend and make it bigger than a short set before a main event.”
Mariachi music is a genre of Mexican music that is known for small ensemble groups of performers wearing matching outfits. Typically, there are at least four performers who play in the band and sing traditional Mexican folk music with guitars, violins, trumpets and other instruments.
Duncan said the hope is for the fundraising concert to be a success, because she would like to see more events like this highlight the rich and diverse culture in Steele County. Ideally, she said, it would become an annual affair.
“We wouldn’t have known there was such a high interest in mariachi if we hadn’t seen it first hand during the fair,” Duncan said. “Why not use that to bring more bands and music genres to the community and represent other cultures for people to see, hear and learn about. We all have more in common than people think sometimes.”
Duncan said the event should be a celebration of everything the community has been through and overcome throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and a means to raise additional funds to ensure all programs offered through UWSC will continue.
For years, United Way has been dedicated to and instrumental in improving the lives of many people in Steele County by looking at the big picture. They work to fund more than 25 direct service programs by partnering with 15 local organizations and businesses, as well as being able to refer community members to available resources. All money raised during this event, and UWSC all events, remain local.
The event will be held at the Steele County History Center from 7-10 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 8. Tickets are $25 and are available for purchase online at givebutter.com/mariachi or at the door. Food will be included with the ticket and there will also be a cash bar available during the event. Virtual tickets are available for $35 through owatonnalive.com.
Republican U.S. Rep. Jim Hagedorn said Tuesday he tested positive for COVID-19 Monday night and has mild symptoms. Hagedorn says he is vaccinated, but because he has kidney cancer his doctors have asked the Mayo Clinic to observe and treat him.
“I will work with the professionals at Mayo until it is safe for me to return to my home in Blue Earth or travel to work in Washington,” Hagedorn said in a statement released by his office.
Hagedorn, who represents southern Minnesota in Congress, was first diagnosed with stage IV kidney cancer in February of 2019 shortly after winning his first term and said he responded well to treatment.
In July 2021 he announced that the cancer had recurred but said his Mayo Clinic doctors were encouraged by a new U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved treatment.
Hagedorn is married to Jennifer Carnahan, the former chair of the Republican Party of Minnesota.
He is a conservative and a strong backer of former President Donald Trump.
Hagedorn has been facing an investigation by the House Ethics Committee after his office was accused of improperly awarding contracts to companies owned by his aides’ relatives. He has denied having any knowledge of the situation and any wrongdoing.
“Today’s news will not stop me from fighting for America and the people of Minnesota’s First Congressional District,” Hagedorn said in the statement from his office on COVID-19. “Thanks to all who have offered their encouragement, prayers, and understanding.”