Arts education is often the first to suffer when budgets get tight in schools, but the arts have been and continue to be a high priority at Minnehaha Academy. The founding members of Minnehaha believed that the arts could take students far in life. So much so, that when Minnehaha opened its doors in 1913, music was one of its four main departments of study (photo below is from 1918).
The Arts at Minnehaha - Thriving For More Than 100 Years
Minnehaha has offered voice and instrumental instruction for more than 100 years. Writing and publishing opportunities were also offered early on in the school’s history, when poems and essays were published from the graduating class beginning in 1920; the first Antler yearbook was published in 1921.
The 40s brought home economics and industrial arts courses to the school. Art courses (teaching both technique and history) were added shortly thereafter at the Upper School. Art programs at the Lower School began in 1988, a few years after it opened its doors. Upper School theater productions began in the late 50s; theater classes and film offerings began in the early 1990s.
Hands-On, Experience-Based Learning
Minnehaha employs highly talented and experienced professionals to instruct its budding musicians, thespians, writers and artists. Students not only benefit from exceptional teaching and creative workspaces, but they also have other opportunities for development, through field trips, special presentations or workshops.
For instance, this past fall, the theater department put on the play, The Miracle Worker. For one rehearsal, special guest Leslye Orr was invited to come and speak with the cast and crew. Leslye is 80% blind and wrote a participatory play that she led the students through – all to help them become better prepared for their upcoming performance. Nicholas Freeman, Upper School Theater Teacher and professional local actor said, “When kids tackle these bigger issues, we consider this a way students are using their gifts in a God-honoring way,” he said. “It’s how we can help foster student growth and leadership.”
The Many Benefits of Arts Education
But what good does art education really do for students? Plenty. Many studies support the fact that students’ involvement in the arts brings about positive results. Students see gains in cognitive abilities in math, reading, in critical thinking and verbal skills. Arts learning can also improve motivation, concentration, confidence and teamwork -- and it can actually improve school attendance, as students don’t want to miss out on class. Setting aside time to practice and improve skills in areas of a students’ passion can also increase his or her self-esteem. And finally, students involved in the arts often have a better appreciation and understanding of the different cultures in our society.
"Art students (at MA) have the rare opportunity to choose the areas they want to explore and create the work they want to make,” said Nate Stromberg, Upper School art teacher and professional artist. “This allows them to carve an identity for themselves as young artists. It takes a lot of hard work and determination to advance artistic ideas and develop a personal style, and when our advanced students graduate they have a great understanding of who they are as young artists and thinkers.”
The Many Places the Arts Can Take You!
All grade levels at MA provide creative opportunities that, for some, lead to careers in the arts. Meet some former and current students who have gone on to find success in various specialties as working artists:
Philip Brunelle ‘61
Philip Brunelle, artistic director and founder of VocalEssence, is an internationally renowned conductor, choral scholar and visionary. He has made his lifelong mission the promotion of the choral arts in all its forms, especially rarely heard works of the past and outstanding new music. Minnehaha Academy Lower School students have benefited greatly through his ¡Cantaré! program, which invites students from metro schools to participate in a pair of programs designed to enrich cultural understanding.
Carol Highsmith ‘64
Carol is a highly acclaimed photographer who has worked for the past 3+ decades documenting change from coast to coast in America through pictures. When interviewed in 2013 by The Arrow (now Minnehaha Magazine) she said “I donated my images, copyright-free to the greatest body of knowledge in the world (The Library of Congress). My collection is thus available to anyone, anywhere today, for hundreds of years to come. It is my dream come true.” She also joked that she was voted most mischievous in high school, but thinks there is a lesson in there, that anyone can achieve a life of substance if given a chance. Photo below is from her collection at the Library of Congress, entitled Idaho Farm and Field, 2005
Chris Larson ‘85
Chris Larson has a multi-media based practice that is rooted in sculpture. His work incorporates film, video, photography, performance and drawing/painting, often in installed environments. Chris is currently on the faculty of the Department of Art at the University of Minnesota. He has a new exhibit at the Walker Art Center, “Land Speed Record” which features a video installation made out of household items that were salvaged from a house fire of his friend and musician, Grant Hart. Read more about his most recent exhibit here: http://www.walkerart.org/calendar/2016/chris-larson-land-speed-record
Leah Willemin ‘09
Leah went to Carleton College after high school to pursue multiple artistic mediums, including printmaking and book arts, woodworking, photography and metalsmithing. She received her Bachelor of Arts in Studio Art and graduated in 2013. She currently works mostly in metalsmithing, designing and crafting jewelry (her bracelet creation is pictured below). Leah is back at Carleton College in the Studio Art department working as an educational associate. She plans to attend a graduate industrial design program to expand upon her current work as a maker of functional art pieces.
Sarah Grimes ‘10
After participating in the orchestra at Minnehaha Academy, Sarah went on to graduate with a Bachelor of Music degree from Northwestern University in IL, where she studied violin with Almita and Roland Vamos. She was concertmaster of the orchestra there, co-founded a student-run chamber orchestra, played in a piano trio and string quartet, and joined the Civic Orchestra of Chicago her last year at school. She’s now a professional musician, playing violin in the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra.
Caroline Paulsen ‘16
Caroline is a promising young cellist, who in 2015 was one of five highly talented high school classical musicians voted to participate in the Minnesota Public Radio MN Varsity showcase. She is a freshman at Northwestern University in Chicago, studying cello performance with Hans Jørgen Jensen.
Ella Fredrickson ‘17
Ella has shared her unique talent with students by performing a stand-up routine during the Christmas variety show, which was received with roars of laughter. She routinely entertains her teammates and friends, putting them in stitches with her gift of storytelling. And now, she's pursuing this talent more officially, by taking a 2-week workshop with Second City Comedy Club in Chicago and looking into a degree in Comedic Writing after graduation. She also was the recipient of the Lory Lynn Drummond Award, which is given annually to a junior student who works to the best of their ability academically, contributes positively to the school and epitomizes the spirit of Minnehaha Academy. Who knows how far this talented young woman will go!
Samuel Tamminga ‘24
Since 2014, Minnehaha fourth grade students have participated in the Wildlife Forever State Fish Art and Writing Contest. This past year, Samuel Tamminga was Minnesota's 1st place winner in the 4th - 6th Grade age group for his artwork. His artwork will now move on to be part of the National contest. Samuel’s dad, Steven, is a teacher at Minnehaha – teaching, of course, art to middle school students.
Minnehaha will continue to place high value in the arts as it can take students to great places, both during their time at MA and for some, into post-high school programs and successful careers.
See the following links for the arts offerings at the Lower, Middle and Upper Schools: