Forecast facilitated selection of artist Leah Yellowbird for the large-scale mural

Forecast was hired by the Blandin Foundation to facilitate a call for an artist to design and create a mural on the outside of the foundation building. A private foundation based in Grand Rapids, Minnesota, Blandin’s mission is to be a trusted partner and advocate to strengthen rural Minnesota communities, especially the Grand Rapids area. Their vision is healthy, inclusive rural communities.

Forecast managed the Request for Qualifications (RFQ) and artist selection processes, and is acting as an artist liaison for the selected artist, Leah Yellowbird. Among other considerations, the RFQ sought designs reflective of the foundation’s values and mission, that would engage people in the Grand Rapids area and highlight the communities the foundation serves, while considering the past and present of the communities. Yellowbird’s mural concept, “Niibii” (Water, in Ojibwe) conveys themes of the region through fish who serve as storytellers in the mural. Yellowbird’s first commission at this scale—50 feet by 20 feet—the project uniquely translates the technique of her Ojibwe beadwork-inspired pointillist painting aesthetic.

To make a mural of this size, Yellowbird is working with ten panels, each 20 feet long by 5 feet across. “A lot of the images on the panel are split—some of them across three panels. The dynamics of putting the panels next to each other and hoping that everything is going to line up has been a challenge. I drew them out sideways because, in the studio, I couldn’t hang ten 20-foot panels, so I laid them out sideways and drew out the entire piece that way, one panel at a time. It was really awkward… but it’s working. I’m excited! 50 gallons of paint later!”

For the community engagement aspect of the project, Yellowbird has worked with about 75 children to make source material, and plans to work with more: “I’m having them paint on canvas, and then I’m going to cut shapes out of the canvas they gave me, so [in the end], it may not look like the pictures that they gave me, because [they’ll be translated into] scales for fish. There will be little parts of the community all over [the mural], so it’s not just me. The kids know what they’re doing!”

Yellowbird was excited to get the job because she feels like Blandin “helps people like me continue with their art,” and helps “people in the community who maybe don’t have the opportunity to do things.”

The project is slated for completion by October 14, 2019, Indigenous People’s Day.