At Alexandria Technical and Community College, students, staff and visitors to the cafe area on the main campus will soon be able to see and hear from a group of 16 Minnesota students.

These students will not actually be present, nor do they attend the college. They will be in the form of oil paintings and sound recordings, as a part of the traveling art project, named “2065,” by artist and ATCC graduate Joanna Hallstrom. The exhibit opens Friday, Oct. 18.

These young students talk about how old they will be in 2065, how their hair will be gray and how they will have beards, mustaches and long nose hairs. They also mention family traditions they have. The main commonality with mentioning traditions is about family togetherness, so viewers are able to relate, Hallstrom said.

So why 2065? That is the year the U.S. will become 54% people of color, according to the Pew Research Center.

Hallstrom took this data statistic and turned it into an artistic opportunity, creating the portraits of young Minnesota students who will see this change.

The oil portraits, displayed on individual boards of wood, form a horseshoe shape. When onlookers step into the horseshoe, a recording of the voices of students featured in the project plays, thanks to a motion-sensor.

“I’m not telling their stories,” Hallstrom said. “They’re telling their stories.”

Each student is connected to another student in the project, which Hallstrom said was important for her. They are friends, classmates, teammates, siblings or have some other relation. Ages vary, with some students as young as 5 and others are as old as 30.

Hallstrom wanted to show examples of cross-cultural, cross-racial and cross-ethnic relationships that are flourishing in her work. She wanted to give more meaning to the project and not choose people based on skin color.

She intentionally left out information on race on the project itself, the video and handouts.

“As a white person, how do I talk about race? The concept was created by white people,” Hallstrom said.

The project showed the change in demographics in a positive way, she said.

“Depending on who you are, you look at the change in demographics as celebratory or some people could be stuck feeling fear,” she said.

Hallstrom grew up in Alexandria, graduating from Jefferson High School and attending ATCC until her graduation in 2011. Her parents still live in the area, and she visits them.

She’s always loved art and considered herself an artist. She grew up witnessing her father teach art in the communication department at ATCC and freelance his work on the side. However, she never formally pursued art, despite gravitating towards the creative side for nearly every job she had.

The exhibit was in the 700 building of ATCC outside the auditorium in September. On Oct. 18 the exhibit will return to the college in the cafe area, staying until mid-December.

An hour-long artist talk with Hallstrom will be held on Friday, Oct. 25 at 11:30 a.m. in room 326 of the ATCC Communication Art and Design Department.

Creating the project

Hallstrom received funding from the Minnesota State Legislature and grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Minnesota State Arts Board to do this project.

The project was inspired by Hallstrom’s love of people and cultures, as well as articles, radio programs and eventually a demographic report from the Pew Research Center that alerted her to the 2065 statistic. She also wanted to work on portrait painting and was researching topics to find out how her project could benefit Minnesota.

“Most of these kids are already riding that wave. Their age and under are already this statistic,” she said.

She wanted to make the paintings come alive and make for something viewers could experience.

“It was a way to just celebrate Minnesota students, what they share jointly and also how their differences contribute to our state,” Hallstrom said. Another goal of the project was to bring the exhibit to less-diverse communities so those residents can hear about people different than themselves.

She got permission from the students’ parents and interviewed the students herself. The father of one student owns recording equipment that Hallstrom was able to use.

Several rotating tracks totaling 30 minutes are played. The intention was not for onlookers to stand and listen to the entire recording, but walk in and out, especially between classes, she said.

In addition to recordings, Hallstrom and the students involved also made a behind-the-scenes video.

Hallstrom previously knew a number of the students. Two are her own children and one is her nephew. With the help of her artist initiative grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board, she teamed up with three organizations – Minneapolis College, The Lift and the Banyan Community – that selected the other students.

She started painting the students in the fall of 2018 and finished the project in March. The exhibit was displayed in April at Minneapolis College, but an official launch with a reception happened in May.

Two of her mentors for this project were artists Bonita Roberts and her father, Myron Sahlberg. “I learned so much about painting – softening my edges, adjusting my values and how to make the eyes in my portraits come to life,” Hallstrom said. “I couldn't have made it through this project without their help and expertise.”

While the students featured are all from the Twin Cities metro area, the exhibit is traveling across the state. The exhibit itinerary includes Minneapolis College, Banyan Community, The Box Office Gallery by Central Square and four churches.

A journal travels with the exhibit, inviting visitors to sign it.