Carrying an armful of empty sandbags and permanent markers, Michael Strand, associate professor of visual arts at NDSU, spoke to a room full of residents at Waterford at Harwood Groves senior retirement community. He asked them for words of encouragement. The seniors were soon writing messages on the bags such as "Uff Da" and "Keep us dry." One enterprising poet in the group wrote, "Bless your hands that filled this bag with grains of sands."
As the people of the Fargo-Moorhead area begin preparing for this year's flood, Strand is helping through art. Thousands of sandbags to be used against the rising Red River will be decorated beforehand by area children, seniors and others who may not be able to endure the work of filling or slinging sandbags.
Strand imagines a volunteer filling bags at 3 a.m. on the sandbag line. She's tired and sore from hours of heavy work. Along comes a sandbag with a pink robot created by an area second-grade student. Later, a bag flies by with quick words of encouragement such as, "Way to go." Strand hopes these brief moments of levity or support will help boost morale.
Strand and his students pre-apply "thought bubbles" with spray paint onto the bags for others to fill in using permanent markers. Testing didn't wash off the art or affect the usefulness of the bags. From today through the weekend, Strand is delivering 3,000 prepared sandbags to area grade schools, day care centers, assisted living centers and anywhere else he can find people who want to help. He sees this project as an example of what a land-grant, research university art department can do.
"It gets our students to think about the inclusion of community with their own work," he said. "Art can exist as creative activity, community outreach, research and service all at the same time."
The city provided Strand with several thousand bags, and he could get more if needed. He's hoping to hit 10,000. Strand plans to return the finished bags in such a way that the pieces of art show up randomly to help brighten the mood of volunteers. This also provides a way for more people to become part of the flood effort, regardless of their physical ability.
"That's the part I love - getting them to feel good about helping out," Strand said.