This year’s festival started in January at the Plains Art Museum in Fargo, showcasing the work of 50 artists from drawings and poetry to virtual reality. 2020 being a challenging year, it was hard for organizers to know what to expect for the festival’s outcome with the pandemic continuing to affect everyday life. Festival Chair, Sean Coffman, explained to InForum how this year’s festival came to be, “If we had submissions, we’d move forward – if we didn’t, we’d postpone for a year…As it turns out, 2020 had left artists with a lot to say.” For the 2021 festival, in an effort to aid artists, submission fees were waived for locals, and in some cases, shipping costs were covered.
The NDHR Arts Festival’s mission is to educate, engage, and facilitate discussion around human rights topics through the work of artists. The festival was founded and is managed by The Human Family, a multi-disciplinary media organization based in Fargo that focuses on social justice based projects. Last year’s NDHR Arts Festival focused on voting rights, LGBTQ rights, and immigration. This year, artists were heavily influenced by the hardships of the pandemic and also explored topics relating to civil and political rights, including the Black Lives Matter movement. Additionally, there is art relating to Indigenous and immigrant rights, mental health, and female empowerment, hope, and more.
2021 marks a new evolution of the festival; despite the need for virtual receptions, social distancing, and more pandemic-related changes, this year introduces the new Invited Artists program. This program seeks out artists creating relevant social justice work and supports their humanitarian efforts with an honorarium. The first NDHR Arts Festival Invited Artist is DC Houle, a self-taught artisan of many mediums who shares his life experiences with the world openly and honestly. He describes himself as a “Universal Artist,” meaning the expressions in his work have a place for everyone. Houle, of Mandan, ND, is an enrolled member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Ojibwa. To learn more about DC Houle, visit www.houleware.com.
The festival lasts eight months and will span six different museums and galleries from Fargo and Grand Forks to Bismarck, Jamestown, Minot, and finally, Williston, where the festival will wrap up in August. The NDHR Arts Festival opened in Grand Forks on Feb. 3 and can be viewed at the Empire Arts Center through Mar. 4 during gallery hours – Thursdays 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. and Saturdays 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. or by appointment. A virtual reception will be held on Feb. 18 at 2 p.m.; more information can be found here. Due to the pandemic, there are no printed programs for the event – instead, they have an online program and QR codes on the artwork panels.
The NDHR Arts Festival is supported in part by the Arts Partnership, the cities of Fargo/Moorhead/West Fargo, and a grant from the North Dakota Council on the Arts, which receives funding from the North Dakota Legislature and the National Endowment for the Arts.
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