Archived Story

Professor’s acts of kindness become exhibit for Bigwood Lecture Series

Published 11:05am Wednesday, April 2, 2014

In a lot of ways, Michael Strand is a bit of a throwback.

Many of his artistic projects may seem modern, but Strand insists he is honoring a legacy that dates back thousands of years.

“A lot of it is questioning and thinking about the potential of art in the 21st century,” Strand said of his work. “Historically, art has always done this.”

Strand will bring his style to M State’s Legacy Hall for a presentation as part of the 22nd annual Bigwood Lecture Series. Strand’s presentation is 7 p.m. Thursday.

Strand, in his fifth year as an associate professor and the head of the visual arts department at North Dakota State University, is formally trained as a potter. Five years ago, however, he decided to use his art to make a difference.

It began in smaller ways, with Strand dropping off his homemade cups on random doorsteps in Fargo as gifts. But his work soon took on a larger scale.

He sees his work as more than just art; indeed, he thinks artists are in a prime position to affect local and global change.

“As a maker, I can look at what I do as a way that connects people rather than just something to sell,” he said.

His biggest project, the Misfit Cup Liberation Project, grew from those early days when he would drop off cups on doorsteps. Most people, he said, have cups in their home that they don’t use but do not throw away, either, with some of the cups connected to divorce, imprisonment or other difficult circumstances by their owners.

Strand began trading his homemade cups for these “misfit” cups, along with the stories that came with them. Soon enough, he had enough cups to fill an exhibit.

The Misfit Cup Liberation Project first opened in Fargo and has since been on display in Estonia and Minneapolis, with a planned July trip to Amsterdam, as well. Strand is also negotiating deals to bring the exhibit to China and Brazil and hopes to have it shown in South Africa.

By bringing the stories of the unused cups all over the world, Strand hopes to connect people and demonstrate the potential of art.

“As citizens and human being we have an active role in our society,” he said.

The title of Strand’s Thursday presentation, “Benevolent Disruption,” refers to what he sees as the “machine-like existence” many people fall into on a daily basis.

As the world has become more efficient, Strand believes some elements of personal renewal have eroded. If more people would take a few moments each day to slow down, whether it be at work or on their doorstep, contemplating a cup placed there, Strand said, the world could find some amazing things.

During his presentation, he hopes to convince people of their power to make a difference, no matter their job or role in society. It is not just doctors, politicians or artists who can bring about change: it is everyone.

Since focusing his work more narrowly on bringing about these positive changes, Strand has never been more professionally satisfied. He hopes that comes across in his presentation, which he approaches as a storyteller rather than an academic.

“There’s a point at which an artist finds exactly what kind of work they’re meant to do and what’s in their heart and that’s where I’m at,” he said. “It’s a pretty good place to be.”

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