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Vikings celebrate Minnesota artists at U.S. Bank Stadium art party

U.S. Bank Stadium art curators Camille Speca and sister-in-law Tracie Speca-Ventura applaud Minnesota talent at gala opening of stadium's 300 piece art collection July 25, 2016. Star Tribune photo by Timothy Nwachukwu.

The debut of a "several million dollar" art collection at U.S. Bank Stadium Monday night called for a party, and Vikings and stadium officials delivered. As valets whisked away the cars and servers passed hors d'oeuvres and wine, guests mingled in a glass-walled suite overlooking the playing field. Then curators Camille Speca and her sister-in-law Tracie Speca-Ventura, along with stadium officials, led fast-paced tours of the 300 piece art collection spread throughout the halls and suites of the $1.13 billion stadium. 

Vikings owner Mark Wilf, who was introduced by his wife Jane, praised the curators for their "outstanding job in developing an art collection" that "honors the tradition of sports and culture in Minnesota." The Vikings now have the "best stadium in the NFL" which provides the "best fan experience in an intimate setting with great sight lines," Wilf said. 

Stadium and Vikings officials commissioned the art through Sports and the Arts, a bicoastal consulting firm run by Camille Speca, based in Rhode Island, and Tracie Speca-Ventura, from Nipomo, California. Their previous clients include the $2.3 billion Yankee Stadium that opened in 2009 and the San Francisco 49ers Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., which opened in 2014 at an estimated cost of $2 billion. 

Sports and the Arts specializes in digging deep for local talent, as it did for the Vikings. Most of the 104 artists are from Minnesota and many were on hand Monday night, eager to see their art installed for the first time. Minneapolis College of Art and Design president Jay Coogan beamed about the commissions that went to MCAD students and alums, including recent MFA grad Leslie Barlow.

Barlow painted colorful portraits of retired Viking greats Fran Tarkenton, Mick Tingelhoff, Cris Carter, Jim Marshall, Alan Page and Korey Stringer. The Vikings picked the players but "I picked the photos to work with," said Barlow, a 2007 graduate of Minneapolis' Southwest High School and lifelong Minnesotan. 

Art by former Vikings players Carl Eller and Matt Blair wowed the crowd. Eller, a Pro Football Hall of Famer, now relaxes by making pottery in his North Minneapolis studio. Ten of his free-form ceramic impressions of Minnesota lakes are installed in a case opposite a big mural of photos that former linebacker Matt Blair snapped of their Vikings teammates in the 1970s.

"As an artist, I'm really happy with the results -- and that says something because there was so much frustration in getting the bowls to turn out," Eller said, adding that the bowls' swirling forms represent "water crashing on the shore." When he started them he was just appreciating the lakes, but by the time he finished he had a new environmental awareness "that the lakes are something we really need to value," he said.

Blair told about buying his first camera after he "made the team in 1974" and started taking pictures of his young, lean teammates at their training camp in Mankato. The photos show the guys joking around at supper, wearing funny hats, playing pingpong, barbecuing, just having fun. 

"It's so exciting just seeing these pictures of friends from back then," Blair said amid appreciative  whoops and hollers from the crowd. 

Other artists on hand included Minneapolis illustrator Gregory Copeland whose life-sized photorealist painting of a scrum of Vikings players in the old Met Stadium drew ooohs and ahs. So did a huge black-and-purple painting of Prince that was carefully composed of words from his songs. "You should read the lyrics -- they're uncensored," said artist Nicholas Schleif, as visitors moved close to study the inch-high letters made from pinhead-sized dots of yellow, white, and lavender paint.

"It took me three or four days just to select the lyrics and arrange them," Schleif explained. The lyrics line-up horizontally across the painting, but also stack up vertically so that, like a crossword puzzle, they spell out key words from Prince's life: Revolution, Beyonce, Time, Royalty, First Avenue, Paisley Park.

"There's a lot of math in it," said Schleif, who was born in Comfrey, Mn and graduated from Southwest Minnesota State University in Marshall where he now lives.

David Grimsrud, 76, of Zumbrota guessed that he and his daughter Holly Mujica, 31, were probably the only father-daughter artists in the stadium's collection. They won their commissions independently. The retired publisher of a Zumbrota weekly newspaper, Grimsrud produced three colorful Pop-style paintings of Twin Cities landmarks including the St. Paul Saints baseball field in downtown St. Paul. 

At the party, Holly Mujica pushed her super-calm 5 month old daugher Hazel about in a baby carriage. "This is her first formal," joked Holly who teaches at Glacier Hills Elementary school in Eagan. Both Holly and her dad had majored in art and played varsity basketball at St. Olaf College. For the stadium, Holly did sculptural cut-outs of male and female athletes representing youth sports including soccer, basketball, softball, lacrosse, hockey and other team games.  

"The Vikings are Coming" mural by Greg Gossel at U.S. Bank Stadium. Star Tribune photo by Glen Stubbe.

U of Mn's Bell Museum + Planetarium hires new executive director

The University of Minnesota has picked Denise Young, a North Carolina educator, to head the Bell Museum + Planetarium starting September 12. Young has been director of education and planning for the Morehead Planetarium and Science Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill since 2002. 

At Morehead, she oversees a $2.43 million budget and a staff of 14, with 80 part time staff who do educational programs for elementary students to adults. As founder of the science center's education department, she monitored budgets, coordinated schedules, led planning processes, helped develop new digital technology programs and wrote grants.

An exhibition of Carolina archaeological artifacts that she developed toured for three years to nine North Carolina museums. As an educator she was also responsible for vastly expanding the center's science summer camp attendance from 12 to 2,000 over four years. The center's general attendance also nearly doubled to 150,000 during her 14 year tenure. 

In Minnesota, Young will oversee a 144 year old museum that is in transition from its present quarters on the University's Minneapolis campus into a new structure under construction on the St. Paul campus near the Minnesota State Fair grounds. In 2011 the Bell merged with the Minnesota Planetarium Society that was previously located in the central library in downtown Minneapolis. 

The University envisions the new $79.2 million complex as a the northern gateway to the St. Paul campus. Located at the intersection of Larpenteur Av. and Cleveland, the new Bell will have a 120-seat domed planetarium/theater, expanded galleries and interactive exhibitions.Nine of the museum's much loved traditional dioramas, in which taxidermied birds and animals are displayed in naturalistic settings, will be moved to the new building and augmented with current information about the animals' environments and habitats. Backdrops for those dioramas were painted by Minnesota-born Frances Lee Jaques, one of the 20th century's most accomplished wildlife artists.

Bell officials are still raising money for the project. As of this spring, they had raised $64.2 million for basic construction and landscaping. The Minnesota legislature provided $51.5 million in state bonding, the University contributed $6.7 million and private sources came up with $6 million. 

Officials are hoping to raise an additional $15 million for program support, endowment, technology upgrades and finishing an additional 1,500 square feet of temporary exhibition galleries that will otherwise be left as raw space. The extra money will also enable them to build a rooftop telescope-observation platform, a solar station, and a Minnesota-geology plaza.

Young earned a 2012 doctorate in education from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill focusing on curriculum and instruction. She received a M.S.A. in school administration/educational leadership (2003) and a B.A. in early childhood education (1993) from the same institution.