Hamline News

Artist, Understood

artist understood article


Two-hour long cello practices.
Play rehearsals – every day.
Afternoons spent on the pottery wheel.

The life of an artist is not easy. For every choir performance, play, or painting, there are long hours, sore muscles, and tired minds.

Nor is the life of an artist easily understood.

Why does a science or economics major make time for fine arts? For those who choose a fine art as their major, what is it about theatre or music that makes them pursue it as a career?

One year ago we did a feature on why students played sports. We heard stories about values and relationships and saw a glimpse into the world of the college athlete.

But it left us wondering … what about the singer? The actor? The artist? What is life like for those in the studio or on stage? We asked eight students—seven from the College of Liberal Arts and one from the Graduate School of Liberal Studies—to tell us about their experiences and why they participate in fine arts activities.

Their answer?

“Because we can’t imagine our lives without it.”

Kimi Hirata 

Senior (graduated in May)

Major: Biology, studio arts minor, 

Hometown: Tokyo, Japan, 


 “I think art is everything; you can find art anywhere. For example, I am taking biology as my major, and even though it seems completely different from art, I find so much art in biology and I find so much biology, in art. I want to do art in my future, but I also like biology, and Hamline allows me to do both. It’s just the nature of me; I really have to do art stuff. Biology is so stressful, but taking art really helps me and relieves me. I probably wouldn’t be able to finish this biology major without it! It makes me a peacemaker, calms me down, and relieves my stress. I can get joy out of it and it just makes me happy.

After I finish school, I already have a job with a pharmaceutical company in Japan, where I am from, but if I could do anything, I would for sure do something with art. If I didn’t have to get a job to make money, I would just be totally into art and just show it to everybody.”


Katlyn Cooper
Major: Music performance
Hometown: Frontenac, MN

“The arts are essential because it is very important to be good at something and to really feel a sense of pride in something. We had lots of cello music CD’s when I was little and that’s why I chose it as an instrument, because I knew that sound and really fell in love with it.

If I weren’t involved in the arts at Hamline, it would be really different. I don’t know what I would be getting, what I’d be doing, if I weren’t involved in the arts. I was home–schooled my entire life and I have met a lot of people through music who are friends now that wouldn’t be if I weren’t involved in music.

After college, I would like to be in an orchestra. I am going to get my master’s and my doctoral degree, so hopefully, it will be my career.”


Stephen Helvig
Major: Music and economics
Hometown: Truman, MN
A Capella Choir

“Music is everywhere and everything you do, everything we experience is accompanied by music. Music is an excellent way to express yourself. It’s a lot about communication if you have a message, or even just communication...with yourself. It’s about knowing who you are and putting those ideas down on the page and exploring them.

The rest of my band, Skyline Citizen, also go to Hamline. We actually grew up together, too. We have studied voice together since we were fifteen years old and still do to this day. Without putting too much thought into it, we all picked Hamline individually for our own reasons and recorded our first album freshman year and right now we are recording our second album.

Ideally, after college I will be a performer, but if I can’t be a rock star, the next thing I would want to do is produce.”


Leah Starr
Senior (graduated in May)
Majors: Theatre and religion
Hometown: Augusta, WI

“I grew up in a theatre family, and for me, theatre is about telling stories. I am fascinated by people and I love a good story...and as an actor you get to be anybody you want to be and that’s pretty incredible. Theatre adds community to my life. It gives me a place to be totally human because it is OK to be that in the theatre. You can be crazy and broken and messed up and wonderful because it makes good art; there is conflict and there is drama in that. You get to be creative, which gives me an outlet and an escape. I want to direct after college. Directing is the place where you really get to be on the outside of it and see the whole picture and help other people bring all their visions together and create this thing that you give away to the audience. I love that act of putting it together and then putting it out there for someone else.

I think really being able to experience life and express it, and to explain or communicate with other people what our experience is...I think art is required for that.”


Mai Nhia Moua
Majors: Criminal justice and biology,forensic science certificate
Hometown: Anchorage, AK
Dance Ensemble

“I started dancing in high school. It’s been six years now and I love it. For me, with school there’s all this stress with homework and professors and studies. But whenever I’m at dance, it’s like all that doesn’t matter. It’s a great way to relieve stress. Well...except when we perform.

The amount of expression in dance is why I chose to do this with my time and dance gives me a more personal connection to the campus. It’s something you get drawn into. Dancing is a great way to explore culture...hip-hop and flamenco have been part of multicultural celebrations on campus. Dance doesn’t fit with my academic interests, but it plays a big role in my co-curricular activities. I want to be a crime scene investigator. I’d like to go to grad school after this in New York or D.C.”


Patrick Rieger
Senior (graduated in May)
Major: Religion, theatre minor
Hometown: Minneapolis, MN

 “Both of my parents were actors. I always said I wouldn’t follow in their footsteps and be a theatre major, but you can’t not do what you love when it’s inside you.

I never knew that theatre could affect people’s emotions when I came to college. I hadn’t experienced that yet in a play, where you could reach inside audience members and let them go walking away with their world rocked from emotions and from a story that I just told. And after that, I thought, if I can do this for the rest of my life and get paid for it, then so be it. All of the sudden it just hits you senior year that you want to just get out there into the professional world, and that’s a compliment to Hamline. I don’t think I’d have that drive without the experience and the role models and the influences I’ve had at Hamline. They have facilitated me with skills to be ready to work. I am ready to put what I love to do out there.”


Ivan Konev
Graduate student, Graduate School of Liberal Studies (graduated in May)
Hometown: Moscow, Russia
International Piano Institute

 “I didn’t choose music, I was put into it when I was four or five years old. I can’t imagine being someone else, not being a musician. It has let me travel the world. It has let me come here.

In Russia I concentrated mostly on music. I was really excited to study other things here. I’m a regular MALS (master of arts in liberal studies) student and I also have a concentration on music. In MALS we’re always trying to develop all the instruments of study, the links between all the subjects. There are so many parallels between literature and music.

I have come to understand that studying just music is too boring. When playing, you need to express yourself, to say something about what you think, which is basically what you do in MALS. Moving your fingers is the least important part. If you don’t have something in you to say, that’s not going to touch people.”

Nicole Flam
Majors: Art and psychology
Hometown: St. Cloud, MN

“Art is very therapeutic for me, kind of like my way of meditating, I suppose.

Art has enhanced my education because in most of my art classes I learn that nothing has to be a certain way and that you can change it. I think that is one of the main things I have carried over to my other classes. Art gives you more than one perspective. It has definitely changed the way I see the world. I see colors and notice them, I notice shadows that people take for granted. Lately, I will look at something and think about what it would look like as a drawing. It is a good release from the corporate, structured, computer-system world. I am trying to go to graduate school for art. I would like to be an art therapist but still have enough time to work on my own art.”

Portrait of an Artist

There is no word for “artist” in the Lakota language. “Artists are just part of the fabric of Native American culture—an integral part, and there is no separation,” Vickie Benson said.

For Benson, who has Lakota Native American heritage, this comes as no surprise. Art has always been a constant in her life. She started as a professional folk singer and songwriter in her twenties, playing the guitar in coffeehouses and folk venues around town.

Today that former folk singer is the vice president of the Jerome Foundation, which focuses on the development and creation of new work by emerging artists in Minnesota and the five buroughs of New York City. Benson’s days are spent reviewing grant proposals submitted by artists and making recommendations to the foundation’s board of directors about which ventures to fund.

“The Jerome Foundation’s Board prefers work that pushes boundaries of each of the forms that are funded: visual arts, media, dance, theater, music and literature,” Benson said.

Though Benson has been a key player at the Jerome Foundation for the last decade, supporting the arts has been part of her professional portfolio for even longer. Her career began in Washington, D.C., as a program specialist for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), followed by five years in New York City, working as a program director developing grant programs for a national service organization, Chamber Music America.

In 2003, Benson earned her master’s degree in nonprofit management from Hamline’s Graduate School of Management.

“I went to Hamline specifically because I figured that the arts would not be a major focus in the nonprofit program,” she said. “What happened is that I found that the arts are not much different than other sectors. We are just dealing constantly with how to support creativity and expression. The struggle for resources is just as difficult in the arts as in any other sector.”

And still the artist herself, Benson—who in the last fifteen years has been exploring the traditions and culture of her Lakota Native American background, along with her sister—enjoys a new kind of artistic expression in her spare time. “I am learning to play the Lakota flute,” she says. “I played it in public for the first time at my mother’s funeral, which was quite cathartic, because it was my mother who passed the Lakota to me.”

Benson serves on the Board of Grantmakers in the Arts, a national organization supporting professionals who make grants to artists and arts organizations. Recently, the organization launched a special group called The Indigenous Resource Network to draw more attention and resources to Native American artists. “Part of our mission is to make sure that the native or Indian voice is included in every conversation and opportunity available to artists,” said Benson, who serves as the committee’s co-chair.

Above all, Benson considers her work a joy. “Artists help to bring much needed reflection, beauty and aesthetics, and help us find meaning in the world and in our lives,” she said. “Working with artists keeps me on the edge of exciting work—I’m lucky to have such a great job.”

By Lucy Dwyer, Jennifer L. Krempin, and Breanna Hanson Hegg