“Fire, Fire Burning Bright; Transform the Darkness into Light”

Mississippi Watershed Management Organization Teams up with Local Sculptor to Inspire Youth

Art by Taylor Daniels

Art by Taylor Daniels

Awareness is fleeting, change is slow, but art is undying. What attracts people to a cause–and how they stick with it–is often stimulated by how they think about it, and how they wish to convey those thoughts to others.

Local sculptor James Brenner has been turning challenging environmental issues into opportunities for beauty and improvement in recent years. In 2013, Brenner created a series of light-up sculptures that change colors based on the amount of energy being used in the Holland neighborhood of Northeast Minneapolis. “The idea is to combine art with utility to create awareness that wouldn’t otherwise be there,” Brenner said.

The sculptures were placed near Edison High School, perhaps a subtle nudge to get students thinking about their energy use. Future plans include a solar panel canopy and water cistern that could power the entire school.

Brenner’s focus this fall has been on City of Lakes Waldorf, a K-8 charter school, and their involvement with the Mississippi Watershed Management Organization. The idea was to get students thinking about opportunities for sustainable improvements, tying these conversations in with certain virtues they have selected to work on in the coming year, such as “patience” or “self-confidence.”

Waldorf’s 6th and 7th graders spent September designing medallions for their chosen virtue, which they carved into sandstone molds using spoons and scalpels. 8th graders created Viking-esque ships that housed the medallions, after they were brought to life by Brenner and his team, who poured molten metal derived from old radiators into the molds.

The idea was to get students thinking about opportunities for sustainable improvements, tying these conversations in with certain virtues they have selected to work on in the coming year, such as “patience” or “self-confidence.”

On the night of October 1, Waldorf held a lighting ceremony where parents and staff held torches above the student’s heads, chanting: “fire, fire, burning bright; transform the darkness into light.”

Students then dropped a piece of paper or an origami creation bearing the name of their virtue into the cast before they were set ablaze. It was a strange and wonderful sight, with a ritualistic flavor that made one curious as to how the kids really felt about the whole thing.

“It’s a privilege,” remarked 7th grader Jacob Parkinson. “Public schools don’t get to experience things like this.” With a night as inspiring as this, an important question going forward might be this: How can the Minneapolis Public School system become involved with projects of this magnitude, all while keeping a shrinking budget in mind?