Two years ago Brainerd High School hosted its Fine Arts and Activities Celebration in its high school cafeteria — like it had done for many years.

Last year, however, the banquet was forced into a virtual event due to the coronavirus pandemic. This year featured another change for the event, as the banquet was hosted Wednesday, May 19, in person in the high school’s recently opened Gichi-ziibi Center for the Arts building.

For some of the high school seniors the fine arts celebration was their first — and last event — in the new arts center.

“We are so grateful they finished the performing arts center this early, even though we've had some hiccups,” Choir Director Brian Stubbs said before the program started. “This is still months ahead of schedule, and we are ecstatic that these kids who've gone through such a tough year get to be in this performing arts center before they leave.”

BHS Principal Andrea Rusk agreed.

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“It’s been a long year, a tough year and it is really nice for this senior class to be able to have an event in the new facility before they graduate,” Rusk said before the program recognizing seniors for their fine arts achievements started.

“The fine arts is special because it's co-curricular,” Rusk said “These students are doing the work during the day and, for many of them, it goes well into their afternoon, evening and weekends. The fine arts emulates lifelong passions and love of music, love of visual arts, love of performing arts. It’s great that we give the recognition to these students that have spent their high school years, really working on their talents and their craft.”

At this year’s event, close to 150 high school seniors were recognized at the reception titled "Sunrise" in honor of artist Peter Max, who was born in Germany. Each of the seniors were called one by one to receive their spotlight on the new art center stage in recognition of their work. Students have the opportunity to take part in any of the fine arts programs at the high school including choir, band, orchestra, Brainonian yearbook, speech, theater, visual arts, TV productions, decoy carving, knowledge bowl and creative writing. Within each program there are a number of offerings students can participate in, such as painting, pottery, artist books, decoy design, spring musical, symphonic band, concert band, marching band, a cappella choir, honor choir, solo and ensemble concert, wind symphony and more.

During the program, 58 Fine Arts Scholars — seniors who maintained a 3.5 grade point average — were recognized. The Brainerd Dispatch initiated the Fine Arts Scholar Medallion in cooperation with the school in 1999 to honor students.

Before the program began, the BHS Jazz Ensemble performed on stage and students and their parents had a chance to view the Visual Arts Show in the lobby of the art center.

Fine arts student Emily Haug shows her parents April and Don Haug her cereal box design called "Funny Bunnies" Wednesday, May 19, 2021, in the lobby of the Gichi-ziibi Center for the Arts. Student artwork was on display before the Brainerd High School Fine Arts and Activities Celebration. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch
Fine arts student Emily Haug shows her parents April and Don Haug her cereal box design called "Funny Bunnies" Wednesday, May 19, 2021, in the lobby of the Gichi-ziibi Center for the Arts. Student artwork was on display before the Brainerd High School Fine Arts and Activities Celebration. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

BHS senior Emily Haug showed her parents a few of her graphic design displays, which included a “Cereal Box Design” display.

“We had to design a cereal box and I knew I wanted a cute bunny on it, and I thought funny bunnies was a cute name,” Haug said. “I looked at pictures of bunnies and saw that they have heart shaped noses, so I thought it'd be cool to make it a heart shaped cereal.

“I've always loved art and I've always wanted to do something with my art, and I'm actually going into graphic design at ... Minnesota State University Moorhead.”

Brainerd High School activities director Charlie Campbell started the program by welcoming people to the new arts center and reminding them to wear their masks as the school is still under restrictions until the end of the year. He then introduced Superintendent Laine Larson to the stage as he spilled the beans that it was her 60th birthday.

The last time Larson spoke at the fine arts program was May 6, 2019. Larson recited many words she said back in 2019 — the year the community passed the referendum to build a new regional performing arts center.

“Our fabulous band, choir, orchestra in theater departments, visual arts, fine arts and culinary arts will be showcased in this magnificent facility,” Larson said of her comments in 2019. “Fast forward, looking ahead to … May 19, 2021, and here we are celebrating the very first fine arts recognition. ... And to think that we're doing this in our brand newly named facility Gichi-ziibi Center for the Arts. Wow. How appropriate is this evening. Everything that we hoped for, everything that we dreamed of and more has become a reality thanks to each of you. Thank you for your public school community, for not only believing in this incredible venue but, most of all, for reinforcing the fact that the arts are a vital function to have in our society. The arts provide an essential means for gaining perspective. It is our responsibility ... to ready our students for independent and successful living. It is absolutely imperative that the arts be recognized as an important part of our educational preparation process. So here we are tonight, ready to highlight our students and their creative ambitions, while encouraging opportunities to encourage their artistic abilities and to be recognized for their hard work, their creativity and innovative minds, the inspiration and the inspiration each has.”

Sheri Doucimo (left) points out a piece of pottery with her granddaughter fine arts student Amber Kartman Wednesday, May 19, 2021, before the beginning of the Brainerd High School Fine Arts and Activities Celebration in the Gichi-ziibi Center for the Arts. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch
Sheri Doucimo (left) points out a piece of pottery with her granddaughter fine arts student Amber Kartman Wednesday, May 19, 2021, before the beginning of the Brainerd High School Fine Arts and Activities Celebration in the Gichi-ziibi Center for the Arts. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

Once all the students had their moment in the spotlight, the fine arts advisers announced the winners of the Award of Excellence:

  • Theatre: John Toven

  • Knowledge Bowl: Gabe Maurer

  • Speech: Meryl Tigenoah

  • Video Game Design: Amber Kartman

  • Visual Arts: Analaya Hernandez-Williams

  • Yearbook: Madison Genz

  • Patrick S. Gilmore Band Award: Jeremy Duff

  • Orchestra: Jenna Hanson

  • Visual Arts: Rachel Trusty

  • Game Design: Adam Ohman

  • Creative Writing: Catherine Archer

  • Poetry: Adam Ohman

  • TV Production: Tyler Schaitberger

  • Outstanding Leadership in Choir: John Toven

  • Outstanding Leadership in Choir: Isabel Haglin

  • Decoy Design: Jack Andre

  • Decoy Design: Harry Carlson

  • Decoy Design: Mason Mankowski

  • Graphic Design: Emily Haug

  • Graphic Design: Jackson Holmes

JENNIFER KRAUS may be reached at jennifer.kraus@brainerddispatch.com or 218-855-5851. Follow me at www.twitter.com/jennewsgirl on Twitter.