UND faculty artist opens new exhibit in City Hall

Associate Professor Todd Hebert selected as latest recipient of Mayor’s Choice Artist Award, honored with plaque and reception at City Hall

Todd Hebert (left), associate professor of Art & Design, poses for photos with Grand Forks Mayor Brandon Bochenski and First Lady Jenny Bochenski after receiving the Mayor’s Choice Artist Award. A City Hall reception on Thursday marked the opening of Hebert’s exhibit, “Icebergs, Bubbles, and Snowmen.” Photo by Connor Murphy/UND Today.

A few times each winter in Grand Forks, you can step outside and it’s simply crisp.

It’s cold, sure, but there isn’t any wind. It’s still and serene.

Such feelings, portrayed through works of art, can evoke nostalgia from those who associate snow and ice and cold with “home.”

That’s what Grand Forks Mayor Brandon Bochenski thinks of when he sees the paintings of Associate Professor Todd Hebert, a faculty member in UND’s Department of Art & Design and the most recent recipient of the Mayor’s Choice Artist Award

Hebert’s pieces, placing intricately detailed icebergs, snowmen and bubbles against deep blues, greens and blacks, embody the North for Bochenski and the First Lady, Jenny, who have continued the tradition of choosing an artist each quarter whose pieces are exhibited on the first two floors of City Hall.

The award, established by former Mayor Michael Brown and Ann Brown in 2010, recognizes local artists for their contributions to a “more vibrant and cultural community,” as well as the City of Grand Forks’ commitment to and involvement with the arts.

On Thursday evening, at a City Hall reception conferring the award to Hebert, Bochenski praised Hebert’s craft as a means of further intertwining the University of North Dakota with the culture and renown of the Greater Grand Forks community.

The exhibit, “Icebergs, Bubbles, and Snowmen,” will be on display until December.

“This is another great connection between UND and City Hall,” Bochenski said. “I love that City Hall can be open to the community like this, and be more than a place to just pay your bills.”

First Lady Jenny Bochenski and Kathy Armacost walked around the second-floor atrium of City Hall to look at samples of Hebert’s recent paintings. Armacost said that Hebert’s art is among many of the fine works she has been able to see through a recent touring of North Dakota. Photo by Connor Murphy/UND Today.

Vickie Arndt, executive director for the Public Arts Commission of Grand Forks, recently came back to her hometown of Grand Forks after 30 years of activity in the New York City art scene. The presence of UND-based faculty artists such as Hebert as well as talented students immediately came to the fore as Arndt curated public galleries at the Altru Professional Center, the Alerus Center and City Hall.

“Todd actually curated the show at Altru,” said Arndt, who has directed the PAC since November of last year. “When I asked him if he would be interested in doing so, he sent me the images of students’ work, and I was blown away. They were so good, and I think the current show is great because of that.”

“I never thought I’d come back to my hometown, but I was pleasantly surprised by the art community here,” Arndt continued. “There’s so much opportunity for artists, including those at UND, and I cannot wait to start doing bigger projects.”

In addition to the three galleries Arndt manages, PAC maintains 15 public art installations across Grand Forks. Founded in 2014, PAC’s goal is simple: to see more public art in the city.

As soon as Arndt saw Hebert’s work, and upon the recommendation of PAC’s board of directors, she said it was “right up her alley” and promptly sent the portfolio to the mayor and first lady for consideration.

“It was beautiful, it was funny and everything that I like to look at,” Arndt said with a smile. “I like minimalism and humor in art, and seeing Todd’s work in person for the first time was simply amazing.”

Though not part of the current City Hall exhibit, Arndt was particularly struck by a piece where an Igloo-branded cooler was positioned next to an iceberg. The irony of the idea just made her laugh, she said. But, with respect to “Icebergs, Bubbles and Snowmen,” Arndt admires the transient nature of the imagery. The ice and snow depicted are doomed to melt away, she said; they don’t last.

“Bubbles are the same in how fleeting they are, and he’s captured those objects in a really interesting moment.”

UND President Andy Armacost said there is no better way to celebrate the relationship between UND and Grand Forks than through the arts. Hebert’s work, he said, was stunning and rivaled only by Hebert’s reputation as a mentor and instructor at UND. Photo by Connor Murphy/UND Today.

Having traveled the Peace Garden State through the better part of the summer, President Andy Armacost and his wife, Kathy, have been able to see much of North Dakota’s beauty, as well as the talents residing within. They made an appearance at Thursday’s opening, amid a small crowd of fellow art admirers.

“Seeing this exhibit is a continuation of the wonderful art we’ve found everywhere,” Kathy said. “The arts really bring this city and campus to life.”

For his part, President Armacost said Hebert’s reputation as an artist is only rivaled by his abilities as an educator and mentor at UND’s Hughes Fine Arts Center.

“From the few pieces we’ve seen so far, they’re absolutely stunning,” Armacost told UND Today. “And I know the students who work alongside him adore him, so it’s great that he could be recognized this way.”

“There’s no better way to celebrate the town-and-gown connection than through the arts,” Armacost continued. “It’s wonderful to be at a campus that values art, and in a city that shares that value. I’m thrilled that the mayor and first lady have opted to show Todd’s work in City Hall.”

Though Hebert’s recently exhibited art is new, Hebert said the chilly elements have run through his career as a professional artist. Hebert cited the influence of his North Dakota upbringing and long drives across a landscape shaped by glaciers, rivers and ancient oceans. Photo by Connor Murphy/UND Today.

Hebert, who grew up in Dickinson, N.D., is a 1996 graduate of UND with a bachelor of fine arts degree. Since that time, his work has been featured around dozens of solo and group exhibitions across the country.

Among the numerous private and public collections that have acquired his work are the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; the Neuberger Berman Collection, New York; the Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego; and the Frederick R. Weisman Art Foundation, Los Angeles.

His career as a painter led him back to his alma mater nine years ago when he accepted a position in the Department of Art & Design, where he now leads all of the courses concerned with painting and drawing.

Standing in front of his exhibit’s audience, Hebert didn’t mince words in describing the selection of 14 paintings, created across a variety of sizes and canvas materials.

“This work is from the last couple of years, but it reflects things that have been running through my work for the last 20 years,” he said. “And, basically, they’re reflections of anxieties and also delights that I feel in everyday life.”

In conversation with UND Today, Hebert extrapolated on the “anxieties and delights” he perceives in portraying snow, cold and delicate spheres.

“Water is one of those things that seems so mundane and run-of-the-mill, but there’s also an epic, monumental side of it,” Hebert said. “Growing up and driving across North Dakota with my family, you see a landscape that has been cut by water – by glaciers and rivers – and I wonder if that affects these big expansions and contractions of subjects that I put in my work.

“Water is going to be one of those things that wars are fought over, and I suppose that’s where my interest comes from – this idea of something unassuming, local and small, like a water bottle or a snowman made during winter, and the big issues of life, death and the passage of time.”

With respect to his latest show, he said the University has shown him all of the support an academic could ask for with respect to his passion and profession as an artist. He’s positioned to continue his growth in painting while playing an instrumental role, as an instructor, for the next generations of creatives and, perhaps, Mayor’s Choice awardees.

“It feels good to get recognized for what you do, and I’m really grateful to Vickie Arndt, the PAC and the mayor and first lady,” Hebert said. “They all provided the opportunity for this exhibit to exist, and it looks great in the space. That’s all you can really ask for.”