Dana Sikkila hangs works from artists at the Minnesota Correctional Facility in Faribault for the “Art Inside” exhibit at her 410 Project gallery in Mankato. (Photo courtesy of 410 Project)
Artist Mika D. says this about the inspiration of his work, “36 and Counting”: “After 36 foster houses later and I still haven’t found a home. All homes on the outside look the same.”
”Tempest Tossed” by Johnny M. is a “representation of being close to the end of a long struggle, hope at the ending.”
Artist “Black M.” says his work, “Fighting Demons,” is about personal demons.

Her students were all incarcerated men. But it wasn’t their criminal backgrounds that Dana Sikkila found the most challenging. It was the diversity of their art skills and confidence levels.
As an art professor at Minnesota State University, Mankato, Sikkla is accustomed to teaching young budding artists who have already developed some art techniques.
Dana Sikkila hangs works from artists at the Minnesota Correctional Facility in Faribault for the “Art Inside” exhibit at her 410 Project gallery in Mankato. (Photo courtesy of 410 Project)
Her students at the Minnesota Correctional Facility in Faribault, however, ran the gamut of ages and experiences. Some had not picked up a paint brush since elementary school, while others had been making art from their cells.
“Every student was different. I had to adapt to meet every student’s needs as best as I could,” Sikkila said of her first experience teaching in a prison.
The art Sikkila helped 14 incarcerated students create is now on display at her gallery in downtown Mankato.
The artists are students in the Minnesota State University’s Scholars Serving Time Program. Launched last year at the federal prison in Waseca, the university is now also holding classes at the prisons in Shakopee and Faribault. Incarcerated students can earn college credits and up to an associate’s degree.
Artist Mika D. says this about the inspiration of his work, “36 and Counting”: “After 36 foster houses later and I still haven’t found a home. All homes on the outside look the same.”
Faribault was the only state institution that did not have a hands-on arts opportunity, Sikkila said, before she taught her first Scholars Serving Time class this summer. For 2.5 hours a day, twice a week, for six weeks, she helped 14 men with criminal histories rediscover or hone their skills in painting, drawing and paper crafts.
Sikkila said she had no idea what to expect teaching in a prison, but the “apprehension faded away pretty quickly.” After she made it through security each day, she said her class “felt just like a regular classroom you’d have at MNSU.”
Artist “Black M.” says his work, “Fighting Demons,” is about personal demons.
Some of her scholars were initially hesitant to try art again or to use art to share their personal experiences, Sikkila said. But “everyone really committed,” she said, and “everyone really made a huge progression.”
In reviews of the class provided by Sikkila, one student wrote: “There are many creative, amazing artists and just good people who screwed up. I am one. I’m using this time of incarceration to better myself and am so thankful for having the opportunity to study with some of the finest professors from MNSU.”
Sikkila asked each student to share at least two of their favorite works to exhibit at the community gallery she leads in Mankato. Many students submitted more than two pieces, which are now on display through Aug. 20.
Some of the works are for sale. Some artists plan to use their profits to buy more art supplies. Other artists plan to donate to charities, Sikkila said.
While the artists won’t get to see their work on display in person, Sikkila said volunteers are recording videos of the exhibit. Exhibit guests also are invited to write messages to the artists.
”Tempest Tossed” by Johnny M. is a “representation of being close to the end of a long struggle, hope at the ending.”
Another opportunity
The 410 Project exhibit won’t be the only opportunity for artists at Minnesota Correctional Facility in Faribault to showcase their work.
Art from the Inside, which has previously exhibited work from two Minnesota prisons, now is collecting works in Faribault.
Antonio Espinosa, who recently retired as a correctional officer at the Minnesota Correctional Facility in Stillwater, started Art from the Inside in the wake of the killing of one of his colleagues. He aimed to use art as a vehicle for healing, for providing incarcerated people hope and for some “uncomfortable conversations” about the lives and futures of the incarcerated.
Art from the Inside expanded to feature women artists at the Shakopee correctional facility and now is beginning to work with Faribault artists as well.
“Faribault has a lot of talented people who do their work in their cells,” Espinosa said.
He’s looking for galleries to partner on future exhibits. Original art and prints also are for sale at artfromtheinsidemn.org/store.
Reach Associate Editor Kristine Goodrich at 507-333-3134. ©Copyright 2022 APG Media of Southern Minnesota. All rights reserved.
When: 2-6 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays through Aug. 20
Where: 410 Project, 523 S. Front St., Mankato
More info: the410project.com

Data included is taken from the Minnesota Department of Health Daily reports. Because all data is preliminary, the change in number of cumulative positive cases and deaths from one day to the next may not equal the newly reported cases or deaths.
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