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When MN's Invasive 'Reed Canary Grass' Becomes Art

Minnesota's West-Central Paper Plains project combines art and nature. (mprnews.org)
Minnesota's West-Central Paper Plains project combines art and nature. (mprnews.org)
September 13, 2019

ST. PAUL, Minn. – Every U.S. state has its share of invasive species, and in Minnesota, reed canary grass is one of them. But creative people know the common invader can also be turned into something artistic and practical.

Artist and Assistant Professor of Printmaking at Minnesota State University Moorhead Anna Haglin was part of the West-Central Minnesota Paper Plains project over the summer. She took her mobile studio to several locations, using reed canary grass to teach people how to make paper.

Haglin says kids were eager to take the paper they'd embedded with native prairie seeds home to plant in their backyard.

"I like to describe it as a magic trick,” laughs Haglin. “You take invasive grass and you're sort-of turning it into 'good' grass, so it's sort-of all about the conversation that then happened around that."

Haglin says Minnesota artists are fortunate, since the state has one of highest per-capita legislative appropriations to state art agencies in the country, spending $7.26 compared to $0.17 in neighboring Wisconsin.

Haglin says she can't remember a time she wasn't aware of climate change and its environmental effects, causing reed canary grass to spread. In the art world, her work is known as 'social practice,' because it focuses on the interaction between the audience, social systems, and the artist.

"An issue that I care about doesn't have to be something that I am shocking people with, or scolding them,” says Haglin. “We can all work towards a positive solution. Something that everyone enjoys."

The paper project is funded through a grant from the Fergus Falls-based West Central Initiative and Springboard for the Arts, an economic and community development organization.

Roz Brown, Public News Service - MN