NIU Sculpture Visiting Artist Talk – Heather Mekkelson

NIU Sculpture Visiting Artist Talk – Heather Mekkelson

Heather MekkelsonThe sculpture area of the NIU School of Art and Design is hosting a virtual Zoom presentation by visiting artist Heather Mekkelson, Thursday, October 8 at 5 p.m.

Mekkelson is a sculptor and installation artist based in Chicago. She has had several solo exhibitions at chicago galleries such as 65GRAND, 4th Ward Project Space and STANDARD.

She has exhibited in group shows in galleries and institutions nationally since 2001. Mekkelson’s work has been featured in Art Journal, Art21 Magazine, Artforum.com, Artnet, Flavorpill, Hyperallergic, Newcity, Time Out Chicago and others.

She has been the recipient of several fellowships and grants, including the 2012 Artadia Award, and the Illinois Arts Council Artist Fellowship in Sculpture in 2020.

The event is open to the public. To join in, log into your Zoom account or go to zoom.us. The Meeting ID is 921 8632 1445 and the passcode is 539303.

River Weaving walking tour rescheduled for Oct. 3 and 11

River Weaving walking tour rescheduled for Oct. 3 and 11

UPDATE: The River Weaving walking tour has been rescheduled for two dates, Saturday, October 3 and Sunday, October 11. Both will be held at 2 p.m. and attendees can pre-register for free at go.niu.edu/riverweaving. The walking tour and discussion will begin at the “River Weaving” site on the College Street bridge near the east side of the Music Building.

Thirty-four years ago, John Siblik was an NIU art student drawing up a concept for an environmental sculpture to be placed in the Kishwaukee River where it flows past the lagoon and the Music Building. Now, Siblik finds himself standing in that same river, in that same spot with a team of students and alumni installing that very same artwork.

Siblik is an associate professor in the School of Art and Design where he earned his Bachelor of Fine Arts and a Bachelor of Science in Art Education, and this is the sixth time he’s created and installed a version of this project. It is the second time in Illinois. The first was in Lockport’s I&M canal in 2014. But this current version is particularly special. “River Weaving” is part of NIU’s 125th Anniversary year-long celebration, and a chance for Siblik to complete the vision he first had in 1986.

“The project commemorates the Kishwaukee River as an important feature of the landscape that helped influence state officials to select DeKalb as the site for NIU prior to its founding in 1895,” Siblik says. “Earl W. Hayter, in his history of Northern Illinois University ‘Education in Transition’ tells a wonderful mythic tale of the residents of DeKalb going without water for two days so that the city’s water supply could be diverted into the Kish and have it appear to the commissioners that the Kish was in fact a mighty river. For those of us that are alumni of NIU it’s been stated that if you dip your toe in the Kish you will never leave, at least in our hearts.”

The installation features 90 elements placed in the water made of willow, steel and stone. Each is six to eight feet in length and placed onto a base that is four feet wide and two to four feet tall.  The design is flexible and portable to adapt to different rivers, and strong enough to hold up to flooding and currents.

“The most basic way to think about this piece of environmental art is that it is weaving as sculpture,” Siblik said. “The wood elements make the warp and water flows through and creates the weft, and that’s what makes ‘River Weaving’ a fitting title. The environmental significance is that the piece reminds the viewer that we cannot think of the environment as disconnected from ourselves. It serves as a reminder that all aspects of nature and society are connected and interwoven.

“As the water level in the river rises, “River Weaving” is activated and serves as a filter collecting litter and debris. Some of the items collected so far include a mattress, tire, shoe, fishing pole, COVID-19 mask, as well as several bags, wrappers, bottles, and cans., It starts as a beautiful, elegant sculpture. Then, after a heavy rain, River Weaving reveals that we dump too much trash into the water.”

But while installing the sculpture in the Kishwaukee River, Siblik said he was encouraged. “The water quality appears to be improving, and we found delicate arrowroot plants, crayfish and mussels, signs of a healthy waterway.”

His team includes Myel Simmons, an NIU art student and illustrator who is serving as the project manager, Jose Vazquez, an environmental science major, and business student Jared Norton.

There are also three alumni helping with the project. Arin Whitmore is a 2020 BFA drawing graduate, Mark Mattson, who earned his bachelor’s and master’s in English from NIU is the business development manager at Creative Therapeutics in DeKalb, and Ken Olson holds a degree in physical therapy from NIU and is a physical therapist and principal partner with Northern Rehab in DeKalb.

Support for the project has come from the NIU 125th Anniversary Committee, as well as material support from local businesses. Dimco Steel and Metal in DeKalb donated more than 3,000 pounds of rebar. Wagner Aggregate provided more than 14,000 pounds of locally sourced limestone from a quarry in Fairdale which is used to weigh down the sculptures, and R&B Services in DeKalb hauled and delivered the stone.

Siblik estimates the sculpture installation will be in place until Oct 15, 2020, depending on weather. 

Listen to some of our greatest hits as you run the Virtual Corn Classic

Listen to some of our greatest hits as you run the Virtual Corn Classic

The relatively new tradition of hearing songs performed by members of the NIU School of Music as you run the course of the annual Corn Classic continues this year, even as the race has gone virtual.

The Corn Classic, now in its 40th year, allows runners to choose between a 10K or 5K race. In recent years the course route has included the NIU campus. This year, runners can participate virtually and run or walk the race anywhere, any time between September 19 and 27. Though 5K and 10K routes are marked if you want to run the actual course on your own.

You can sign up for the race online, and you don’t even have to miss the thrill of hearing the NIU Steelband, Huskie Marching Band or music from the NIU Jazz Studio. A one-hour race podcast which features music, messages from NIU President Lisa Freeman and DeKalb Mayor Jerry Smith, and a little history is available for download.

You can even listen to the podcast without downloading it.

Enrollments up in CVPA and at NIU overall

Enrollments up in CVPA and at NIU overall

After months of dire predictions nationwide for fall college attendance, Northern Illinois University announced Tuesday that total enrollment is up for fall 2020.

Students are back on campus at NIU, where 8% growth in the freshman class helped the university post enrollment gains this fall.

According to the official census on the 10th day of attendance, total enrollment for fall 2020 climbed to 16,769, up 160 students (1%) from 2019. Driving that growth is a freshman class of 2,047 (up 8%), and a six-percentage-point improvement in retention of first-year students.

“NIU increased total enrollment during this challenging and dynamic time by attracting a freshman class that is strong in number, talent and diversity, and by welcoming back continuing undergraduate, graduate and law students who appreciate the quality and affordability of our educational experience,” said NIU President Dr. Lisa C. Freeman. “It is deeply gratifying that students were able to look beyond the uncertainty of these last several months and recognize that NIU offers a tremendous combination of access and excellence.”

The College of Visual and Performing Arts continued a recent trend of its own. The college saw a 1.8% increase over 2019, which continues a steady climb that has seen undergraduate enrollment grow by 3.9% since 2017. The School of Art and Design has increased enrollment 3.4% over the last three years, the School of Music is up 7.1% since 2017 and the School of Theatre and Dance increased 7.8% this year over last, part of an enrollment increase of 15.3% since 2017.

“The enrollment growth in the college and the schools is further evidence of how important the arts are to the next generation of students,” said Paul Kassel, Dean of the College of Visual and Performing Arts. “They want to hone their talents and know we offer great training with outstanding teachers, artists, and scholars.  We’re thrilled with the new class that has joined us and are excited to partner with them as they develop their gifts and then offer them to the world.”

With this year’s jump, NIU surpassed their 2020 total enrollment goal put forth in its Strategic Enrollment Management plan and recorded its third straight year of growth among incoming freshmen. The university also set five-year highs for total number of applicants, number of applicants who met acceptance criteria and the number of applicants who confirmed interest to the university. All of that indicates that the university’s Strategic Enrollment Management Plan is working.

“Since we approved the plan in January 2019, we have dramatically changed how we approach potential students,” said Sol Jensen, NIU vice president for Enrollment Management, Marketing and Communications. “We are identifying potential Huskies earlier in their high school careers, communicating with them more frequently and more strategically, and raising our profile through more aggressive and targeted advertising. It is satisfying to see those efforts already yielding results.”

Improved undergraduate retention is another key facet of NIU’s Strategic Enrollment Management plan, and this fall’s numbers reflect significant progress in that regard. Overall retention of first-year students climbed 6 percentage points (to 78%). That was driven by significant growth in the retention rates for students of color, as African American, Latinx and Asian students were all up by at least 10 percentage points from a year ago.

Those improvements are attributed to NIU’s commitment to removing barriers to college graduation for all students, including improvements in how the university identifies and assists students struggling to make the adjustment to college, said Executive Vice President and Provost Beth Ingram. “The approaches we’ve developed and implemented — before and during COVID-19 — to support our first-year students enabled them to thrive and re-enroll at NIU,” she said. “Just as importantly, these measures should also help us maintain the improvements in retention and student success going forward.”

Improved retention rates helped drive up enrollment at NIU this fall.

One area where numbers slipped was among new transfer students, which declined to 1,504 (a decrease of 7%). The drop reflects continued declines in the region’s community college population.

Looking at the characteristics of the incoming class, NIU continued to have success recruiting students of color, particularly Black students. While colleges and universities across the country, including Illinois, have seen declining enrollment rates for Black students, NIU recorded its fifth straight year of increased African American enrollment in the freshman class. This year, 35% of entering freshmen are Black (up 2 percentage points), the highest that figure has been in university history. Latinx enrollment also grew, accounting for 23% of the incoming class (up 3 percentage points).

This year’s incoming class also boasts a strong academic profile. The average high school GPA among new freshmen was 3.32 — the second highest it has been in 11 years — and the percentage of applicants with GPAs of 3.5 or better grew by 16%.

Some of that increase can likely be attributed to the university’s new Huskie Pledge. Implemented this past year, the program guarantees that all tuition and fees will be covered by grants and scholarships for any Illinois students with high school GPAs of 3.0 or better and whose families have incomes of $75,000 or less.

The good news extended to graduate and professional enrollment. The NIU College of Law grew for the third straight year, up by 33 students (12%). Among all other graduate and professional programs, enrollment held steady at 4,185.

In all, Dr. Freeman said, this year’s enrollment numbers are cause for great optimism and pride.

“This is one of the most diverse and talented incoming classes that we have ever recruited, and we hope that this sets the trend for the years ahead,” she said.