From the outside, it looks like any other industrial building in Northern Minnesota. Minnesota Diversified Industries (MDI) in Cohasset occupies an 110,000 square foot building with a busy workforce that includes people with and without disabilities working at the company’s commercial plastic and environmental services facility. Inside, the building is part office, part warehouse, and now – thanks to a unique partnership with the local arts community – part art gallery.

The project was developed after MDI worked with MacRostie Art Center (MAC) to select artwork for the lobby of their new building in preparation for an open house celebration in the summer of 2016. MacRostie Art Center installed an exhibit of artwork created by students in their Itasca Life Options program – all of who are people with cognitive, physical, or developmental disabilities and several of who are also employees of MDI Hired Hands.

“The 30-plus pieces of framed artwork seemed like a lot until they started going up on the walls,” said MacRostie Art Center Executive Director Katie Marshall. “In the end, it made a big impact in the lobby but the rest of the building was left feeling drab and empty. I talked with Kyle [Erickson, MDI General Manager] and we started to envision what else we could do with art to make the space feel more like the supportive, committed, and motivating workplace that MDI is.”

MDI received a grant from the Arrowhead Regional Arts Council to involve their employees in working with local artists to create unique and engaging artwork for the walls of the Cohasset building. Beginning in the spring of 2018, artists David Dobbs, Lea Friesen and Jessica Vanderpoel began leading classes with groups of MDI employees on-site during the workday. Participation was voluntary, and employees were excused from their regular work to take part in the art making.

One session focused on drawing and painting, another on creating cyanotypes and digital photography, and another on making a large, collaborative mural. The pieces were then framed and installed in the hallways, conference rooms, and offices of the MDI building.

“We hope that a more art-filled facility will inspire our employees and enhance the sense of community that we work to build,” said Erickson. “For customers and visitors to the site, we hope that showcasing the creativity of our employees will impress upon them our commitment to our mission and the value we place on the individuals with whom we work.”