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'Oil and Water' art exhibit by students and professors portrays North Dakota's resources

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FARGO, North Dakota — An art exhibit by college students and professors about North Dakota's most precious — and controversial — resources will soon be on display in the heart of oil country.

"Oil and Water" is an exchange project among seven area colleges that uses printmaking to tackle issues ranging from oil development and fracking in the Bakken formation to flooding and a massive diversion proposal in the Red River Valley.

There are pieces from 37 different artists. Several of them, like "It's Bad Stuff" and "Prosperity and Tragedy," deal with the environmental risks associated with an oil boom that has made North Dakota one of the richest states in the nation.

"It's more of a conversation. I think it's a good conversation," said Ian Warner, a senior visual arts major at North Dakota State University. "I think it's one that needs to be had right now given the situation in western in North Dakota and, indeed, all over the United States."

The project was first exhibited at Plains Art Museum in Fargo and is currently on display at NDSU. It's scheduled to be shown next month in Williston, considered the capital of the oil patch.

Some students who had no connection to the oil patch found the effort daunting until they started researching it, said Concordia College professor Heidi Goldberg, who coordinated the project along with North Dakota State professor Kent Kapplinger and retired Moorhead State University Moorhead professor John Volk.

PHOTO: This undated photo provided by the North Dakota State University Memorial Union Gallery in Fargo shows a painting titled "It's Hard to Let Go of a Familiar Land” by former Minnesota State University Moorhead professor John Volk. It is one of 37 pieces in an art exhibit called "Oil and Water." The works by college students and professors about North Dakota’s most precious _ and controversial _ resources will soon be on display in the heart of oil country. (AP Photo/Courtesy of North Dakota State University)
This undated photo provided by the North Dakota State University Memorial Union Gallery in Fargo shows a painting titled "It's Hard to Let Go of a Familiar Land” by former Minnesota State University Moorhead professor John Volk. It is one of 37 pieces in an art exhibit called "Oil and Water." The works by college students and professors about North Dakota’s most precious _ and controversial _ resources will soon be on display in the heart of oil country. (AP Photo/Courtesy of North Dakota State University)

"Those students who were sort of nervous about whether they had something to say about it or not, they sometimes came up with the strongest statements," Goldberg said.

Volk, who grew up in North Dakota, contributed a piece called, "It's Hard to Let Go of Familiar Land." It's a black and white print that depicts a ravine in the rugged badlands with an oil well overlooking the landscape.

"Clearly, there's a sense of sadness in the changing of the landscape," Goldberg said. "He loved the land for its wide open space and that's all changing pretty dramatically. So I think his work is sort of melancholy about all that is happening."

A couple of the works, such as "My Backyard" and "Oil Filled Homes," are done by students native to the oil patch. One of the artists, who grew up in western North Dakota, has friends who have prospered financially from the oil boom, and some who have died from circumstances attributed to the activity, Kapplinger said.

"What I really like about this is that here's a chance to see this and talk about it," Kapplinger said. "There's real in-depth study on this whole body of work."

Students who participated in the project came from NDSU; University of North Dakota; Minnesota State University Moorhead; Concordia; Valley City State University; Minot State University; and the University of Manitoba.

"It's interesting how diverse the end products are when you just present 'Oil and Water' as a theme," said Netha Cloether, visual arts and gallery coordinator at NDSU's Memorial Union Gallery.

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