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Ryan Johnson, Published September 15 2013

ND farm girl finds inspiration in NYC

FARGO - Sarah Dotzenrod is a “farm girl at heart,” but this farm girl left her heart in New York City.

Raised in Wyndmere, N.D., Dotzenrod discovered art when she began attending Minnesota State University Moorhead in 2004. When professor John Volk started up a “New York experience” program for art students to spend a month taking in the city’s art scene and brought Dotzenrod and her classmates there in 2009, she said she “fell in love” with the city.

She graduated from MSUM in 2009 with an art education degree and started working part time for West Fargo Public Schools, going back to college to finish her drawing degree in 2011.

But New York City drew her back last year, and Dotzenrod took a sabbatical to work several jobs and teach at an arts-based preschool while she lived with former classmates.

Now 27, she’s back in West Fargo and teaching at two high schools, hoping to inspire the next generation of local artists.

How did your upbringing influence the way you saw the subway in New York?

Transportation here versus New York City is extremely different. You have to have a car to really get to a lot of places here. But I loved not having to focus and deal with road construction, and we’re brought up driving here at an early age.

To be in this place where you don’t have to be worried and stressed, and seeing people listening to music and conversing with each other and reading books and drawing, it was extremely interesting. It’s very different from the way that we think of transportation out here, so I was drawn to it because of that.

I’m a people person, and most of my work is figurative. I’m very interested in people and psychology and the way that they act and interact with each other.

Being in the subway is just a natural habitat for that.

What’s your approach to teaching?

I was at the rethink learning TEDx, and they have it right. We’re in a time when 21st-century skills, problem-solving, being creative and all of those things the visual arts strongly support. I feel like it’s my duty to help nourish creativity and to really pose questions in design and get students ready for the 21st century.

I want to give those students that see art as their future the tools that they need to get an art career.

But I also feel like I’m giving those students that are taking this more as a hobby class the chance to enjoy themselves, and they’re still exercising their critical thinking, their creativity and even their views of different people and cultures.

They’re really gaining a lot and learning more about themselves as a person from this class.

I see a lot of New York inspiration in your work. Are you hoping to create art inspired by North Dakota?

I feel actually now coming back, I will be driving out in the country back to Wyndmere and I’ll just be like, ‘Oh my god, this is so beautiful, this is so amazing.’

I’ve been noticing the sky more, and just our nature. North Dakota is really beautiful.

When I would talk to my students out in New York about it, they were very curious, and I would show them pictures.

They were extremely interested because some of those kids never left the city and never saw a falling star.

I’ve been taking more photos of the area than I was before I left, and I definitely see tying that into my artwork and finding its place with what I’m doing.

That’s going to take a while to materialize, but I feel like it is going to make its way in there.

Will you go back to New York?

As soon as I can afford to, but just for a visit. I really need to settle a little bit after this moving back and forth.

I feel like West Fargo is at a really crucial point with all this transitioning, and I want to be a solid foundation for them.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Ryan Johnson at (701) 241-5587