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John Lamb, Published January 30 2014

Arts and cultural promoter Pratt dies after long 'dance' with cancer

FARGO – Though she was diagnosed with cancer four times, Claudia Pratt never referred to her experiences as a battle or a fight with the disease.

“She’d say, ‘You don’t want to spend your life fighting,’” explained her sister, Charlotte Nordstrom. “‘You want to spend your life dancing. If you can dance with your obstacles and try to lead most of the time, you’ll be a much more happy, healthy and positive person.’”

A positive person to the end, Claudia Pratt died in Sanford’s Palliative Care Unit on Wednesday night.

For decades, Pratt was a force in the local arts and cultural scene.

In the 1980s, she worked at the Hjemkomst Center in Moorhead. She celebrated and promoted her heritage in her life and work as director of both the Nordic Culture Clubs and the Scandinavian Hjemkomst Festival.

“She definitely left a lasting imprint on Scandinavian community here,” said Maureen Kelly Jonason, director of the Historical and Cultural Society of Clay County. “She was so passionate about Scandinavian (culture) and she brought a lot of excitement. Even us non-Scandinavians could get excited about it.”

Kelly Jonason thinks Pratt will be honored at the annual Nordic Gala on Feb. 8 at the Hjemkomst Center.

Pratt was so passionate about her work that Kelly Jonason said she postponed treatment to focus on an exhibit for the HCSCC, “Hjemkomst Sagas: One Dream, a Viking Ship, Many Stories,” which opened in July 2012. The exhibit won an award from the American Association for State and Local History.

Pratt also was education director at the Plains Art Museum starting in 2000.

Art would help her when she got sick. After being diagnosed with breast cancer in 2006, she shaved her head and at times let people paint on her bald scalp. She later asked artists to fashion hats that she would model and exhibit. The hats that weren’t given outright to Pratt were given to other cancer patients or auctioned off to charity.

“I am not a person to sit and wallow in my bad luck,” she told The Forum.

She won that round with cancer, and again in 2009. In 2010, she learned it returned and spread to her lungs.

She had another vision for an interactive art project. In early 2011, she took over the walls of her favorite restaurant, the Green Market, with chalkboards, calendars and clocks, marking down the days until her 50th birthday on Feb. 28, 2012. Per her request, patrons left suggestions about how she should celebrate each day.

“When you have a stage 4 breast cancer diagnosis, you start thinking of what you want to do and what your priorities are, which people should do every day,” Pratt said at the time of, the show, “Exploring Now: 365 Days to 50.”

“She felt doing these projects and being creative and having art in your life helps you heal and having art in your life gives you energy to overcome obstacles in your life,” said Nordstrom.

Pratt started the Art Heals fund through the Fargo-Moorhead Area Foundation to help fund nonprofits or artists who work with people facing health challenges.

“I’ve treated it as a gift,” Pratt said of her experience. “Not everyone can do the things I can do. I can walk. I can talk.”

Funeral arrangements are being handled by Boulger Funeral Home. A visitation is planned for 5 to 7 p.m. on Feb. 10, followed by a service.

Nordstrom said her sister left plans for a celebration of life party in the spring, the details of which will be announced later.

Readers can reach Forum reporter John Lamb at (701) 241-5533