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News & Views of Phillips Since 1976
Monday May 27th 2024

WE ARE 2065

South Minneapolis painter Joanna Hallstrom explores how the United States will be 54% People of Color by 2065 in portraits of 16 local students

Ashre, 9, (at left) and Diane, 7, talk about their experiences of school, family and growing up. These hundreds of hours of audio were then cut down to about 20 minutes that play in the exhibit as viewers look at the 16 portraits and hear stories of those featured within it.

By Tesha M. Christensen


Painter Joanna Hallstrom

The year the USA will become 54% People of Color (according to Pew Research Center projections).

South Minneapolis artist Joanna Hallstrom has painted 16 oil portraits of Minnesota students who will be living this change. 

“We are a changing nation and our faces are changing. My motivation for this portrait study is to offer a small, hopeful glimpse into our future and to show who we will be in 46 years””honoring those who have traveled far, worked hard and endured much to allow the next generation to stand on their shoulders and lead, teach and guide us,” said Hallstrom.


Hallstrom grew up in the same house as an accomplished illustrator and painter, but didn”'t pursue art initially even though she loved it. Instead, she began a career with nonprofits, working as the Refugee Resettlement Manager for the Minnesota World Relief office and then as project management for community organizations such as the Kingfield Neighborhood Association, Kingfield Farmer”'s Market and the Nicollet East Harriet Business Association.  In 2009, Hallstrom decided to develop her artistic side. She returned to her hometown of Alexandria, Minn. with her husband and young family so she could pursue a communication and art and design degree full-time from Alexandria Technical and Community College, where her father and well-known artist, Myron Sahlberg, was teaching. 

She graduated with honors and received 16 AAF (American Ad Federation) awards for her design and illustration work, including a judge”'s choice award from the AAF Central District 8 for an oil painting. 

Back in Minneapolis, Hallstrom took an illustration class at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design (MCAD), and began meeting monthly with a group of illustrators. Now working as a graphic designer, Hallstrom wanted to hone in on her fine arts skills with the goal of doing more painting and illustration work. 

In the winter of  2017, she painted a series of small portraits of Syrian refugees and found an immediate connection with painting the human face.

Hallstrom applied for a  Minnesota Artist Initiative Grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board in 2015, and didn”'t get it. She used the first process as a learning opportunity, and took the feedback she received to refine her ideas and her work. Hallstrom knew that she wanted to focus the project on refining her portrait skills, and it made sense to build upon her background with diverse populations and refugees. She wanted to do a project that would be valuable to the community, and found her inspiration after reading an article based on information from the Pew Research Center about how the demographics of the United States are changing.

“I came across this statistic, and I thought it would be an interesting statistic to reflect on,” observed Hallstrom, as well as a way to engage a public audience around the topic. 

She applied for a grant again and this time she got it. Hallstrom is the 2018 recipient of an Artists Initiative Grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board.



According to the Minnesota State Demographic Center, the numbers of Latino, Black, and Asian Minnesotans are projected to more than double over the next 30 years.

Hallstrom”'s goal with her project is “to celebrate our changing demographics and put faces to our future U.S. leaders, entrepreneurs, specialists, teachers, artists, and elders.”

She recruited 16 students ages kindergarten to college to participate, partnering with Banyan Community, Minneapolis College, and The Lift. She also reached out to families and staff she knew at Emerson Spanish Immersion, Windom Dual Immersion and Anwatin Middle School. 

She found them all amazing to work with. “They were insightful, funny and very honest,” stated Hallstrom. “It was a privilege to work with them, and I hope that I highlight their unique voice in this project about our changing national community.”

“Parents were very excited for their children to be chosen to be part of this project,” pointed out Banyan Community Education Program Manager Gale Cannon. “One parent said, ”˜This was a privilege for my child to be represented in project 2065.”'  All parents were eager to see their children represented in the portraits and felt the experience was very positive.”

Hallstrom pointed out that the portraits represent a range of ethnic and cultural backgrounds, and one can”'t assume what that background is when looking through them. For instance, a red-headed girl is Mexican and Norwegian. Another stduent claims Ethiopian and Native American heritage.

Because she was painting kids who might not be able to sit still for long, Hallstrom decided to paint from photographic references. Her sister, Maja Sahlberg, a professional photographer with a great eye for lighting and capturing an individual”'s personality, partnered with her for two days in the summer of 2018. College students Abby Reeth (Houghton college) and Abha Karnick (Hamline University) assisted.

Hallstrom worked on perfecting each painting right up until the project was officially complete and ready to install at MCTC. Minnesota based portrait painters, Bonita Roberts and Myron Sahlberg, critiqued her portraits along the way, giving input on her lines, her edges, and the likeness.

As the project moved forward, Hallstrom decided to incorporate a “soundscape” as she wanted to let the students share their experiences of school, family and growing up. She was talking about the idea with the father of one of the students involved one day, and Michael Sutz, producer and partner at Twelve Plus Media (2375 University Ave W. in St. Paul), offered to help with the audio. The interviews were conducted at Park Ave. United Methodist Church. Gregg Ward of  Studio Arcade then helped Hallstrom craft the hours of recordings into a series of soundscapes that are activated upon entering the portrait gallery. Stories weave in and out of each other.

The final step was constructing the moveable gallery which she designed with the help of Hans Schmidt of HJS Architecture. Her husband and father helped her construct it.

“I”'m inviting people to hear and listen and see,” stated Hallstrom.

She added, “A portrait represents the image of an individual,” and a collection of portraits represent the image of a community. 

“This project is a community portrait of Minnesota students who represent our nation in 2065 and our future leaders, teachers, and elders.”

Hallstrom wants those who view this project to come away with a feeling of hopefulness. “There is so much fearful rhetoric out there right now,” she observed. “But I am hopeful about what this generation can do.”


A reception will be held at Banyan Community (2529 13th Ave. S.) from 6:30-9 p.m. on April 30, and the gallery available to view there May 1-2.

“It made sense to host the exhibit here, when we think of where Banyan Community is located, in the Phillips Neighborhood ”“ a diverse neighborhood with a long history of being welcoming place for indigenous and immigrant people,” observed Banyan Executive Director Joani Essenburg.

“The WE ARE 2065 project is one of the many opportunities to learn about our rich diversity. The near Southside (Phillips) is one of the most diverse neighborhoods that currently reflects the America of the future.  It is a great reminder that in the midst of a low-income neighborhood ”“ we are the future.  

“As people visit and learn more about our faces, they will also learn about our stories, our achievements, and our dreams. Portraits and photographs give us permission to stare. Through staring we are able to take time to reflect and perhaps ponder how we are more alike than different. Taking time to consider the power of the messages in this exhibit is a great value to our neighborhood, our neighbors, our children, our friends and most of all our elected officials. We look forward to seeing you at the exhibit, and please bring your friends.”

This exhibit is available to show at community spaces throughout Minnesota. Contact Joanna Hallstrom at to reserve. It will be shown in Glenwood, Minn. the month of July.

“As people interact with each student”'s portrait (54% of the whom are students of color) and their voices, my hope is that they will leave with more openness, wonder and confidence in our future together,” said Hallstrom.

More at #project2065

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