A Culmination: MSUM Artists and Designers Present Final Projects


By: Katie Betz, betzka@mnstate.edu

“Art” and “design” are two words which connote creativity and intelligence.

Art and graphic design majors are putting both to good use in this year’s Bachelor of Fine Arts exhibit. Seniors in these majors are displaying their final projects in MSUM’s Art Gallery. 

Senior Sydney Pahl is a graphic design major with a Spanish minor. She is currently displaying her design for promoting a fictitious sports complex which gives youth ages 5-18 an opportunity to try less “accessible” sports like bobsled and luge.

For a time, Pahl was unsure what she wanted to do for her major. After she tried paralegal and didn’t think it was for her, she explored MSUM’s list of majors and settled on the one that she thought she would “hate the least.”

“Once I started the program, I ended up really liking it and got to be pretty skilled and experienced in the programs that we use and how to put everything together. It’s kind of a whirlwind, but it worked out,” Pahl said with a laugh.

Sculpture major Meagan VanderMeulen is a senior graduating this spring. She explained why she chose her major.

“I took a sculpture class freshman year and I really, really liked working in three dimensions … I really liked the physicality working with things,” VanderMeulen said.

She did both photography and sculpture for a while, but eventually decided to focus on sculpture.  Her work displayed for the exhibit included a bed piece and sculptures constructed mainly using plastics.

Faith Arntson is a senior majoring in graphic design. Her display for the BFA show includes various elements promoting the “Hitching Post,” which is a wedding venue run by her father, Todd Arntson.

Zhimin Guan is an art professor at MSUM who has taught art for 20 years. He explained that the purpose of the senior project for art and graphic design majors is to create a piece that demonstrates professional proficiency.

Ideas and Inspiration

Coming up with the idea for a senior project is the hardest part, according to Pahl. Graphic design majors must propose the project in front of two or three professors who will advise them whether or not the project is a good portfolio piece, Pahl said.

“It’s basically what makes us pass or fail our major,” she said.

Her professor advised her to think of things that she enjoyed and try to think how that can be made into a project. 

“I kind of started thinking about it during the Winter Olympics,” Pahl said. “It originally was supposed to be a curling company that would go out and install curling teams, but then after my senior project review, I decided to tweak it a little bit and tailor it more toward more winter sports.”

Creating her fictitious sports complex was challenging. Pahl had to make up a history of the resort and decide what made it unique.

VanderMeulen called her display a “snapshot” of the work she has done so far.

“A lot of my work has been installation-based and stuff, which is hard to show in a gallery, so I was kind of trying to focus down and make things that are portable and installable in other spaces, while still showing the materials and the things that I’ve used in the past,” VanderMeulen said.


Each artist and designer used multiple elements in their final projects.

For Pahl, creating the brand for her fictitious business was the first step. She had to have five different projects as part of her final display. She ended up with a logo, tagline, website, mobile app (for connecting visiting children with each other), an informational guide, a poster series and a history timeline. Pahl’s favorite elements to create were her print pieces, especiallythe large history timeline, even though figuring out how to prepare everythingwas a challenge.

“We have to think about how everything is going to work together and not just [work on] individual pieces,” Pahl said.

It is important for designers to think about their project from a “marketing and strategizing” point of view, because the project is not only for the gallery. Pahl explained that it is something designers will want to show potential employers as well.

VanderMeulen explained that she is inspired by nature and organic form, as well as how plastics affect nature. She really enjoys working with plastics as her medium.

“I’ve kind of been looking a lot more at feminism and those kinds of directions with my work as well,” VanderMeulen said.

As a test to see what direction she will take her work, VanderMeulen made a bedpiece which had pillows embroidered with feminist messages addressing sexual assault.

Arntson’sfirst step with her project was to make the logo and then decide what projects she was going to take on. She decided to make stationary, advertisements, a sign and a website. Each of these projects had different elements, such as envelopes and posters.

For Arntson, her favorite part of the design was creating the brochure.

“I had to take a standard trifold brochure idea and turned it into something more,” Arntson said. “It’s got a pocket, it’s got little slits for a business card, just making that was kind of fun.”

Parting Advice for Students

Guan encourages students to think nationally when applying for a job and not limit themselves to jobs only in Fargo-Moorhead. 

“There are a lot of needs for great designers and artists and educators,” Guan said. “I encourage them to go far, to go anywhere and if they come back … from New York or California if you like, even better, but you have to search far away to really have good real-life experience.”

“Learning never stops and you’re never going to know it all,” Pahl said regarding what being a graphic design major has taught her. “There’s always going to be some new technology or design trend that you’re not up to speed on, and so you’re always going to have to be continually learning and researching.”

Into the Future

Each of the students has different trajectories as they graduate. Pahl has a job in Iowa working with Mills Marketing before she has even graduated.

VanderMeulen is planning to stay at MSUM through next semester after graduation to get a sculpting certificate.

Arntson is hoping to continue doing graphic design and marketing for her dad with the“Hitching Post,” and working at Custom Concepts, a design shop she currently works at.

The BFA exhibit pieces are the result of a lot of work and thought from designers and artists alike. This exhibit shows just a little glimpse of their journeys as artists or designers.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: