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veryone loves to root for the underdog, the competitor thought to have little chance of winning. 1959: Pirates vs. Yankees. 1969: Jets vs. Colts. 1980: U.S.A. vs. Soviet Union. 1985: Villanova vs. Georgetown. Oddly enough, as an art teacher of 8th grade students in Grand Rapids, MN, I, too, know what it's like to be the underdog. The Minnesota Vikings made a callout to artists nationwide seeking fine art to be permanently displayed inside their brand new stadium. I knew the odds were extremely unlikely,
but on behalf of the young students I teach and I believe in, this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity I could not pass up. And thus, I submitted an application. 2016: 8th grade art students vs. 1000+ professional artists. I, like Herb Brooks, was hoping for a miracle...! 


The Vikings contacted me several months later. From 1,100 art submissions, they chose only 104 artists... and they wanted 18 of them to be my students! But exactly who would make this "Miracle on Art" team roster? My art teaching role was now looking more like a scouting and recruiting job. I needed the best players. They each had to have extraordinary art talent, incredible work ethic, and fierce commitment. But I also needed one more key element for my team to be its best. This permanent art display was not going in an art museum, but in a professional sports stadium. We weren't asked to paint landscapes, but to paint famous Minnesota-born athletes. Therefore, I needed the most passionate student athletes and sports fanatics; students who value this sports venue and admire the famous athletes the most. I reflected upon the hundreds of students I taught in 8th grade art class over the past three years. 


After long, serious contemplation, I drafted my Art Dream Team:

It was the perfect team. Under pressure, each student stepped up to the challenge. The Vikings gave us a short and stressful five week deadline to complete eighteen portrait paintings. That may sound like a lot of time... and perhaps it is for a full time professional artist, but this happened in March, and my artists are full time students and athletes. They still have to attend school all day, go to sports practice after school, and do their homework at night. Now add relentless hours of drawing and painting to an already-demanding schedule, and anyone could buckle under that kind of pressure. But not my tough artists. The students used the grid method and painstakingly drew every single line and shape inside 154 tiny squares with extreme accuracy. Then, using seven to eight different values of colors, they painted several layers of paint inside each tiny shape with the cleanest of edges. A few students finished their portrait paintings with time to spare, but the majority of the students worked tirelessly right up until the final second. It was a buzzer-beater; a finale finish. Triumphantly, my team not only finished on time, but they finished with the highest of craftsmanship as well. 


Minneapolis-bound, not just the artwork, but so were we. On July 25th, we were honored and celebrated at the brand new U.S. Bank Stadium's permanent Fine Art Collection Opening Reception. We were entertained on the ground floor suite with panoramic sideline views of the Vikings home turf. It was a cocktail attire event with live music, public speakers, complimentary food and beverage, and lots of press. We floated around the stadium alongside many accomplished professional artists and even three famous Vikings alum. Former Vikings football players Carl Eller, Jim Marshall, and Matt Blair, as well as former Vikings head coach, Bud Grant, were also selected to create artwork for the stadium's collection. We were amazed to be in the presence of such talent for one evening, let alone share permanent residency with them in the stadium's fine art collection. My amateur student artists signed autographs that evening. They deserved to. They earned it. They are my game-changers. They are our U.S. Art Hall-
of-Famers. 

Legacy is an achievement that continues to exist. Eighteen students from rural, northern Minnesota have left a definitive legacy down in the vast, cityscape of Minneapolis. Their artwork will be viewed by high traffic events such as the Luke Bryan and Metallica concerts (2016), the Soccer International Champions Cup (2016), the X Games (2017 & 2018), the SuperBowl Lll (2018), and the NCAA Final Four (2019). It will impress and inspire an immeasurable audience for an immeasurable amount of time. Sophomore swimmer, Annalie Marinucci, was recently contacted by the very person she painted and admires. Olympic gold medal swimmer, Rachel Bootsma, saw Annalie's portrait and immediately contacted her through social media stating, "I am so flattered and humbled... you did an incredible job!" Bootsma then asked Marinucci if she could repost the artwork to her friends and family, to which Marinucci agreed and appreciated. Similarly, without even stepping foot inside the new stadium, the family of legendary coach Herb Brooks had already caught a glimpse of the portrait painting created by sophomore hockey goalie, Gabe Holum. Kelly Brooks Paradise was impressed with Gabe's artistic tribute to her late father after seeing a picture of it through "a friend of a friend" on Facebook. Both Marinucci and Holum's permanently displayed artwork has already traveled out of the stadium and is now reaching a larger fan base. And there are many more stories like these. They are the ones yet to happen, the ones yet to be seen, written, told, and then retold... again
and again.


Art and sports are timeless. We look up to the masters and reexamine their best work. A thousand times we can watch an old sports highlight and study an old painting, and yet still enter with fresh eyes and leave with a renewed spirit. Forever enriching our lives, art and sports provide us the emotional drama that not only entertains but opens communication barriers among all generations. By including fine art in their sports stadium, U.S. Bank Stadium has proven that the two different subjects belong together. Even my young students have proven that artists can be athletes, and athletes can be artists. Afterall, art is a sport, and sports are an art. They are not on separate fields. They are not rivals. Rather, Art and Sport are on the very same team.

1.Grant Andersonfreshmanbaseball player who painted Chief Bender, Major League Baseball pitcher, coach, and manager from Crow Wing County, MN


2.Parker Aultman8th grade basketball player who painted Kevin McHale, professional basketball player, coach, manager, and Basketball Hall of Fame inductee from Hibbing, MN


3. Leah Brouse8th grade hockey player who painted Natalie Darwitz, Olympic silver and bronze medal hockey player from St.Paul, MN


4.Gavin Castle8th grade football player who painted Matt Birk, National Football League player and Super Bowl champion from St. Paul, MN


5. Maddie Drottsfreshmanhockey player who painted Amy Peterson, Olympic speed skater from Maplewood, MN


6. Nick Dumke8th gradebaseball player who painted Roger Maris, professional baseball player from Hibbing, MN


7.Cameron Grotjohnsophomore baseball player who painted Paul Molitor, Major League Baseball player, manager, and Baseball Hall of Fame inductee from St. Paul, MN


8.David Holtz8th gradeBMX enthusiast who painted Alise Post, professional bicycle motocross racer from St. Cloud, MN


9. Gabe Holum sophomorehockey goalie who painted Herb Brooks, Olympic gold medal hockey coach from St. Paul, MN


10.Kobie Koenigfreshman golfer who painted Tom Lehman, professional golfer from Austin, MN



11. Annalie Marinuccisophomore swimmer who painted Rachel Bootsma, Olympic gold medal swimmer from Minneapolis, MN


12. Hannah Mark8th grade hockey player who painted Krissy Wendell-Pohl, Olympic silver and bronze medal hockey player from Brooklyn Park, MN


13. Olivia McNeil8th grade basketball player who painted Lindsay Whalen, professional basketball player from Hutchinson, MN


14. Wyatt Miskovich8th gradehockey player who painted Neal Broten, Olympic gold medal hockey player and U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame inductee from Roseau, MN


15. Tyler Rooneyfreshman football player who painted John Madden, National Football League player, 

coach, and sports commentator from Austin, MN


16. Chris Rooneyfreshman soccer player who painted Tony Sanneh, major league soccer player from 

St. Paul, MN


17. Emily Saumersophomore soccer player who painted Briana Scurry, Olympic gold medal soccer goalkeeper from Minneapolis, MN


18. Lucia Wylandfreshman cross-country skier who painted Lindsey Vonn, Olympic gold medal alpine skier from St. Paul, MN

Nikki Lehtinen was born and raised near Indianapolis, IN and graduated from Purdue University.  She taught art for eight years in a suburb of Milwaukee, WI, before moving to northern Minnesota in 2012.  She has taught 8th grade art in Grand Rapids, MN for 3 years and counting.