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Students inspired by story behind their bench

The latest public art project by the Rochester Arts Council , the group that created the Goose is Loose statues, encourages you to touch, even sit on, the art.

That's because this time, the project involves artistically designed and decorated benches.

"It's artwork you can sit on and touch and be enveloped in," said Bari Amadio, executive director of the arts council.

Even the project's name, " Life's a Bench, " encourages people to sit down and soak in the beauty around them.

Yet it's just that idea that has Samantha Green so worried. She is one of four students from the Rochester Off Campus charter school, who along with their art teacher, Nora Luskey, are painting a bench that will be placed in the Peace Plaza later this month.


"We were freaking out," she said of the highly visible location. "This is permanent."

Professional painters

The other 12 benches, which also will be placed downtown, are being painted by professional artists, including one for Rochester City Hall by Laura Hanora Rice, who painted the goose in front of Think Bank last year and a heron for Winona's public art project. A bench with images from the Plummer Building doors is being painted by Ann Riggott, who painted two geese last year. Gayle Dahl, who also painted a goose last year, is doing a bench for Historic Third Street with folk art of historic Rochester buildings. And puzzle maker Mike Snyder is creating one covered in mazes for Rochester Public Library.

The program is funded by a legacy grant from the Southeast Minnesota Arts Council, the Rochester Downtown Alliance and several sponsors,

The bench designed and painted by Green, her older brother, Joshua, and classmates Samantha Richert and Ryan Grissom was commissioned by Dr. Alan Hoffman and his wife, Judy, who had faith that the charter school students could do it.

Believing in students and providing opportunities for them to succeed was something Alan Hoffman shared with his brother, who taught math at Queens College in New York. 

"He was a big advocate for kids who came to college not fully prepared," Hoffman said. "A lot of youngsters and adults are fearful of math, but he thought everybody could learn math."

About the time the Hoffmans commissioned the students to do the bench, Hoffman's brother died.


Still committed to sponsoring the bench, Hoffman shared information about his brother that had been put together for the memorial. And that's where the students found their inspiration.

Bench art

Green, who just finished her freshman year at the charter school, came up with the idea for a tree, which she said represents growth and change. The other students added their ideas and put in long days this week, side by side the other bench artists, at Graham Arena, where all of the benches are being painted.

Each day, Green becomes more confident about its success, which was exactly the boost Hoffman said he hoped to provide.

"It just all came together," Green said as she painted the roots of the tree.

Next week, before the benches are moved to their permanent locations later this month, they will be brought to Auto Refinishers Plus where they will be given a clear coating, making the artwork permanent.

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