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1,000 cranes symbolize life, hope — and scope of ASU art program

ASU MFA student's crane sculptures take flight; see them in downtown Tempe.
September 14, 2016

Sculptor John Tuomisto-Bell returns to school for MFA, says Herberger Institute has taught him to think globally

Exactly 1,000 bronzed, origami cranes appear to float in a main corridor of a sprawling, $900 million Tempe office complex, just up the road from where the installation’s creator says he learned to apply a worldwide perspective to his art.  

John Tuomisto-Bell says his latest project symbolizes the fragility of life combined with his permanent wishes for peace, hope and compassion — and that it wouldn’t have come together without Arizona State University.

“Before, I used to think small potatoes and was fairly narrow-minded, but now I am thinking globally and on a much larger scale,” said Tuomisto-Bell, a third-year master of fine arts sculpting student in ASU’s School of Art in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts.

The installation gracing a large building on insurance giant State Farm’s regional campus headquarters comes after the 53-year-old Tuomisto-Bell returned to the classroom after years of professional success — joining countless others in making such a move through ASU.

“In many cases, artists come back to get their master’s because they want a shift in their career, want to explore new technologies,” School of Art director Adriene Jenik said. “Others miss being challenged and getting critical feedback.”

Herberger’s Master of Fine Arts (MFA) program graduates 65 to 75 students a year and accepts two to three sculpting students in each class, she said. 

Veteran sculpting instructor James White, who taught Tuomisto-Bell as an undergraduate 25 years ago, said getting an MFA is a good business move.

“In the art world, there are doors closed that you don’t even know are closed because someone has a master’s degree and the other person does not,” White said. “There is no higher degree for a practicing studio artist than an MFA —  and no greater prestige.”

Jenik said there have been several influential recent graduates, including interdisciplinary artist Kade Twist.

Twist creates interactive media installations with video, sound and text. His work has been exhibited in the Museum of Contemporary Native Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico, the Chelsea Art Museum in New York City and the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.

“Once our students leave here, they’re getting teaching jobs, winning major awards, having exhibits, are shown in major museums, and those are all markers that ASU is having an impact on the world,” Jenik said. 

ASU’s sculpting program has built-in incentives, including a nationally recognized foundry, White said. Tuition can be offset by grants, scholarships and teaching stipends, and students often leave the program with little or no debt, he said. MFA students also receive studio space at Grant Street Studios in Phoenix’s warehouse district, giving their work better visibility and an opportunity to create in an environment with other artists.  

When Tuomisto-Bell received his Bachelor of Fine Arts in 1991, he envisioned himself as a “player in the New York scene, but that success never materialized.”

He did, however, find a place in the Arizona workforce, casting large and small bronze pieces for commercial clients with local foundries. He opened his own shop in 2001 with his wife, Julie, and brother Christian Bell. He said the Tuomisto-Bell Studio Foundry has provided steady income for years, enabling him buy a house and raise a family.

He also developed into an award-wining artist, with works on display across the U.S. and major collections in the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, the Mesa Arts Center and the Shemer Art Center in Phoenix.

"We're thrilled that John decided to pursue graduate work at ASU," Herberger Institute Dean Steven J. Tepper said. "As an established professional artist, he brings a lot to the program, and it's gratifying to watch his progress as an artist in his time here. Most careers these days morph and change and take unexpected directions; John is one of several students, undergraduate and graduate, who have decided to return to a university, and to the Herberger Institute in particular, to forge new pathways. "

Tuomisto said the master’s program has sharpened his skills while expanding his scope.

Last year, he took the 1,000 Cranes project to an elementary school in Hiroshima, Japan, in memory of a young girl who became sick and died after the infamous atomic bomb blast at the end of World War II. She was said to have continuously folded origami cranes, praying that if she made 1,000 her health would improve.

“Some people have told me that you can’t do anything about the violence of mankind, that war has always been a part of our existence and will always be,” Tuomisto-Bell said. “I do not think this is true. I just look at how Hiroshima has transformed from the ashes of war into a beautiful city full of wonderful, loving people, and my hope in mankind is restored.”

Tuomisto-Bell brought back the concept to Tempe in the hopes that “peace can be heard from this generation and future generations.”

See the installation

Address: 450 E. Rio Salado Parkway, Tempe, 85281

Viewers can see 1,000 Cranes from the public sidewalk behind Building 3 on the State Farm at Marina Heights campus. 

Other influential sculptors

• 2015 MFA sculpture grad Cecily Culver won the 2015 Dedalus Foundation Fellowship in Painting and Sculpture, which included a $20,000 grant and a studio to showcase her work in New York.

• 2014 MFA sculpting student Bobby Zokaites has produced artwork for public spaces in Minnesota, New Jersey, Missouri and Arizona.

• Incoming MFA sculpting student Cydnei Mallory is a 2016-17 Autodesk Scholarship winner. It will enable her to travel to Italy to learn the craft of carving stone and marble. Her works have been exhibited in several galleries in Pennsylvania and Arizona.  

Reporter , ASU News


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Vilsack: Universities vital to helping farmers survive climate change

Research on assessing climate change called vital for food security.
September 14, 2016

US secretary of agriculture tells ASU audience that research, partnerships are key

Food security is vital to America’s freedom, and protecting farmers from the effects of climate change will require the collaboration of universities, the U.S. secretary of agriculture said.

Tom Vilsack, who has been the nation’s ag chief for the entirety of the Obama administration, spoke at Arizona State University on Wednesday about the impact of climate change on farming and ranching. The Fall Forum event was sponsored by the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability at ASU.

“In my lifetime, we’ve seen a 170 percent increase in agricultural productivity,” Vilsack said, noting that Americans spend about 10 percent of their paychecks on food, compared with 25 to 50 percent in other countries.

“We are a food-secure nation,” Vilsack said. “China can’t say that. Russia can’t say that.

“That’s why it’s important to talk about the future that will exist with a changing climate.”

Besides drought, other possible effects of climate change could be increases in pests and livestock diseases, more frequent and severe storms and more firesThe U.S. Forest Service, overseen by the USDA, has seen the money it spends on fire suppression mushroom from 16 percent of its budget a decade ago to 56 percent now, which means less money for restoration and resiliency efforts in forests, Vilsack said..

Vilsack said the Obama administration has charged universities with doing more research on climate and water issues as well as specific solutions such as grazing patterns and drought-resistant crops.

“Arizona State is working with our ‘climate hub’ in New Mexico, looking at every aspect of climate change and doing assessments” to give technical support to farmers, ranchers and forest landowners, he said.

The Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability has several projects that address climate change and agriculture, including the “One Million Tons” project, which is creating data on the use of adaptive multi-paddock grazing for carbon sequestration, water retention and plant and microbial biodiversity. That project also includes outreach to ranchers and farmers and agricultural policy development.

Osvaldo Sala

Osvaldo Sala, a professor in the School of Sustainability, said during the panel discussion that universities should help find evidence-based solutions. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

After his speech, Vilsack moderated a forum on sustainability that focused on the importance of collaboration among governments, corporations, conservationists and universities. The panel featured Osvaldo Sala, the Foundation Professor and Julie A. Wrigley Chair at ASU, where he contributes to both the School of Life Sciences and the School of Sustainability. His research has predicted that climate change will result in big variations from year to year, with very dry periods alternating with very wet periods.

Sala said that climate researchers used to think their stakeholders were primarily ranchers, but now they realize their work is important to people who are interested in conservation, recreation, job creation and other issues.

“We hope the universities would provide the knowledge to shift from the emotion-driven confrontations that we’re seeing in the news every day to an evidence-based negotiation,” he said, citing the ongoing conflict over the Dakota Access pipeline in North Dakota, which is conflicting the interests of Native Americans, conservationists, an oil company and a local community.

Mark Killian

Mark Killian, director of the Arizona Department of Agriculture, said that universities have made huge contributions to the advancement of agriculture. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Mark KillianKillian also is a former member of the Board of Regents, a state legislator and director of the Arizona Department of Revenue. His family has been in farming and ranching in Arizona for more than 100 years. He graduated from ASU in 1981., director of the Arizona Department of Agriculture, said that the knowledge produced at universities has helped keep America free.

“That creation of knowledge on the ground has transformed American agriculture from subsistence levels to the greatest producer in the world today. To my mind, agriculture is the most important strategic industry we have.

“The countries that can feed themselves are free.”

Killian said that universities have created improvements in everything from water-saving irrigation nozzles to crop genetics.


Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack speaks briefly with BioDesign PhD student Thiago Barbosa on Wednesday, Sept. 14, at the Memorial Union.

Vilsack said that young people today have the opportunity to redefine the American economy.

“We talk about bringing manufacturing back. We have the capacity to have a plant-based economy. We already have a $360 billion industry of making chemicals and fibers that are plant based. There’s unlimited possibility to convert an economy that has for too long been dependent on fossil fuels.”

Killian said that the challenge for today’s university students is to avoid partisanship and work together.

“We have people who go to bed hungry. How can anyone in America today go to bed hungry? Feeding people, from a moral standpoint, is one of the most important things we do in the world.

“If you focus on that, solutions will come together quickly.”

Top photo: U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack spoke at the Fall Forum, sponsored by the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability at ASU. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now.

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU News