Sally Jeppson remembers the look on senior citizens’ faces at nursing homes when they get to view a visiting art exhibit on their walls.

The part-time gallery manager for The Arts Center also works as a contracted artist to bring arts activities for the elderly around the state as part of the Art for Life program through the North Dakota Council on the Arts. She is also working with the South Dakota Council on the Arts to bring art to facilities in South Dakota.

“You can see the appreciation and it’s probably the most rewarding work,” Jeppson said. “It is the most rewarding aspect that I’ve done with art, I mean as far as giving something back and seeing how it changes people’s lives.”

The Arts Center partners with Ave Maria Village and the Heritage Centre with the Art for Life program and Jeppson is the program coordinator.

“It is huge,” she said of the impact. “Life in a nursing home is not always that pleasant whether you have dementia or whether your independent living (is affected). Your life is usually changed radically when you move into a facility like that so there is a lot of depression, hopelessness, boredom, and activities like art or bringing animals or field trips can really make a difference in the well-being and mental state of elders.”

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She recently installed an exhibit at St. Rose Care Center in LaMoure and said it “really transforms the facility, the residents are asking questions ..." A zoo visit and a painting activity with fourth graders and seniors were held before the coronavirus pandemic halted activities, she said.

In Jamestown, residents at the Heritage Centre through the program helped decorate one of the mosaic benches that are located in the Hansen Arts Park.

“They each did a panel,” she said and are proud of it. “They see it as a legacy that their grandchildren and their great-grandchildren” can see.

Arts Center work

Jeppson, who has a Master of Arts in art history, spent 11 years in various positions at the Plains Art Museum in Fargo, including serving as curator, before coming to The Arts Center almost 20 years ago.

She said her main responsibility at The Arts Center is securing exhibitions for the gallery space. When an exhibit comes in, she does everything from unpacking, recording and organizing it to installing it for the public to view.

“It’s a physical job. … people think it’s easy sometimes,” she said. “But you can have two people do it and you can get a very different result.”

While she doesn’t consider herself an artist, she says there’s a very artistic component to doing exhibit design and exhibit installation “and so that would sort of be my artwork.”

Jeppson and her husband, Deane Colin Fay, who is an artist, live in Gackle and own Starview Enterprises, an exhibit design company. They do small exhibit projects around the state for museums and businesses and have done work for the North Dakota Council on the Arts. She said some of that work has helped bring exhibits to The Arts Center, including the Walter Piehl retrospective last summer with which she worked on with Minot State University. Piehl also appeared in Jamestown at the Downtown Arts Market.

“And I always try to do that,” she said, bring something to The Arts Center if possible through her other work.

That type of work, fostering partnerships, is one that others in the field recognize.

“Sally is just an invaluable resource, not only on (a) local but on a state level because of her collaborative spirit,” said Searle Swedlund, board chair of the North Dakota Council on the Arts.

Mindi Schmitz, executive director of The Arts Center, said Jeppson is “an invaluable asset. Her sense of quality is impeccable, really."

She said what struck her about Jeppson is that when Schmitz, new to the job, and Jeppson attended a conference for the North Dakota Council on the Arts in Bismarck, she was known by everyone and they all had positive things to say about her.

"She’s really well-known in North Dakota art circles and for good reason,” Schmitz said.

Jeppson said she enjoys the diversity of the people and art that come through The Arts Center. She tries to make a more personal connection through her work there.

“We’ve been doing these artist lunches and having the artist interact with the general public, not so much on a formal evening reception but it’s like let’s have a meal together, let’s hear what the artist talks about and then it gives me an opportunity to share some of my other passions like cooking or something like that,” she said. “The Arts Center is flexible enough to be able to do some of those things where small organizations, people, if they want to explore some of their other passions are able to do that. And I think that our members and the community appreciate that … the more personal touch,” she said.

The Hansen Arts Park has also brought more people into the facility who didn’t know it was there, she said. She said they are getting very positive feedback from people on the music and other experiences in the Arts Park.

“It’s kind of justification we’re doing the right thing or going in the right direction. And to see all ages ... enjoying the art experience together is really satisfying," she said.