Liberate Those Cups!

Quick! Get yourself to the Plains Art Museum today! April 1 is the last day to view the Misfit Cup Liberation Project by artist Michael J. Strand.

Plains Art Museum, Fargo, ND


Our travels don’t have to take us far to find something to satisfy curiosity. Yesterday (at long last) I made it over to the Strand exhibit, just one day before it starts to be packed up for a voyage to China. Yes, pottery will soon be on its way to China–and Norway and even more countries before they make their ways back to Fargo.


I first met artist Michael J. Strand a few months ago, when several of us were invited to lunch to talk about creative collaborations. Michael is way ahead of all of us. His Misfit Cup Liberation Project begins with crafting beautiful, hand-thrown cups. He trades them for a “misfit” cup, but in return for his marvelous cup, you have to give up a story. As a historian and literary editor (and coffee drinker), I am in seventh heaven to muse my way through this exhibit.


A long view of the exhibit, with a close-up sample of one of the hand-thrown cups traded for the storied cups

The cups are full of character, little chips, dings, matched sets, oddities. But the stories, oh the stories . . . Here is a small sample.

One unmentionable trade-in cup kept under wraps.
Michael J. Strand, photo opp

By good fortune (maybe because it was my birthday), as my husband and I were exiting the exhibit, the artist was entering. He graciously allowed me an impromptu photo, and answered my questions about the exhibit. When I asked him which traded-in cup was his favorite, he quickly replied, The Ex-Con, and directed me straight over to see it. He is having lunch with the contributor this week.

Ex-Con (etched into the cup is a man's name and his prison identification number)


When guests give up a cup and a story, they choose their cup–which was originally housed in the place their old cup now sits. Guests sign a picture of the cup they took. It was a marvelous idea to post the cup-shots; otherwise these works of art would disappear totally from our view, perhaps until another chance to make a trade.

Do not despair if you can’t catch the misfit cups. After the multi-nation tour, Michael will do something new with the cups that will capture our interest and curiosity. He doesn’t know just what that is yet, but he says that is all part of his research–studying the stories, “scrutinizing the function of art and craft in contemporary society.”

According to the gallery, we can expect more collaborative projects as an impulse of Engage U–“a cross-disciplinary group of art activists, students, and others seeking to develop innovative and thought-provoking art projects.” Congratulations to Michael J. Strand for getting Engage U in the public eye.

Funding organizations: Engage U, North Dakota State University, Members of Plains Art Museum, The McKnight Foundation, The Minnesota State Arts Board, the North Dakota Council on the Arts, and the cities of Fargo, Moorhead, and West Fargo through The Arts Partnership