MN NICE: Year Eight

Program Info Session
Join us for a MN NICE program information session via Zoom, where we will discuss the program’s many components before opening the floor to questions.

Virtual, Thursday, April 21, 6 pm CT, FREE

MN NICE program leader, Ursula Hargens (far right) leads a group critique session.

Last November, we celebrated our seventh graduating class of Minnesota New Institute for Ceramic Education (MN NICE). The program is currently in its eighth year with another eager and dedicated student body. This unique cohort sees diverse perspectives as a strength, and, under the example of program head Ursula Hargens, are generous with their knowledge and support of one another. Their skills and ideas progress with the resources and support of the program and their collective edifying momentum. Students enrolled in the 2021 program include: Carla Arnevik, Lynda Buscis, Mary Garvie, Julian Gruber, Jo-Anne Reske Kirkman, Carol Patt, Martha Rehkamp, and Mary Zeleny Arimond. Samantha Longley, education coordinator at NCC, interviewed students who recently completed the program’s first trimester to gather insight on their experience so far.

What was compelling to you about the MN NICE program and why did you choose to apply?

Mary Garvie (MG): I had been pondering applying to the MN NICE program for a couple of years. I wanted to learn more of the nuts and bolts behind the process and be able to take more responsibility for the outcome of my work.

Mary Zeleny Arimond (MZA): The most intriguing aspect of the MN NICE program is the intensity of study that provides focus and incorporates a blend of ceramic history, science, technology and aesthetics.

What experience have you found most motivational, and why?

MG: Hands down the most motivational experience I have found in the MN NICE program is this amazing cohort of creative, supportive, kind, generous colleagues I have surrounding me.

Julian Gruber (JG): I’ve found the opportunities to speak with fellow artists to be the most motivating. Whether it’s affiliate artists with an established practice or fellow artists in my cohort—there is such a rich exchange of ideas!

How has MN NICE changed the way you approach your ideas or process?

JG: The program has asked me to question the foundations of what I make and why I make it. That has led to an initial lack of confidence but has laid the groundwork for my practice to evolve into something more unique and authentic to me. It’s a long journey and a worthwhile one.

How does your interaction with the other members of your cohort influence or support your development?

Marty Rehkamp (MR): I think it is great to see people of all ages and experiences come together over a common bond. We all want to be better artists and have made similar commitments to this ideal. I think our age differences provide different perspectives on living lives as artists at whatever stage we are in. The feedback from fellow cohorts and artist mentors has been very valuable in helping me think critically about my ideas and their execution.

MZA: Sharing time, work, ideas and feedback with my cohort has added a richness to the MN NICE program that has encouraged me to experiment and try new and unique approaches to my work.

How does the MN NICE class dynamic differ from your experience with other education models?

Carla Arnevik (CA): Coming from highly structured college settings, the starkest difference with MN NICE is the gentle way it meets us where we’re at, caters to personal curiosity, and facilitates an open and inquisitive dialogue. One of the most beautiful things about the ceramics community, in general, is the way it fosters generosity between makers. This year’s cohort has a number of art teachers and designers, so it feels like we’re bathing in a wide pool of influences, not to mention Ursula’s extensive enthusiasm and knowledge of ceramic history. I love our array of ages and backgrounds, and feel inspired by the playfulness of my classmates each week.

Carol Patt (CP): MN NICE is a very personal course that emphasizes questioning, self-discovery and investigation. The time span over a year is aimed at an arc of development rather than a cafeteria style course selection you may get at a college. We are a small group and that encourages collaboration and opportunity to know one another as artists on a deep level.

MR: The structure of assigned reading material about the history of clay, philosophies about clay, and technical hand-outs is very grounding—immersion is a very useful educational style! I have been made to confront, and been given the help, to conquer the aspect of ceramics that I have feared—the technical aspects of making glazes and firing a kiln.

What objectives has this program helped you to articulate and what are you hoping to accomplish in blocks two and three?

MR: Joining MN NICE required an important shift in thinking. I had to make a commitment to an idea I had put off for a very long time—thinking of myself as an artist. Being committed to the idea of being an artist meant I could give myself approval to create the mental space needed to think about my art and approval to create the necessary time required for the actual making. The first block has reinforced my confidence that I made a good decision. Moving on to the rest of the year I feel I will have the tools to experiment more boldly and have gained the confidence to stretch my ideas.

CA: With the guidance of the cohort and Ursula, I’ve been beginning to find subtle ways to address trauma in my work, find more balance between exploratory vs. production-oriented processes, and find methods to keep making even when creative juices have felt depleted or buried. In the next couple of blocks, I’m looking forward to delving into soda firing, exploring the interaction between fiber and clay, and challenging myself to construct something (however small) every day.

CP: Several of my objectives have already been met with this program. I wanted to challenge myself and grow as an artist; I may not have immediate success, but I’ve been taking more risks and moving some of those pots off the back burner. I am looking forward to the upcoming year, diving into new ideas, learning new techniques, exploring ceramic history, experimenting with glazes and being challenged to get organized business-wise.

Is MN NICE right for you?

MN NICE supports the development of studio work and provides high-level training in ceramic materials, history and theory, and professional practices. Through instruction and individual mentorship, students build skills, knowledge, and insight necessary to create a personal and cohesive body of work. The program is led by ceramics artist and educator, Ursula Hargens, and is supported by a dedicated group of Affiliate Artists, who are professional studio artists and educators in the greater Twin Cities community.

Hargens explains, “The MN NICE Program helps emerging artists reflect upon the experiences that have brought them to ceramics and articulate the meaning behind their work. Throughout the year, assignments, individual research, and discussions prompt participants to explore and integrate new techniques, materials, and creative approaches into their studio practice. In addition, group and mentor discussions with Affiliate Artists challenge participants to see their work from different perspectives and in different contexts.

“Participants develop their artistic voice and receive the support necessary to transition from one career or phase of life to another. MN NICE graduates have received artist grants and awards in juried exhibitions and been accepted into competitive MFA programs. They are also engaged in the ceramic community, teaching classes, collaborating with other artists, and actively exhibiting and selling their work.”

Priority applications are due Friday, April 8, 2022 at 5 pm CT, and applications are reviewed on an ongoing basis until June 1 for September 2022 enrollment.

To request detailed information, contact Samantha Longley at or 612.339.8007 x309.