Minnesota owl center auctions art created by Ukrainian children

The online auction features 59 pieces and ends on Sunday.

International Owl Center art
An owl created by 15-year-old Sofiia Levchenko from Ukraine.

HOUSTON, Minn. – In the midst of Russia’s attack on Ukraine, Karla Bloem, like so many others, watched and wondered what she could do to help.

Bloem happens to have hundreds of pieces of artwork created by Ukrainian children.

That’s because she’s the executive director of the International Owl Center. Since 2004, the organization has hosted an owl art contest for kids as a way to involve young people in the International Festival of Owls that the center hosts. The contest has morphed into a highly competitive international art competition over the last several years.

The center receives “more than a couple thousand pieces of art from three or four dozen countries every year,” Bloem said. Once the contest ends, the center doesn’t have the means to send the art back to the creator. So it sits in storage.

“When things started happening in Ukraine, I thought, ‘Well, we have a lot of artwork from Ukraine. Let’s share some of this on our Facebook page,’” Bloem said.


Artwork from Russian children was also shared on social media, and the response the center received was overwhelming.

People started asking how they could purchase the art, which turned into Bloem’s current venture: an auction of art by Ukrainian children to benefit themselves.

The center’s staff rummaged through storage and soon found more than 300 pieces of art from Ukraine.

Now, with help from the Houston Area Community Foundation and the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation, the center has an online auction set up with 59 pieces of Ukrainian art. It will close Sunday, March 20, 2022 at 8 p.m.

International Owl Center art
Owl artwork created by 14-year-old Sofia Burevich of Ukraine.

The auction is more than just raising money.

“There’s this other side – we’re seeing this with Ukraine right now – this connection to these kids who are now going through who knows what awful things, who have made these sweet, innocent and wonderful pieces of art,” Bloem said.

The center has experienced this sort of humbling connection before. Kids from Ethiopia have submitted art, but they couldn’t mail in their pieces because of civil war. Iranian children have to mail their art from a neighboring country because the U.S. doesn’t receive packages from Iran.

“Occasionally, we’ve had people say, ‘Well, if my child wins, is that going to help their chances of immigrating to the United States?’” Bloem said. “It’s this reality check like, wow, this is what kids are going through in other countries.


“[The auction] gives people a really tangible connection to a child over there. And, you know, unfortunately, when you look at that name and go, ‘Where is this child right now? Are they okay?’ But it gives people a really strong connection to what's going over there but also a feeling of like, ‘I'm really actually doing something that's going to help.”

All money raised will be donated to UNICEF to aid children of Ukraine. Bloem expects to hold additional auctions in the coming weeks.

For now, the auction is happening here .

Abby Sharpe joined the Post Bulletin in February 2022 after graduating from Arizona State University with a sports journalism degree. She loves sports, '90s sitcoms, historical fiction and Quentin Tarantino movies. Readers can reach Abby at 507-285-7723 or
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