Our story begins with Stella, a first-grader at Sisters Elementary School. Stella is an inquisitive, excited and “always-seeking-learning” kind of kid who beams with happiness when asked to share her artistic expression.

Stella was given an opportunity to paint fish, rocks and water in a community arts project entitled “River Celebration.” In class, she painted boulders and water, and in a community workshop after school she painted fish. She was one of the entire student body to participate in a GIANT fish assembly on the playground, with a drone overhead taking aerial photography. In her classroom, where teachers integrated art and science, Stella was able to raise steelhead fry and release them into Whychus Creek. Living right beside Whychus Creek in town, this was part of Stella’s world.

Stella, 1st grade Sisters Elementary School


Enter artist in residence Laura Campbell, who was tasked with creating an art project that represents the community’s desire to protect its watershed, and celebrates art by bringing community and kids together. Growing up and attending school in Sisters, Laura had many arts opportunities as a child. While in high school, Laura and a friend created a piece of art from a guitar, for the first-ever Painted Strings fundraiser through Sisters Folk Festival, that was sold to benefit music and arts education in the schools.

As a young adult and burgeoning artist, Laura continued to create professional-level work to benefit kids in Sisters’ schools, donating to the programs that had inspired her. Through her generosity and community service, Laura has continued to provide arts opportunities for young people for over a decade.

Laura Campbell, working on a donation for the My Own Two Hands Fundraiser for Sisters Folk Festival programs.


Laura was hired in 2016 to lead the River Celebration art project. The project engaged every student at Sisters Elementary School, and many at the middle and high schools in creating a legacy piece to be hung on the elementary school fence. The River Celebration helped create community by bringing together U.S. National Forest employees, tribal members of the Native American community of Warm Springs, Sisters community members and Sisters Folk Festival supporters, and kids in the schools to raise awareness about the need to protect the Whychus Creek watershed.


The River Celebration became a signature piece for the OCF Studio to School initiative and continues to inspire other schools that are now hiring Laura to do similar projects in Bend and surrounding areas.

Laura Campbell installing the River Celebration fish on the Sisters Elementary School fence, 2016


Enter “Stella the Steelhead.” In April 2016, The Deschutes Land Trust announced their first adult steelhead had returned to Camp Polk Meadow Preserve. A research biologist found the radio-tagged adult female at the end of March in a portion of Whychus Creek that runs through the preserve. She is the first adult steelhead to return to the meadow in 52 years. After a year in the ocean she began her journey back to Whychus Creek, avoided fisherman, and traveled up the Deschutes River where she was caught in a trap on October 12, 2015. There she measured 24 inches and was weighed and fitted with a radio tag to track her movement. Finally, less than a year later, she was detected in the Whychus Creek Meadow Preserve on March 17, 2016. Her name: “Stella the Steelhead.”

Coincidence, maybe? Amazing cycle of life story, absolutely!!

Stella is experiencing relevant, high-quality opportunities to engage in arts learning through the Studio to School initiative. Sisters Elementary School has cultivated a school environment where arts thrive. We’ve been successful in building appreciation and support for arts education in our schools and community — and by hiring Laura Campbell, have engaged an experienced, skilled teaching artist to nurture and carry on a legacy of arts education to a new generation.

What began in 2001, through engaging a high school student to participate in a community arts fundraiser, has come full circle with “Stella the Steelhead” coming back to Whychus Creek…

This is testament to the power of supporting arts and music education, and connecting relevant, important causes through building community. While some students write songs about Whychus Creek and the natural surroundings of Sisters, we are reminded that we are all part of this village, raising our children to appreciate art, self-expression and culture, and seeing the connections we all have to quality-of-life and community.