Plains Art Museum

Report date
March 2016

What has been most instrumental to your progress?

2. Thanks to the generous Community Innovation Grant, a dialogue has been propelled between artists and communities in intentional and productive ways that will help shape our city going forward. One way we initiated this dialogue was through the Living as Form (The Nomadic Version) exhibition in 2014. The Museum supplemented this international exhibition, co-organized by Creative Time and Independent Curators International (ICI) with Nato Thompson as lead curator, with regional, socially engaged artists and projects. During the run of this major exhibition, the Museum hosted weekly artists-in-residence who led circle-based conversations and participatory programs. These programs were offered to our audience free of cost, and sparked remarkably frank and open dialogue on a wide variety of issues, ranging from land and water stewardship to homelessness food systems and health issues. These conversations have helped advance the sophistication of dialogue concerning public art in Fargo-Moorhead, as well as the field of creative place-making.
Another important piece to the progress of creating vibrant public spaces and community life in Fargo-Moorhead was the Central Time Centric: Art and Social Practice in the Midwest symposium offered in 2014. This weekend-long program provided a forum for very important conversations concerning social practice art, with particularly honest conversations about artists working with low-income communities and communities of color, and the ethics of social practice. The conversations reverberated throughout blogs, networks, and regional summits and symposiums, and have prompted dialogue concerning the intersection of white privilege and social practice art, attitudes and cultural biases, and the distribution of funding for socially-engaged work. Like Living as Form, this symposium furthered the trajectory of the Museum as an active civic player and introduced artist leadership in community life – an orientation that will continue to propel this important initiative. Ensuing conversations were safe, inclusive, and participatory, and were each sparked by thoughtful, leading questions by each visiting artist.

Key lessons learned

2. One component of the original project was discontinued by Museum leadership. The anticipated expenses of the originally proposed Fern Grotto project, designed by artist Mark Dion, came in much higher than originally anticipated. This realization forced the Museum to discontinue that project during its planning phase, but allowed us to think about building on what will be the most successful components of the initiative. We decided to shift those resources into (1.) successful continuation of the Buzz Lab program and the related Pollinator Garden, and (2.) the recovery, completion, and engagement of the Heritage Garden. While unforeseen circumstances can be expected in any endeavor with the ambitiousness of this initiative, we would not characterize this circumstance as a failure: it was an opportunity to evaluate what has been successful within the initiative, most importantly the Pollinator Garden and Buzz Lab programming, and to focus on sustaining.

Progress toward an innovation

Creating artist-designed spaces in collaboration with the community is a growing and evolving field in the arts, and Plains Art Museum has found itself to be uniquely positioned to help meet expressed community needs. Thanks to Museum expertise, generous support, community leaders, and the project artists, the spaces designed and the initiative’s related programs are truly visionary. The greatest breakthrough in addressing a community need to date has been the success of Buzz Lab and our Pollinator Garden. The program, which actively responds to the global pollinator crisis, empowers paid teen interns by transforming them into community educators through projects and public events like the Pollinator Party. This program is unique, effective, and innovative, and gives us the confidence to proceed with other community projects like the Heritage Garden. This garden is an innovative collaboration between a North Dakota based organization (Plains Art Museum) with neighboring Moorhead, MN, who expressed a need to redevelop riverside spaces with public art and civic space.

What it will take to reach an innovation?

Like the Pollinator Garden, which was led by artist Christine Baumler and the Museum, and its related programs, the Heritage Garden has a unique opportunity to be an innovative community space. The Museum is committed to the success of this project. A plan summary is enclosed summarizing our adjusted timeline for completing, launching, and programming the Heritage Garden. These steps include: (1.) re-engaging and energizing partners, (2.) working with local partners to finish planting, and providing seating at and interpretation of the site, (3.) plan for sustainable engagement of the space with openness to new uses and programs, and (4.) making the space an important part of the Museum’s identity.

What's next?

Continuation of this project will include the completion of site work on the Heritage Garden (as summarized in our enclosed documents) as well as sustaining the Pollinator Garden and related programming. The project components that have been completed to date are vibrant, meaningful, innovative, and sustainable. Following the completion of Heritage Garden and continual, vibrant programming surrounding both Gardens, the next steps will be to create a meaningful connection between these community spaces and other Museum functions. How does Buzz Lab inform our exhibition program and vice versa? How do our temporary exhibitions and programs inform the Heritage Garden and vice versa? How do social practice artists inform and interact with our other Museum initiatives, like our Creativity Among Native American Artists program? By intentionally focusing on these questions, we aim to make these initiatives a strong and sustainable part of the identity of Plains Art Museum.

If you could do it all over again...

The most successful components of the project have strong local participation and community leadership that is in direct collaboration with core Museum staff to meet an expressed community need. After the initial planning stages of the Heritage Garden project, for example, we learned that having a local community artist-leader who is engaged early and often is crucial. Moorhead-based artist Su Legatt has been and will continue to be integral to the realization of Heritage Garden: she organized volunteers, informed and involved various networks, and solidified relationships with the City of Moorhead, Moorhead Public Service, and various local businesses and neighborhoods.

One last thought

The Museum has begun a transformation that matches the growth and transformation across much of our community. Fargo-Moorhead’s rapid growth coincides with an increased need for collaborative and open conversations about city design and how we interact as citizens. Plains Art Museum is an active partner in many facets of community life, laying the groundwork for future partnerships to meet community needs. We cannot overstate our gratitude to the Bush Foundation for its Community Innovation Grant program and for enabling this work to begin and grow for Fargo-Moorhead!