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Ideas spark at art workshop

WORTHINGTON -- Artists, art enthusiasts and public officials came together Wednesday at the Historic Dayton House to learn more about the value of public art and to share ideas for its implementation in area communities.

Participants from Luverne, Marshall, Odin, Lakefield and Worthington attended the half-day event titled "Public Art 101," sponsored by the Marshall-based Southwest Minnesota Arts and Humanities Council (SMAHC).

"We're glad you all came and are interested in public art," welcomed Greta Murray, executive director of SMAHC. SMAHC serves the 18 counties of southwest Minnesota by offering consultative assistance as well as grant opportunities to artists and organizations in the area. For instance, applicants from Nobles County received $67,883 in grant money from SMAHC in the past year.

This October workshop, which SMAHC repeats today in Granite Falls, aimed to trigger broad discussion about public art and its role in communities, as well as to offer specific information about grant application processes for arts organizations and individual artists.

"Does art make a place or does a place make art?" was the query that met attendees as they tackled an introductory art matching game, which included such notable visual landmarks as the St. Louis Gateway Arch, the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C., and the Spoonbridge and Cherry piece from the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden.

"The best thing about public art is it happens unexpectedly," said Barb Hawes of Marshall.

Melinda Childs, a grants manager and consultant from Forecast Public Art of St. Paul, then asked participants to name either their most or least favorite piece of public art.

"I love the Spoonbridge and Cherry sculpture," cited Shelley Cords-Swanson, a fiber and wood artist from Odin, "because it says 'Minneapolis,' it immediately ties you to a place, and for its whimsy."

Other answers ranged from mosaic benches, which have the benefit of being functional and interactive, to restored historic buildings, which celebrate the craftsmanship and artwork of particular eras.

"Public art can span all mediums," assured Childs, while also cautioning that "public art is a community effort, requiring the involvement and awareness of people from all sides and a belief that it will make a city better."

Public art can become a marketing opportunity and attraction for a community, as well as providing landmarks and a certain distinctiveness that may otherwise be lacking.

"Forecast Public Art defines public art as being in the public realm," revealed Childs, "something that is open, accessible and has no fee charged to experience it."

Nevertheless, implementing public art takes more planning and foresight than some artists initially may anticipate, as Hawes and Michon Weeks, another Marshall artist, are learning in their separate efforts to make some public art a part of the new Marshall/Lyon County Library.

"Projects can evolve based on collaboration," noted Childs, "but there are layers of thinking and planning involved. That's the purpose of planning grants, which can help with careful planning for a project and give you the time to work through all the aspects that need to be considered."

Worthington City Administrator Craig Clark inquired if there were a sample protocol for projects to go through a decision process in order to become part of a community.

"There are public officials here taking an interest," Clark said, "literally here to support the arts."

Murray and SMAHC program assistant Nicole DeBoer provided applications and advice for completing them for upcoming grants, including those for individual artists, Arts Legacy grants for organizations and communities, planning grants and pre-applications for Arts Legacy grants exceeding $10,000; some of these have deadlines approaching in early December while other deadlines are early in 2011.

Childs also showed the assembled group a series of slides of other unique public art installations in communities around the world and nation. Selected samples ranged from giant inflatable green octopus tentacles protruding from the windows of a condemned building in France to "City of Light" projects in Tampa, Fla., to decorative birdhouses placed outside residents' windows at a senior center in Wisconsin.

"Tastes are different, and managing controversies that can come from differing tastes in public art is part of the challenge," admitted Childs.

Small-group brainstorming and problem-solving were also part of the afternoon, centering on questions such as how to use art to teach kids about a community's history and how a city could promote nature and the outdoors as part of a tourism campaign.

And though it was clear that, even among this group of roughly 20 people who came together over a common interest in public art, tastes, opinions and preferences were widely varied, Peter Abelein's words rang true to all.

Abelein, a native of Crailsheim, Germany, now beginning his third month as an intern with the City of Worthington, shared, "There is art from Worthington in Crailsheim, and art from Crailsheim in Worthington.

"Art connects the whole world."

For more information about SMAHC and its grants, programs, upcoming application deadlines, board membership, services and general memberships, go to or call 1-800-622-5284.