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YES House building arts infrastructure in Granite Falls

The Department of Public Transformation is working to develop the YES House as part of an surge in arts infrastructure in Granite Falls.

Luwaina Al-Otaibi, community engagement and events coordinator, and Ash Hanson, executive director, are working to engage more community members in helping shape the future of the YES House in Granite Falls. They are shown at the YES House on Sept. 21, 2022.
Luwaina Al-Otaibi, community engagement and events coordinator, and Ash Hanson, executive director, are working to engage more community members in helping shape the future of the YES House in Granite Falls. They are shown at the YES House on Sept. 21, 2022.
Tom Cherveny / West Central Tribune
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GRANITE FALLS, Minn. — Granite Falls is under construction. This rural community situated along the Minnesota River is in the midst of an upgrade to its arts infrastructure, a change that has been several years in the making.

There is an established, city sponsored artist-in-residency program.

The Granite Falls Arts Council operates the K.K. Berge building downtown, where it offers an ever-changing lineup of exhibits and workshops by local, regional and even national artists.

And, one block over in the heart of downtown, is the YES House.

Building a space for the arts community

The 5,000-square-foot, three-story building is being readied to offer the full package for the arts. Its uppermost floor, now completed, features two apartments that are to host visiting artists.

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The YES House resumed offering live performance events in 2002 after the COVID pandemic. Luwaina Al-Otaibi, community engagement and events coordinator, is working with community members and groups on plans for future events.
The YES House resumed offering live performance events in 2022 after the COVID pandemic. Luwaina Al-Otaibi, community engagement and events coordinator, is working with community members and groups on plans for future events.
Contributed / Department of Public Transformation
Volunteers helped remove much of the interior and prepare the building gifted to be the YES House for remodeling. The top floor has been remodeled to hold two apartments, and work on phase 2 to prepare the lower two floors is getting underway.
Volunteers helped remove much of the interior and prepare the building gifted to be the YES House for remodeling. The top floor has been remodeled to hold two apartments, and work on phase two — to prepare the lower two floors — is getting underway.
Contributed / Department of Public Transformation

Plans for the lower two floors call for developing a co-working space, small business incubator, performance venue, art gallery, media lab, youth zone, artist workshop, recording studio, yoga/dance studio and a rock climbing facility.

“There are a lot of people doing really good work here,” said Ash Hanson, director of the Department of Public Transformation , of the arts economy taking hold in the community. The Department of Public Transformation, the nonprofit entity she founded, is working to develop the YES House as part of that arts infrastructure.

The building was gifted by a Granite Falls family to the Department of Public Transformation in 2018. Volunteers helped ready its interior for its new role. A $900,000 fundraising campaign was launched earlier this year. With its upstairs remodeled, the YES House is now focusing on Phase 2: remodeling the two lower floors.

Looking forward to future developments

Most importantly, the YES House is working to chart its future and engage the community.

In late June, Luwaina Al-Otaibi came on board as the community engagement and events coordinator. She is working to put together a team of residents to help identify how the YES House can best serve the community.

Actors performed "Sunrise at Midnight" earlier this year as live productions returned to the YES House in Granite Falls.
Actors performed "Sunrise at Midnight" earlier this year as live productions returned to the YES House in Granite Falls.
Contributed / Department of Public Transformation

Al-Otaibi said a variety of suggestions have already come forward, everything from poetry and literature programs to knitting get-togethers. There are also discussions about larger events, such as live plays and exhibits.

While Al-Otaibi works to engage the community, her sister, Sarina Otaibi, is also working with a newly-created YES House Futures committee. Its objective is to lay out a five-year plan for the sustainable support of the YES House and its goals.

Connecting and engaging with the community is at the heart of it all, according to Hanson. She said there’s been a gap in communication with the community during the COVID pandemic.

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The YES House is working to engage community members in conversations to help plan its future and identify the types of activities it should host.
The YES House is working to engage community members in conversations to help plan its future and identify the types of activities it should host.
Contributed / Department of Public Transformation

Both Hanson and Al-Otaibi are optimistic about the YES House and the growing arts economy taking hold in the community and region. Al-Otaibi said she has been impressed by how many people in the community are willing to commit their time and energy.

She pointed out that the support comes too from many young people in the community. Despite busy family and work commitments, “they are showing up and sharing their talents because they want it to be a fun and vibrant place to live,” she said.

“It’s very inspiring to work with these people,” she said. When new ideas are raised, you can always find a group of people around here to make it happen, she added.

She also credits the community’s leadership with helping foster the growing arts economy.

“I think the leadership is willing to take risks,” Al-Otaibi said.

The goal of the YES House is to support the efforts to make the community a better place to live, and not just through the arts, Hanson said. The mission of the project includes supporting efforts to expand recreational activities and other quality of life initiatives.

Art allows rural communities to envision creative and alternative futures, Hanson said.

The benefits of this growing focus on the arts can already be felt, she and Al-Otaibi noted. “People feel proud about where they live and want to be invested and involved,” Hanson said.

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoors reporter for the West Central Tribune.
He has been a reporter with the West Central Tribune since 1993.

Cherveny can be reached via email at tcherveny@wctrib.com or by phone at 320-214-4335.
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