The burgeoning arts economy in Fergus Falls just got another boost. Springboard for the Arts, an economic development group based in St. Paul and Fergus Falls, has been chosen to receive a $75,000 “Our Town” grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. The grant will support “creative placemaking” and community storytelling in Fergus.
Ground Level recently reported on how arts and historic preservation interests in Fergus came together to save the Hotel Kaddatz as part of our Reviving Minnesota Relics series on old buildings around the state.
The notion of creative placemaking has been getting a lot of attention lately. The strategy involves giving artistic types a greater say in community and economic development decisions, the end goal being to make cities more lively and arts-focused. It was a hot topic at a recent Rural Arts and Culture Summit in Morris.
As part of the new initiative in Fergus, called “Imagine Fergus Falls,” Springboard will give out small grants from the NEA money to artists who will work to enliven the conversation around the city’s future. The projects will mostly relate to historic preservation and economic improvement. They may include plays, art exhibits and other projects.
“…(A)rtists, if given initial support and training, can be mobilized to lead a community,” said Springboard’s Rural Program Director Michele Anderson. She said they can push cities to become “authentic places or destinations that bring the community and what it already has to its fullest potential.” Fergus is on the verge of a renaissance, she said, “if it hasn’t already happened.”
One focus will be on the future of the enormous, empty Kirkbride former psychiatric hospital, which stands like a forsaken castle at the edge of the city. Fergus leaders recently entered into an agreement with a Georgia-based development group, which plans to turn it into a boutique hotel, apartments and restaurants. But artists are still hoping to have a say in how those plans are executed. A local sculptor will work as an “artist organizer” and Springboard will also enlist the services of a folklorist and oral historian.
“Think of the projects as ‘pop up’ participatory art that will provide a way to experiment and try out ideas,” said Anderson.
Whatever Fergus comes up with, Anderson thinks there are lessons here for other communities trying to map their futures and fill empty buildings from bygone eras. “We want this to be a national model for rural communities dealing with situations like this all over the place,” she said. “We want to be able to share the process so other communities don’t have to start from scratch. So they don’t have to go through all the torture.”