Fargo wins grant for new approach to public art

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MPR photo Dan Gunderson

National Endowment for the Arts Chairman Rocco Landesman visited Fargo Thursday to talk about a public art project he says the NEA will use as a model across the country.

Fargo received a $100,000 NEA grant to turn a large drainage basin into a public art space. The funding comes from the NEA Our Town program. The city will provide matching funds, mostly in staff time coordinating the project.

The city has been building these drainage basins for the past 10 years to catch runoff from heavy summer rains and prevent street flooding. The basins are empty most of the year, typically only holding water for a short time after a heavy rain.

Local artists will work with Jackie Brookner, an ecological artist from New York, to develop a plan for making the drainage basins into a space that’s pleasing aesthetically and can be used for recreation.

Landesman says he liked the Fargo idea of incorporating art into community infrastructure.

“We’re going to do much more public art, community based, and this is a perfect example,” he says. “”We’re making the point the arts are part of the real economy of this country. There are five million arts related jobs in this country.”

The project will be designed over the next several months.

Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker says the basins are now used only by ducks and geese.

He challenged local artists to come up with ideas to make the sites useful and beautiful.

Walaker called the project a great example of “thinking outside the box”.

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