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North Dakota’s First Arts and Culture Commission

In a momentous move by the Fargo’s City Commission earlier this month, an Arts and Culture Commission was established to address the push for public art. This commission is the first of its kind in North Dakota and the beginning of artful things to come.

For a city that is already artsy and vibrant in many ways and places, the installation of public art in years to come is fun to speculate about. Where will it be? What will it be?

There are many places throughout Fargo, especially downtown, where public art is already available and accessible.

The Herd About the Prairie bison statue project from 2006 still has specimens in the public eye after an auction eight years ago. Over 20 of them can still be found throughout Fargo-Moorhead.

Decorative light pillars can be seen on the streets of downtown, offering historical snippets of Fargo’s past, such as steamboating on the Red River. Look to the ground near these pillars and you’ll see cobblestone paintings depicting more aspects of Fargo like river exploration, music and dancing and visual art.

Clever and colorful graffiti graces dumpsters and alleyways downtown, and whether intentionally artful or not, it’s public, it’s art and it’s out there.

Take a look at the Sunny Brook Whiskey advertisement on the side of the H2M and Bristol Apartments building in downtown Fargo. That ad was painted in 1949, and whitewashed by a temperance group a week later, preserving it until the advertisement-turned-public mural was touched up in 2003 by an area artist.

In over 140 years as a city, Fargo’s doing pretty well in terms of public art already. What’s exciting is that with the recent commission, the intention to merge art culture and the general community can be done more efficiently and in a more exciting way.

Public art hosts a variety of benefits and responsibilities. Specifically, publicly-funded major works can give urban environments an identity. This is especially relevant from a tourism standpoint.

These examples include: the “Cloud Gate” in Chicago, or more famously recognized as “The Bean”; the “Unconditional Surrender” statue in San Diego, a nationally-noted piece created in celebration at the end of World War II and Louise Bourgeois’s famous “Spiders” have made their way worldwide from New York City to Paris.

Ultimately, investing in public artwork gives a city a visual personality.

It’s a special opportunity to create and enhance dialogue within the F-M community. Naturally, with visual art’s subjective nature, not every viewer will be pleased with the work. This, however, is not inherently negative. Simply fostering conversation and coaxing the public to stop ignoring their environment would equal success on the commission’s part.

As mentioned, public art is not entirely void in the F-M community. Larger-scale commissions, with greater involvement of artists and other creatives can now be dreamt up. Another fresh possibility is the option to cycle the work on a timely basis. The excitement behind the commission comes from the public support behind it.

Some may view public art projects to be traditionally represented on a large-scale basis. For example, “The Bean” takes up 33 feet by 42 feet by 66 feet — but the possibilities to hone in on smaller-scale projects may have the potential to have just as much, if not more, of an impact for the F-M area.

The cobblestone paintings featured along the crosswalks in downtown Fargo not only add identity to this community, but they are also quite small in scale, creating an intimate, art-conscious culture that values the art, not the size.

Therefore, the tightly-woven F-M area needs to continually embrace public art opportunities, which need not necessarily be constrained by size, accessibility or narrow visions.

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