Artist Greta McLain discusses her artist residency as part of the RARE: Richfield Artist Resident Engagement initiative. Working with The Cornerstone Group on a new development in Richfield, McLain will work with community members to design and create a large-scale mosaic installation on the amphitheater planned for the Lyndale Garden Center. 

We’ve taken over, opened up this former office space/strip mall, cleaned it out and filled it with broken pieces of tile, laughter and conversation, electronic tango music and jazz, papel picado and incense floating in the patio, flowers blooming on the front steps. We are a team in motion; creating systems, training in local artist interns…The door is open. We are ready.

What is the goal of our project? What are we making?

Concretely our goal is to create a large, beautiful, permanent, exterior, community-made mosaic to be installed on the new Lyndale Garden’s Amphitheater.

But our larger goal is to be an instrument of community connection, a space to educate, share, find common ground and seed ownership of the new Lyndale Garden’s Town Square. Create a space for all, made by all. We want this for the RARE Mosaic Studio, we want this for the new Lyndale Garden’s Town Square, we want this for Richfield…but in this moment, we want this for us too!

Who are we? Who am I?

This summer, more than ever before, I’m watching myself become a we — outside of the we of community building, of “look what we made together”, of “we rock!” Of a solo artist becoming a growing team that includes fantastic assistants, Claudia Valentino and Jacqui Rosenbush; our new Richfield interns, Becky, Beth and Jo; and our partners from the Cornerstone Group and Forecast Public Art. And we are all hungry for a community party, for that moment of discovery of “look at what we can make that we didn’t know we could make before!” We are ready to teach you, to meet you, to make with you! Everytime someone comes through the studio door there is a wave of excitement that spreads out over all of us, “People! YES!”…and this is new, this isn’t just coming from me, Greta McLain anymore…we are all infected with it…this is the beginning of something bigger! Something that has been building. And everyone is welcome to join us.

Our Challenge

We are sitting around the table, creating mosaic butterflies and turtles, fish and birds, and we’re talking: “¿Dónde está la gente? How do we get people to come to the studio? ¿Cómo lo hacemos para mejor correr la voz? How do we spread the word? What are we doing right? What could we be doing better? What does Richfield need? ¿Cuales son los desafios de Richfield? ¿Dónde están nuestros puntos de contacto? What are the dynamics of this project that we’re walking into, that maybe we didn’t see right away, but are discovering as we go? How do we partner intentionally and successfully with the Cornerstone Group and Forecast in order to build this community art movement in a holistic way, one that will continue to inform and grow Richfield?”

Last week during our Thursday community studio hours at the Artful Nook, I walked down to a couple of local businesses right up Lyndale, stocking up on snacks for us mosaic makers and letting folks know about the project and open hours. When I mentioned the eventual installation of the mosaic on the Amphitheater one woman rolled her eyes, “what amphitheater?” lots of promises, proposed timelines, with no follow through…and I’m like “ohhhhhhh”. In the studio, we flow in and out of Spanish. Amphitheater in Spanish is “anfiteatro” and we’ve jokingly taken to calling it the “anti-teatro”…and I’m like, “ohhhhhhh.” How do we maintain a positive focus, how do we follow through, and create an environment of trust and accountability? And how do I as a community artist empower local community organizers, creating a space in which they can gather and foster important points of community contact through our mosaic project?

At the end of the day, we can always reference back to the mosaic and what it teaches us:

SLOW DOWN: building a mosaic is slow, building community is slow. It is important that it be that way, built on relationships, friendships…time.

ALL OF US TOGETHER: These mosaics, constructed of broken pieces of tile, would not be complete without every little piece, however weirdly shaped, each piece important in the construction of the whole…so as we reflect on how to “activate” community participation in our mosaic project we also want to recognize that regardless of direct participation, all of Richfield is part of this project, Richfield is the container and the context…and we’re pumped to see where this project brings us.

This activity is made possible by the voters of Minnesota through a grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board, thanks to a legislative appropriation from the arts and cultural heritage fund.