Forecast Intern Graciela Nira discusses her experience with the RARE: Richfield Artist Resident Engagement initiative. 

Standing in the Artful Nook on June 9 waiting for community members to show up, my cluttered mind worried about whether we had gotten enough food for all the attendees, where I could wash the dishes, and other matters related to hosting. I was still early into my internship with Forecast Public Art, and while I had familiarized myself with RARE through blog posts and initial meetings with The Cornerstone Group and artists who were involved–performers, writers and producers Sha Cage, E.G. Bailey, and muralist and mosaic artist Greta McLain–I had little idea how this event would look. Our plan was to have a summer kick-off event to highlight the future Lyndale Gardens Center development and the RARE artists’ projects that are connected to it. We had live music, food, mosaic-making, sidewalk drawing, bubbles, stilt-walkers and more all lined up. It was going to be a transformation of the existing weedy parking lot and a shabby building that housed the Artful Nook space, and a celebration of the future planned public space.

I imagined that for our kick-off event that the trees would already be cleared out and there would be a secret, plush garden with colorful flowers and tables for art making near the Richfield Lake Park. Now it had become clear that I had let my imagination run away with me again–the plants stood tall enough to obscure the large parking lots’ view of the lake, and there were no exotic flowers. But even though the Artful Nook space didn’t yet match the garden imagery of my mind’s eye, it was still an oasis. As families began arriving, children ran to play soccer with one another, look excitedly at the stilt-walkers, and reach for paint to color in the creatures outlined on the pavement. Witnessing these moments reminded me of feelings and experiences I had had as a child, feelings that underscore the importance of community involvement in public art creation and new development.

Growing up in Texas, my parents actively fostered a sense of public engagement and responsibility in me from a young age. In 2003, my dad took me to see Fiesta Tower, San Antonio’s own piece by Dale Chihuly in our central public library. Filled with awe, my saucer-sized eyes looked up to take in the entirety of the piece. My parents were always encouraging moments such as these, stopping to point out and provide an explanation of the murals we passed by during walks, teaching me to ride public transportation, and even having me tag along to public forums about improving community roads and other infrastructural projects. The inspiration, admiration, and connectedness I felt as a child through my experiences with public art and life continue to guide my work. As a political science and urban studies student at Macalester College I have started to understand the people and policies that make public art and space possible.   

In my studies, I’ve encountered increasingly complicated questions. Beyond hypothesizing the best way to organize parks, business, and apartments, students of urban studies and planners ask how these constructions relate to their context: the surrounding environment and community culture, to name two. I’ve also turned to books to look for these answers; while some have certainly provided insight, standing at the Artful Nook that day, I couldn’t help but feel that the answers to these questions are surprisingly and refreshingly simple: give communities the opportunity to create themselves.

I don’t know for certain that five to ten years from now the children in Richfield at the Artful Nook that day will remember painting fantastical creatures on the pavement or creating their own turtle or bird mosaic specifically, but I bet they will. It’d be hard to forget tall stilt-walkers passing by families, bubbles bursting as soccer balls skidded between players, and under the wavy strings of papel picado, many hands carefully cutting tile to make mosaics. But even if they don’t recall all these details, their relationship with art and community certainly will be shaped by experiences such as these.   

End of Summer Art Jam on September 21, 4-7pm

Led by RARE artists in residence Shá Cage, E.G. Bailey, and Greta McClain. There will be music, performance, food, and a variety of art-making opportunities for the whole family. Join us at the Artful Nook and Lyndale Gardens pop-up park at 6340 Lyndale Ave. (right behind Lakewinds Co-op). This event is free and open to all ages! More info.

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.