In early September twenty newly-minted members of Forecast’s Making it Public workshop series convened in a conference room in St. Paul’s Lowertown Arts District. Passersby may have wondered what this hodge-podge group might have in common; visually, not much. We were diverse in terms of age and race and creed, and though we were all artists, initial introductions proved that even our artistic backgrounds spanned the gamut: we were film-maker, pinata designer, flamenco choreographer and everything imaginable in between.
While I was initially struck by the diversity of the group, as introductions continued the most striking thing became the sentiment, repeated, almost word-for-word, by each consecutive participant: we wanted to learn to engage communities by creating public art.
Lucky for us, also in the room that night were facilitators Kirstin Wiegmann and Jen Krava, and coordinator Rachel Wandrei. These three had designed a series of workshops, crafted to empower emerging artists to take on the intimidating transition into the public realm.
What followed over the next five weeks was a brief but intense survey of public art-making and a whirlwind tour of Lowertown’s creative spaces. Each week we met in a new space and delved into a different aspect of life as a public artist: we expanded notions of what public art is; discovered how to evaluate a potential site through the critical lens of a public artist; practiced developing project proposals; explored public art funding sources; crafted strategies to include broader audiences into our processes and listened to and questioned funders and experienced public artists who shared their experiences and insights into the intricacies of their work.
Each Tuesday after the session we’d spill out of the workshop venue, conversations lingering under streetlights and trailing off into the darkness towards parking lots; equally awed by the challenges ahead and the vast resources we were offered to overcome them.
Though our Tuesday night visits to Lowertown have come to an end, the work of Making it Public participants has only just begun. We now step back out into our communities with new vision and renewed vigor. In the coming years, as we continue to collaborate with one another and create work with and for the public at large we’ll look back on these five short weeks as the time we began our transition from artists with big hopes and big uncertainties to artists with big plans and the tools and confidence to build them into reality.
Sarah Abiya is a designer and yoga teacher based in Minneapolis.
Thanks to Lowertown Future Fund and Saint Paul Cultural STAR for making this possible.