Forecast developed the City of Brooklyn Center’s first Public Art Plan
Forecast worked with the City of Brooklyn Center in Minnesota to develop the City’s first public art plan. Titled, Beautify Brooklyn Center: Planning for Public Art, the plan provides information about the current field of public art, along with strategies for beautifying public spaces, honoring and celebrating the City’s diversity, enhancing its parks and trails, and taking advantage of opportunities to shape cultural support systems. The plan also provides guidelines for the City to partner with community members and businesses; it is a framework for connecting ideas and people to a program that enables them to achieve identified goals, such as fostering civic pride and community health, increasing volunteerism, and leveraging investment and support.
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The City hired Forecast to create a plan to positively influence its image and forward its community engagement goals.
Focused on community engagement and understanding what the City’s residents want out of a public art program, the plan is a project-scoping document designed to outline a planning process for Brooklyn Center to develop its first public art program. Ultimately, that program will assist the City in creating a sense of pride for the community by its residents, business owners and visitors. It will positively influence what visitors and those outside of the community think, experience, and say about the City. It will also promote the celebration of cultural diversity within the community and forward the City Council’s strategic priorities. The plan outlines a general framework of elements that will be addressed in the planning process, and will be used to guide a planning process for developing and executing the program.
A Unique Plan for a Unique City
Brooklyn Center, occupied originally by the Wakpekute and the Anishinabe Wakiagun people, is among the most culturally diverse cities in Minnesota today. The City’s location—close to downtown Minneapolis—and its abundance of affordable housing stock attracted a diverse base of residents over the last two decades. A community of 31,231 people, 60% people of color, it also hosts a higher than average number of young families; more than 40% of the City’s households have children. 40% of the population is near or below the poverty level with many residents working in manufacturing jobs, administrative support and skilled production. Rich in spaces of worship and home to 24 local parks, a regional park, 21 miles of bikeways and trails and a municipal golf course, recreation is accessible while entertainment, cultural venues and other creative spaces and resources are lacking.
Through this Plan, a Shared Vision for the City Comes to Life
Brooklyn Center is known as a place where diverse community members can see themselves in the art that’s part of their daily lives and work together to build their shared home, a home where residents and businesses thrive, actively engage in cultural activities, and enjoy their quality of life. The City hosts an inclusive, equitable, people-powered beautification program focused on improving health, well-being and thoughtful design throughout the City. Effectively governed, adequately funded and professionally managed, Brooklyn Center’s forward-thinking public art program is recognized nationally as high quality, meaningful and impactful.
In the not-too-distant future, thanks in part to the City’s vibrant public art, people want to move to and open businesses in Brooklyn Center. They invite their friends, families and colleagues to join them. They enjoy living in a community known for its “random acts of beauty” and look forward to community-engaged projects in which they get to participate, meet neighbors and co-create the way their city looks and feels. They make new friends and learn new things. They’re proud of their city—its great gathering places, connective trails and parks, its vibrant social life, its family-oriented arts and entertainment offerings and its thoughtful, high quality public art.
Community Engaged Planning Process
“[Public art] gives people a reason to like where they live.” – community member
A concerted effort to gather diverse perspectives throughout the City of Brooklyn Center planning process was critical to the plan’s efficacy. We had 1,030 touch points with community members during the planning process, including meetings, interviews, tabling at events, and on site and online surveys. Many more people learned about the planning process through the City’s newsletter and social media, and via local media. Forecast’s consulting team conducted a variety of activities with residents. Mapping exercises, for example, invited participants to identity city sites they cared about, or that need attention.
Between October 2019 and February 2020, Forecast founder and consulting team member Jack Becker conducted more than 40 one-on-one interviews with community stakeholders (via phone or in-person). Among other events, Becker and consulting team member Witt Siasoco also met with more than 50 community members at three community meetings in January and February 2020. Siasoco created an artwork on site during the second meeting, capturing comments and topics raised in response to posed questions, visualizing the participants’ visions for their city.
At Forecast, we value and emphasize community engagement in our planning processes for any plan that we create, and we strive to create actionable plans that are unique to the communities in which we work, so that once the plan is done, action can begin immediately. These plans are designed to be easy for clients to apply suggested steps to build their own future programs.
Community member comments
from interviews, focus groups, and surveys:
“[The arts] create a culture and a brand for the city that tells people who we are and demonstrates [our] values.”
“I value our diversity, commitment to safe neighborhoods with an emphasis on parks and outdoor spaces, and an established, beautiful city.”
“Students want more art in the city—opportunities they can participate in.”
“[Public art] gives people a reason to like where they live.”
[To me, a healthy Brooklyn Center looks like]: “People living their lives close to home, with less need to go elsewhere.”
“[The arts] can help the people of Brooklyn Center grow and prosper by projecting a positive image [that will] help to dispel some negative stereotypes of the town.”
“I would like to see all residents work together to take the time to get to know their neighbors.”
“To develop a place where community members thrive and others want to come and belong.”
“The arts give us a forum to display our differences and similarities, and the opportunity to learn about each other.”
What is in the Plan?
Along with goals and strategies, the plan talks about the range of public art that can happen in Brooklyn Center, and suggested locations (identified by community members). Through that, demonstration projects tested what a public art process could look like; these include a street banner project and a census project. Applying results from those projects informed plan structure and programming, and identified City processes for commissioning and curating future public art projects.
Public Art Demonstration Projects
Street Banner Project highlights community members
The first project involved replacing street banners along the city’s major roadways with 230 custom-designed street banners. Already slated for replacement due to wear and tear, these banners feature faces of local youth, adults, and elders.
In February of 2019, the City of Brooklyn Center hosted an open session to shoot photos of adult residents who want to be part of the banner project. The Forecast team was on site to engage community discussions around the public art and beautification planning work. Siasoco developed large “A.R.T.” boards with questions to prompt the engagement of the community. The boards creatively collate people’s responses, are more inviting than post-it notes, give kids an access point to be involved, and provide an opportunity for everyone to engage in conversation about public art in Brooklyn Center. Prompts included: “Where’s your favorite place in Brooklyn Center?” and “What types of creative people do you know that we can involve in the project?” Siasoco asked children and adults questions, and drew examples of their responses—or portraits of the kids—if the children didn’t start drawing on their own.
In a postcard-making project at the event, community members and staff sat and conversed while working on collaged postcards. Participants were asked to list their name and address on the back of the cards they made, so Forecast staff could mail them back to that person later and follow up with questions.
At the Brookdale Library in December of 2019, the City held a celebration for the street banners showcasing members of the community. Local photographers and designers produced the banners, which were installed along high-traffic corridors the following summer, 2020.
Census Project reminds residents, “Everyone Counts in BC”
The second demonstration project promoted the 2020 Census by projecting messages on two monumental structures: the Crest apartment building, and a City-owned water tower. Projected in six languages starting on March 2, 2020, messages included, “Everyone counts in BC” and “Census 2020 Starting April 1.” Forecast facilitated artist curation and acted as liaison for the project artist, Kyle Waites. The projections were visible every night until the census began.
Projects like these serve as a sample of potential future projects that can generate positive impressions, attract media attention and make the City more noticeable to passersby. Based on information collected during the planning process, the team developed a collection of findings, including strengths, challenges, and opportunities. The information also resulted in a map identifying locations for public art opportunities.
About Public Art and Beautification
Public Art is vital to building a dynamic and equitable city for everyone; as a process it encourages dialogues across difference, inspires viewers and participants to engage more fully in their communities and fosters greater civic pride and environmental stewardship.
Artists are a valuable resource to cities seeking new and innovative ways to raise awareness of issues, promote civic engagement, create a sense of belonging, foster entrepreneurship, inspire collective problem-solving, reduce disparities and bridge cultural divides.
A plan recreates a sense of identity; identifies and locates opportunities; enables a city to make informed decisions; informs, guides, and coordinates public and private beautification efforts; advances economic stability; creates opportunities to showcase the City’s rich cultural diversity; engages residents and businesses; and it establishes a stable, sustainable program.
The arts are one of the most powerful means for communication and coping we have at our disposal today. They can bring joy and beauty to neglected or uncared for spaces and inspire residents and businesses to engage in the process. And, as this plan points out, creative individuals can help address the health of Brooklyn Center, the wellbeing of the community, and even the mental and physical fitness of its residents—at a time when we most need them. We invite you to pour through the pages of the plan and learn how you and your neighbors can work collectively to improve the quality of life for everyone in Brooklyn Center, and other cities like it.
Baseline Assumptions Used to Inform the Plan
These ideas, about what healthy cultural infrastructure looks like, informed the plan’s approach:
Robust, authentic community engagement
Support systems for diverse community cultural expressions
Professional program management
An active and informed governance structure
Vibrant gathering places, open-access cultural facilities, user-friendly production spaces and multifaceted programming.
Education and training, skill-building and robust communications
Guiding the City’s Efforts
An average plan timeline is twelve to eighteen months. Eighteen months in the making, this working plan provides practical guidelines for the City, with clear action steps. It is an active tool for City stakeholders to use for the next five years.
Offering many opportunities, the plan addresses locations, values, visions, and guiding principles. Forecast’s goal was to create something that would guide the City in developing their public art program, understanding where their opportunities lie, recognizing possible projects, and learning the steps to take to make those projects happen. A working plan based on values and guiding principles, the goals, priorities and focus areas were set early in the process. The plan outlines strategy priorities and specific steps, who should be responsible for them, and when they should happen.
Key findings in the plan outline strengths, challenges, and opportunities for the City, with focal areas, long term goals, and short term operational strategies. Work plan action steps include funding and finances, community engagement, communications and education, public space development, and more.
We, at Forecast, understand the time we’re living in, and made sure that the plan acknowledges the COVID-19 pandemic and the racial injustice happening in our communities, which are also a key part of this plan. We recognize the role of arts and culture in COVID-19 recovery and fighting racial injustice.
Putting this plan into action requires thoughtful consideration and intentional action steps. For a relatively young suburban city like Brooklyn Center, it is not surprising that there is no established arts and culture program or structured public art program. An advantage of developing a new program from scratch is being able to take advantage of what has worked and what hasn’t among the hundreds of other public art programs across the country. For example, the definition of public art has expanded over the past two decades to include a wide array of creative possibilities; instead of simply plopping art in public spaces, public art is more process-oriented, taking into account the context of each site.
Based on what Forecast’s team heard and learned, the range of public art projects resulting from this plan will likely be as varied and diverse as the Brooklyn Center community. If the Shared Vision is realized, then many significant outcomes will result. If successful, the City’s diverse residents will work collaboratively to make visible their stories and shared values. Colorful and joyful gathering places will appear—environments designed to remove the stigma of poverty and honor different cultures. Residents will be able to see themselves represented in public spaces, building on the success of the City’s Street Banner and Census 2020 demonstration projects. There are many ways public art can happen in the future; a plan outlines how to realize that future as a community.
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