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A Line or Two: Irrigate!

"Irrigate" is the refreshing name of the inventive public-art project that is using the difficult, disruptive, but also hopeful and exciting process of Central Corridor Light Rail construction in Saint Paul as a pretext for the creation of all kinds of art along the route.

In 2011, a coalition made up of the City of Saint Paul, the Twin Cities Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC—a sponsor of The Line), and Springboard for the Arts received a $750,000 grant for the project from ArtPlace, which is itself a consortium of public and private funders, including the McKnight Foundation.

The goal: to engage artists in the process of "creative placemaking," which Irrigate defines this way in a newsletter: "The act of people coming together to change overlooked and undervalued public and shared spaces into welcoming places where community gathers, supports one another, and thrives."
Our Development Editor, Anna Pratt, has kept tabs on the evolving project; read her pieces here, here. and here.

Artists Matter Here
Another publication here in town to which I've contributed over the years is Public Art Review, published by Forecast Public Art in Saint Paul. Karen Olson, who edits that journal—and contributes to The Line—recently accompanied Forecast founder and executive director Jack Becker to San Antonio for the annual convention of Americans for the Arts. At the gathering she heard a goodly number of complaints about public art being left out of the placemaking process. Many public artists and arts administrators feel that while art has been enlivening public space for decades (no, centuries) many "placemakers" ignore it in their concentration on other factors—vital ones, of course—like walkability and a healthy and varied retail presence.
All of which sounds like a reason for us to congratulate ourselves on promoting public art as an integral part of Corridor placemaking; the Irrigate definition I quoted above continues with specific art-examples: "Places can be animated and enhanced by elements that encourage human interaction--from temporary activities such as performances and chalked poetry to permanent installations such as landscaping and unique art."

And by extending an invitation to everyone who considers him- or herself an artist to take part, Irrigate is as close to "crowd-sourced" as a selective process can be. Artists can register online for workshops that explain placemaking and how to apply for financial support for a Corridor project. (The next available workshop will be held on Saturday, July 28.) There's an interactive map--in need of updating--that not only keeps tabs on projects in process, but even notes places along the route that would be good sites for a project. Anybody can suggest a location or a project on Irrigate's home page.

Beyond Decoration

The challenge, of course, is to avoid an exclusive concentration on the decorative—the idea that artists are only beautifiers of urban space, adding a mural here and a colorful piece of sculpture there. Murals and sculpture can be wonderful contributions to placemaking, of course—but artistic creativity isn't limited to the conceiving and creating of objects, as Irrigate is already showing.

The Alphabet Place (see photo) by Amy Unger is a clever strategy for making literacy fun: a series of letters of the alphabet, photographed from business signs along University Avenue and made available for play and word-learning at the Rondo Community Outreach Library at University and Dale. And on June 20 and July 18, musicians Mira and Tom Kehoe will debut Jazz on the Line at Mai Village restaurant. It's an initiative to promote a lively restaurant-and-live-music scene along University during construction and after.

(And Minneapolis is taking advantage of artistic input in the city planning process, as Anna explains in an article in this week's issue.)

So here's an additional invitation for artists who live in, or have a personal connection to, the CCLRT-route neighborhoods to take advantage of these unique opportunities to get involved with placemaking, Twin-Cities style.

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