The City of Fargo partnered with ecological artist Jackie Brookner to integrate cultural and civic art elements into a stormwater drainage basin installation project.
The City is located in the Red River Valley. Its flat geography makes city infrastructure and public and private property susceptible to frequent flooding. The installation of twenty drainage basins would take up many acres of land in urban neighborhoods, and the city sought a creative way to install these basins while also activate these areas as community assets and “neighborhood commons.” In 2010, the City kicked off a comprehensive plan update; among the community priorities identified through the planning process was public art and infrastructure improvements to address flooding to protect property and infrastructure. Within the same year, a resident reached out the City Administrator to suggest a possible partnership with ecological artist Jackie Brookner. Through a series of community presentations and discussions, the city and artist solidified a relationship to collaborate on integrating culture and civic art into the approach for installing the stormwater basin network in the city.
Fargo Department of Planning and Development, artist Jackie Brookner, and a team of artists from the City of Fargo, including Loretta Cantieri, Chelsey Dahlstrom, Dwight Mickelson, Al Ness, Michael Strand, and Joan Vorderbruggen; a Project Advisory Group including leaderships from a local university; art museum; arts, social services, and environmental nonprofits; neighborhood association; housing authority; and community organizers
An OurTown grant from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), which funded the engagement of staff from the Department of Planning and Development and local and national artists
In 2010, the City Administrator assigned Fargo Planner and Landscape Architect Nicole Crutchfield to organize a speaking tour for the artist Jackie Brookner, which included community presentations and discussions and meetings with various municipal staff in different departments. These conversations generated interest in an official collaboration to utilize art to engage Fargo’s diverse communities in the design, implementation, use, and care of the stormwater drainage basins. In 2011, upon receipt of the NEA grant, the city identified Rabanus Park, an 18-acre stormwater detention basin area, as the pilot site for the project.
The City Planner managed the project, staffing the Fargo Project Advisory Group and managing relationships with individuals including the lead artist and regional native plant restoration consultants. The Planner also managed stewardship partnerships with local schools. Outreach and engagement was co-managed by Crutchfield and Brookner. Brookner also oversaw the work of a team of five Fargo artists who served as community liaisons and were involved in direct outreach to schools, churches, businesses. Citywide workshops and events invited residents to contribute ideas by directly developing models and drawings through a “sketch and test” approach; a schematic plan for the basic was developed with community input. Construction and installation took place between 2013 and 2015, and community amenities integrated include an interactive sound sculpture, natural play areas, and an amphitheater. In addition, a full program for the park rolled out in fall of 2015.
This project has resulted in many positive changes for the city, including:
- An increase in municipal staff’s competency with creative approaches to conducting and implementing planning and infrastructure projects. Before this project, the city had limited experience with integrating art into public facilities projects, e.g., parking garages and bus depots. This project enabled attention to the aesthetic and social impact of infrastructure projects. When the basins were first installed, primary attention was devoted to their infrastructure design, with little attention paid to the impact they would have on neighborhoods, which include significant immigrant refugee and low- and moderate-income households
- Advancement of equity and diversity in the planning process. Artists used creative means to engage diverse populations in understanding the environmental issues the basin will address and to engage them in the design and care of the park.
The Fargo Project. City of Fargo website: http://www.cityoffargo.com/CityInfo/Departments/PlanningandDevelopment/TheFargoProjectNEAOurTown/
The Fargo Project. National Endowment for the Arts website: http://www.cityoffargo.com/CityInfo/Departments/PlanningandDevelopment/TheFargoProjectNEAOurTown/