Piloting Art; Austin takes first step in program to embrace community art

Published 9:16 am Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Austin leaders took the first step Tuesday in taking part in a pilot project in which art works to build and enhance a community’s character.

Several from the public and private sectors met with representatives of Forecast Public Art, a St. Paul-based non-profit arts organization who will study and work with Austin and four other Minnesota cities in developing the “Public Art and Placemaking Tools” project that will eventually be a learning tool for city planners in small to mid-sized cities. Other cities include Mankato, Rochester, Red Wing and Winona.

The focus of the project is to improve the vibrancy, social cohesion, livability and health of the five communities. In a recent survey, according to Forecast, Austin “has an active arts community, but recognizes the potential for even greater impact … Austin is seeking to promote social cohesion n the community public art that can be universally appreciated.”

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“We are interested in small to medium cities, where expertise and resources might be short,” said Jack Becker, director of community services, who is also the founding director of Forecast. He and two others working with Forecast met with the Austin citizens at the ArtWorks Center to get a feel for the community and its dynamic. “Your feedback will help us perfect this learning tool.”

Jack Becker, founder of Forecast Public Art, left, and Sally Garry, a local health leader, listen to part of the discussion about Public Art and Placemaking Tools” project.

With information and data gathered in each community, Forecast will help fill a void in current options available to city planners. In return, Austin may receive professional development potential for staff, assistance with demonstration projects, and participation in a regional planning summit on the arts, among other benefits, according to planning and zoning director Holly Wallace, when she spoke to the City Council in February.

The city committed $10,000 for participation over two years, required of being part of the project. Wallace noted at that time the city would not have the resources to work with such professionals, at that cost, in other circumstances.

Becker said this is a two-year project; he said Austin would be part of some type of demonstration project in the spring of 2019.

Those attending the initial meeting, in addition to Forecast representatives were Austin Mayor Tom Stiehm, former mayor Bonnie Rietz, Cedar River Watershed District outreach coordinator Tim Ruzek, Sally Garry, Ann Iijma, of the Minnesota Council of Non Profits; and Riverland Community College Minority Advisor Miguel Garate.

Together, they described for Forecast the arts community in Austin, including its murals, statues, artists, Jay C. Hormel Nature Center, the ArtWorks Center and ArtWorks Festival. Arts’ wider interpretation — from its food and history to its music and public persona — were alsodiscussed.

Forecast is partnering with the American Planning Association to develop and pilot the project, made possible through support from the National Endowment for the Arts Our Town program and the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation.