A Living Plan for Artistic Practice in the Central Corridor

by: Christine Podas-Larson, Public Art Saint Paul
July 24, 2013

Arising from a 3-year effort, The Central Corridor Public Art Plan can now be accessed as an openly sourced resource for cities, artists, civic and cultural organizations, and the community.  Responding to a mandate for an “artistic plan” that would be creatively engaging and broadly accessible, this has emerged not as a formal plan for official municipal adoption, but rather as a “Living Plan for Artistic Practice.”  It is available online at: publicartstpaul.com/CentralCorridorPublicArtPlan.pdf.  This interactive PDF is dynamically interactive when opened in Adobe Acrobat.     

The Living Plan was commissioned by Public Art Saint Paul and our partners from urban planner Todd Bressi, lead artist Cliff Garten, and team members Blaine Merker of Rebar and Meredith McKinley of Via Partnership.  These consultants, selected from a national field, were on the ground throughout the Corridor from late in 2010 through spring, 2013.  They grasped from the very beginning that a unique and powerful public art practice is happening in the Twin Cities and their plan was inspired and deeply informed by a core group of local artists: Seitu Jones, Marcus Young, Christine Baeumler, TouSaiko Lee, Shanai Matteson, Ashley Hanson, and Wing Young Huie.

Wing’s epic University Avenue Project was in its closing months in 2010 when the team began its explorations.  Wing says of the plan he now sees:  “This is a tremendous resource and rich compendium for public artists at all stages of their careers. For someone like myself who comes from another discipline (journalism) and is a self-taught artist, it is really valuable to have a conceptual framework for how to think about public art.”

So what about this plan is so rich?   This plan looks into the expanse of neighborhoods surrounding the LRT line from downtown Saint Paul into downtown Minneapolis.  It recognizes that contemporary public art is a socially-based practice, with clear intention to impact urban conditions – social, environmental, functional and aesthetic.  It recognizes that public art is multiple media, engaging not only visual artists but also performance, literary, new media, conceptual artists and others to create works that can be permanent or temporary installations, special or continuing events and civic rituals.

The Living Plan brings forward a 3-part foundation for art’s role in shaping the urban future of the broad, cross-jurisdictional Corridor: (1) system-based Urban Languages of modern life –languages of Food, Water, Waste and Infrastructure, languages of Gathering, Identity and Creative Spark — look beyond specific site or structure to articulate a greater inter-related whole; (2) Communities of Practice engage public artists in collaboration with a host of professionals across disciplines – from designers and engineers to agricultural and environmental specialists, social and behavioral scientists; (3) as a Living Plan, it envisions work developed within and across Urban Languages over time, moving past the “one off” idea of singular public art opportunities and aiming to redefine our ideas of Placemaking beyond a specific site to a larger sense of the city.

Says Minneapolis Public Arts Administrator Mary Altman, a Partner in commissioning the plan: “This offers a very compelling and illustrative vision for how artists who are working in the field of contemporary art practice can and are contributing to envisioning cities’ futures. Very few public art plans focus on the ideas of artists, and it’s refreshing to read one that does.  This plan will be an extraordinary resource to artists, communities and organizations working in the public realm.  The Urban Language themes are highly compatible with the ideas that many artists and communities in the City are deeply engaged in thinking about.”

Public Art throughout the Twin Cities is initiated from many sources – from capital budget % for Art mandates of the Cities of Saint Paul and Minneapolis and the State of Minnesota and projects such as Union Depot and the LRT line itself that are funded with federal resources; from privately funded initiatives of non-profits such as Public Art Saint Paul, Northern Lights.mn, Forecast Public Art, Intermedia Arts, the Walker Art Center, Springboard for the Arts and others; from community supported activities, and from artist initiatives.  All of these sources can look to this Living Plan – they may use it as a resource, or policy, or foundation of formal urban plan, or component of strategic plan.  Funders can look to it as a guide to inform their grant-making decisions. 

Christine Baeumler, a member of the University of Minnesota Studio Arts faculty and the Artist in Residence for the Capitol Region and Ramsey Washington Metro Watershed Districts (both of which were Partners in the Living Plan), sees this as an essential “on ramp” for her graduate students.  “They are looking for ways to get involved in public art and city systems.  They will look to it to give them more access to working in the Central Corridor.“

Lucy Thompson, Principal City Planner for the Department of Planning and Economic Development and representing the City of Saint Paul as a Partner in commissioning the plan notes that, “what we have created here is a platform for artists and citizens to engage in celebrating their community and participating in its evolution.  Its success will be not in its adoption by the City within typical planning structures, it will be in its use by artists and the community over time to embrace and direct change.”

A demonstration of the Living Plan is underway, that will give us all a prime opportunity to fully engage with these ideas.  Public Art Saint Paul has commissioned artist Seitu Jones to develop “Create: The Community Meal” for September, 2014.  This 3000-foot long civic dinner table will invite discussion among 2,000 people in the Urban Language of Food – about food access, food justice and the impacts of the food system on the environment.  Artists and the young people they mentor will perform a spoken word piece that reveals the food traditions and rituals of the world cultures that gave birth to our diverse population.

It will demonstrate why we think artists have something structurally to give to cities.  As consultant team member Blainer Merker wrote, “We turn to artists to imagine what our cities can be.  We turn to artists to interpret change, to teach us, to show us what is possible, and to guide our imaginations toward a vision of a better city.”