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Minot has been known as the “Magic City” since it first sprang up, seemingly overnight, in the late 1800s. Over the last decade, an oil boom has brought many new arrivals, generating a severe shortage of affordable housing. This shortage was compounded in June 2011 by a flood of the Souris River, the worst in Minot’s history, which damaged more than 4,000 homes, many beyond repair. The flood left approximately a third of Minot without homes.

Minot now faces the dual challenges of re-establishing its long-term residents while creating appropriate space for the influx of oil-related workers, and it aspires to do both while maintaining Minot’s unique identity and cultural integrity. Artspace Projects has been welcomed as a key partner in this process.

The new 34-unit artist live/work project at the corner of Central Avenue and Main Street in the heart of downtown Minot will also include about 5,400 square feet of commercial space, some of which is expected to be dedicated to a Native American museum and gift shop. The community has rallied behind the project: local businesses and individuals have contributed more than $400,000 to the planning effort. This, coupled with other critical support, including foundations such as ArtPlace, helps make these projects a reality.

ArtPlace asked Artspace Senior Vice President of National Advancement Colin Hamilton to reflect on the ArtPlace Creative Placemaking Summit that took place in Miami last month.

ARTPLACE: Where does this movement go next? What ideas did you gain or lessons did you learn that you plan to apply to your initiative?  What new opportunities for your initiative did you identify from conversations with other creative placemakers?

COLIN: One of the discussions I found most interesting included comments by Jeremy Nowak about “America’s Top 12 ArtPlaces.”  He noted that on one hand, they are a fairly predictable group of places—well established in our general public conscious as communities with thriving art scenes, as well as having strong appeal to a relatively mobile class.  But he also made the observation that if you skipped back in time 20 to 30 years, it was not at all clear that these places were going to successfully establish themselves as artistic centers.

Having identified which artistic centers thrived, our follow up question needs to be: What happened at those centers that made them successful?  One clear piece of the answer is that while there were many important moments and events, the enduring, critical changes were achieved over a long horizon. The creation of these vibrant communities was 20 to 30 years in the making, and that while short-term goals are important; sustainable, transformative change generally takes the better part of a generation to fully establish. In our general strategizing, we need to blend short-term goals with a long-term vision, and give ourselves a genuine opportunity to succeed on the largest scale.

That question of time was a common topic in many of the groups I participated in. There is clearly a great burst of energy and support for creative placemaking right now, and in the shadow of the recession there is a profound sense of urgency. But when we look at many of the communities we most admire, we recognize that they evolved over time—and part of what keeps them unique and distinct could only be achieved slowly.

Wynwood in Miami is a curious counter example for me.  It has come together in just a few years, and while it is quite stunning in many ways, it didn’t feel—to this superficial observer on one afternoon—like a “real” place. There were very few people around, and the experience it offered, while exciting, was fairly one-dimensional. It may still become a great place, but part of that process is about allowing the dust to settle, and I assume that is going to take some years yet.

Another interesting conversation was around the role of artists, and more specifically: What happens when we increasingly celebrate artists for non-artistic reasons? Part of the power of creative placemaking is that it gets the arts out of their traditionally nebulous realm and into more tangible things—public safety, job creation, transit oriented development.  All well and good, but what happens to both individual artists and our collective sense of “art” if they increasingly become tools of urban development? Coming back from the ArtPlace summit, I saw this in an email from another attendee: “Above all, my greatest take-away was simply this: where we live is our work of art.” While there is something beautiful in that idea, it also begs questions such as: In our drive to be relevant to mayors and policy makers, are we giving up the tradition of arts for arts sake, and if so, what does it mean for the next generation?

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