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Public Art Saint Paul (PASP) has enhanced civic life in Saint Paul, Minnesota, for 25 years. PASP unites artists with citizens to shape a public realm that fosters imagination, explores civic values and the community’s evolving history, and strengthens the city’s public spaces as vessels of public life. Among this nonprofit’s numerous creative collaborations, PASP partners with the City of Saint Paul to promote its identity as a creative city.

ArtPlace support is expanding these relationships. After establishing the City Artist in Residence (CAIR) Program in 2005 with a single artist housed in Saint Paul’s Public Works Department, PASP has now built a team of artists (CAIRs) immersed within a broader constellation of public agencies.

Mayor Chris Coleman noted about the recent CAIR program expansion, “We are in a game-changing moment. After seven years of successful development of the CAIR Program, we are ready to take a significant new step in advancing how public art is effectively envisioned, created, delivered, and sustained. This collaboration between the City and Public Art Saint Paul adds to the flourishing of civic life by enacting a new vision for an expressive City.”

ArtPlace spoke with Rich Lallier, Director of Public Works for the City of Saint Paul, about how the CAIR cohort is innovating at the foundation of creative place making in Saint Paul and its metro area.

ARTPLACE: Describe how the public-private partnership works between your department and PASP.

LALLIER: Saint Paul doesn’t have an administrative department for arts and culture like some cities. But we have a “percent for art” City Ordinance and strong arts and cultural support in the population. PASP underwrites the city artists’ compensation and contributes generously to any project that has its genesis with the CAIR Program. Public Works contributes to the program by providing technical and administrative support along with office space and other resources within the department.

By having Marcus Young (CAIR since 2006) physically located within our department, an exchange of knowledge is kindled between him and our engineering and technical staff. It’s the CAIRs’ role to develop ideas for art projects that can be integrated into the public realm, and then assess with our engineers and planners the feasibility of the projects.

ARTPLACE: What has been the reaction of your professional peers toward your relationship with the CAIR program?

LALLIER: Let me illustrate with an example: Our vanguard program and artwork, Everyday Poems for City Sidewalk, is now in its sixth year. It’s the first large-scale CAIR art that Marcus conceived. In 2009, WTS International, an association of women engineers in transportation, asked us to nominate and then honored the program as an “Innovative Transportation Solution.” The award recognizes innovations that rely on programs or plans instead of infrastructure. The Sidewalk Poetry program makes the city more livable by animating its sidewalks, making our city a book with its streets paved with poetry. As we considered it further, the poetry also serves as an incentive for people to walk rather than drive. Walking any distance, as opposed to driving, lessens the city’s carbon footprint and improves the health of individuals. An added bonus was that the cost of the program was minimal for the city.

We knew the program was popular with Saint Paul residents, but it was also gratifying to know that our professional peers saw a practical value in what we did, and accordingly, honored the Sidewalk Poetry program as an innovation in transportation.

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