Defiant Gardens for Fargo-Moorhead

Plains Art Museum

Funding Received: 2013
Fargo, ND
Funding Period: 1 year and 5 months
July 23, 2013

At Plains Art Museum in Fargo, North Dakota, we dug into our three projects for “Defiant Gardens for Fargo-Moorhead” in June and July after being awarded an ArtPlace America grant. We resumed three projects that have been in various stages of planning and design for three years by inviting the principal artists leading these projects to Fargo to meet with our collaborative teams, examine sites, and lay plans for further design refinement and work plan. These include Mark Dion, based in New York City, who is collaborating with Fargo-based architect Regin Schwaen and artist Michael J. Strand; Christine Baeumler is a St. Paul-based environmental artist who is artist-in-residence for two watersheds and associate professor of art at the University of Minnesota. She is collaborating with Seitu Jones, St. Paul public artist and horticulturalist, and Fargo-based artist MeLissa Kossick. Rob Fischer and Kevin Johnson, two Brooklyn-based artists, are creating a garden at the site of a decommissioned power plant in Moorhead, MN, collaborating with Moorhead-based artist Su Legatt and the Moorhead Public Service Commission.

Our gardens are inspired by the work of landscape architect Kenneth Helphand, professor emeritus at University of Oregon, whose amazing book, Defiant Gardens: Making Gardens in Wartime, documented the creation of gardens under life-and-death circumstances and extreme duress. He discusses gardens that soldiers built in the trenches in World War I; P.O.W. camps in World War II; gardens in the Jewish ghetto in Warsaw in the 1930s and 40s and in the Nazi concentration camps. His philosophical commentary asserts the criticality of humans’ connections to plants—not simply for physical sustenance but also for spiritual well-being and as an expression of hope. His poetic term—“Defiant Gardens”—unites seemingly contradictory words and concepts and serves eloquently to describe gardens as places of life, hope, sustenance, and thriving in unlikely places. We adopted his language as a talisman for our hopes to create more vibrancy in downtown Fargo and Moorhead, two small sister cities divided by a state border and the Red River of the North. Our cities have a growing visual arts scene but little public art that contributes to really great gathering places. Our hopes are that our network of Defiant Gardens will make an innovative contribution to the creation of strong public art and more welcoming gathering places for our communities.

Bauemler’s project, “Pollinator Garden for Plains Art Museum,” involves re-conceptualizing the urban setting of the museum as an environmentally-sensitive campus that also educates youth and other visitors about the important role of pollinators in botanical and agricultural cycles. Her project will also involve creating storm water abatement features on the museum campus with a tree trench, rain gardens, water capture cisterns and rain barrels. Youth in museum education programs will participate in studying science/art integration about pollinators and helping to create many of the garden and water features. In June, our team, along with middle-school students, planted a small flower and vegetable garden near an outdoor sculpture pedestal as the first step in the project (seen above in planting activities/photo by Cody Jacobson). Meetings to discuss the project with partners also were part of Baeumler’s visit.

071513Original concept design Power Plant garden 062013In June, Rob Fischer and Kevin Johnson met with many members of the project team for “Defiant Garden for the Moorhead Power Plant”  They are refining the site design (original concept above) and laying plans to build a cement infrastructure for the garden that echoes the shapes of building and tower footings in the power plant yard, across the street from where the garden will be located. The artists also will salvage machinery parts from the plant’s interior for placement in the garden. The garden will serve as an homage to this historic industrial structure, which is slated for demolition late this fall.

071513Fern Grotto Meeting 070113Mark Dion came to town to reconnect with his collaborators and refine the design for “Winter Fern Grotto for Fargo,” a project meant to defy the sensory-deprivation that many feel in the long Fargo winters. Planned to be create a grotto-like greenhouse in an old boxcar, the Fern Grotto will be located near the Great Northern Bicycle Shop, located next to a major railroad line in downtown Fargo. Here we hold a planning meeting with Mark Dion, artist Michael Strand, architect Regin Schwaen, John Q. Paulsen, chair of the Fargo Planning Commission, Chris Gion, interim museum curator, and Concordia College interns Katie Peppera and Emma Payne. Dion and Schwaen also consulted with Dan Mahli of the Fargo Planning Department, looking at the site for the Fern Grotto. (Photos by Colleen Sheehy)

From these initial meetings, we continue to work to answer questions, involve more collaborators, inform city officials, consult with engineering specialists, and lay plans for further work. While at different phases in each project, we anticipate that spring to early fall 2014 will be the time when these projects come to full fruition.
As we continue talking with artists, city officials, planners, faculty, students and residents, we find that these projects are intersecting in productive ways with other planning efforts in our downtowns and to discussion about the importance of public art in our communities.

--submitted by Colleen Sheehy, Director and CEO, Plains Art Museum, and project director