Defiant Gardens for Fargo-Moorhead

Plains Art Museum

Funding Received: 2013
Fargo, ND
Funding Period: 1 year and 5 months
September 9, 2013

Update and Reflection

Colleen Sheehy, Defiant Gardens project director, hosted a gathering in July to bring together the respective artists and community members working on the three distinct projects within this grant: the Winter Fern Grotto for Fargo, the Pollinator Garden for the Plains Art Museum, and the Defiant Garden for the Moorhead Power Plant. This event allowed the artists to meet each other and also provided an opportunity for the teams to connect on progress and plans to date.

The primary focus of this month’s update is the Moorhead project, which is under the creative leadership of artists Rob Fischer and Kevin Johnson. Brooklyn-based Fischer is staying in the Fargo-Moorhead area this summer as he works with staff at Moorhead Public Service (MPS) to determine the environmental constraints of designing the garden on the site of the city’s defunct power plant, slated for demolition this fall. The old plant is a prominently decaying landmark located near the Red River, which forms the boundary between the cities of Moorhead, Minn., and Fargo, N.D. Su Legatt, who lives in Moorhead and is a member of the Visual Arts faculty at North Dakota State University, is collaborating closely with Fischer and the MPS staff in refining the garden designs, which include a stage area with rolling amphitheater seating, salvaged valves and pipes to direct water run-off to planting areas, and a Legacy Garden space containing plant donations from local gardeners.

Across the river at the Plains Art Museum in Fargo, the pilot Pollinator Garden is thriving with assistance from staff and interns from Concordia College. A youth art class designed festive garden signs which the children sculpted, glazed and fired at the Museum’s Katherine Kilbourne Burgum Center for Creativity. The signs add a delightful, hand-made touch among the garden’s flowers and vegetables.

Recent Wins

In a July 22nd article in The Forum, Fargo-Moorhead’s daily newspaper, arts leader Dayna Del Val highlighted the ArtPlace America grant in a column titled, “Why creative placemaking matters in the Red River Valley.” Del Val wrote, “The Plains Art Museum recently received a $260,000 ArtPlace America grant, one of 54 awards from 1,200 applicants….Grants like these are direct affirmations of the creative placemaking work being done here to revitalize our community.”


The Legacy Garden concept noted above allows local gardeners to be directly and intimately connected to the Moorhead Defiant Garden project. Individuals will be invited to contribute perennials that are of personal, family, or geographical importance to them.  The Legacy Garden will be planted in long rows along rolling berms to create a natural strolling area for visitors. Through the use of QR codes (and possibly an interactive station), guests will be able to listen to the stories about each donated plant and see photos of the people who contributed them. Extra attention will be placed on gathering plants from people who once lived nearby along the river and were displaced by flooding. In now-vacant lots where homes were bought out and removed, the traces of their former gardens still spring forth. It is our hope to reclaim some of these plants for the neighboring Defiant Garden, and in doing so, honor and reconnect with those who can share powerful stories of struggle, family, community, and hope.