Defiant Gardens for Fargo-Moorhead

Plains Art Museum

Funding Received: 2013
Fargo, ND
Funding Period: 1 year and 5 months
January 30, 2014

Plains staff Tim Patterson, Colleen Sheehy and Mark Ryan review and revise the Pollinator Garden master plan; photo by Karis Thompson

In the midst of a Polar Vortex and innumerable unnamed days of cold, snow, and wind, the Plains Art Museum continues to labor toward realization of three Defiant Gardens. In January, the Museum hired Karis Thompson to navigate community engagement around the Defiant Gardens projects, coordinating between project collaborators and inviting public interaction with the gardens.

Pollinator Garden for the Plains
This month, project collaborators reviewed a fully-designed master plan submitted by Kurt Leuthold, civil engineer and vice president, and ecologist, horticulturalist and landscape architect Fred Rozumalski from Minneapolis-based Barr Engineering. The Plains has also formally introduced Buzz Lab – a weeklong paid internship for 12 youth to learn about the role of pollinators in our ecosystem, create art and participate in the installation of the Pollinator Garden – via Museum publications and local communication forums.

Fern Grotto for Fargo
The Museum and Fern Grotto collaborators anticipated New York-based artist Mark Dion’s scheduled February visit to Fargo-Moorhead, as an opportunity to discuss and advance planning for his design for a fern grotto in a box car situated in downtown Fargo. We just learned that due to a family emergency, Mark will not be able to travel to Fargo, and now need to redesign our planning process. Architect and project partner Regin Schwaen continues to work with his 12-student studio on conceptual designs rendered in models and blueprints. We hope Mark will be able to interact with the class later this semester.

Defiant Garden for the Moorhead Power Plant
Artist Su Legatt will enlist Concordia College art students and coordinate with Plains staff to engage community stakeholders to collect and curate plants culled from the prairie landscape and local gardens for a legacy garden. These contributed plants will grow in perennial beds at the Moorhead Power Plant site. Project stakeholders continue to interact with City of Moorhead staff and introduce the project to public officials and community leaders to cultivate a network of advocates for the garden.

Recent Wins
This winter, city leaders in the Fargo-Moorhead community identified public art as a civic priority and initiated conversations about art as a catalyst for community and economic redevelopment. The City of Fargo established a public art task force and due to a high level of interest in serving on the task force, also formed a public art advisory council. Defiant Gardens director Colleen Sheehy will serve on the task force and looks forward to helping to advance a broad-based approach to ongoing public art programs in the city. Moorhead’s newly-elected Mayor Del Rae Williams continues to explore how arts organizations and artists could revitalize and anchor Moorhead’s downtown. At a recent State of the Cities convening, the mayors of Fargo, Moorhead, West Fargo and Dilworth all endorsed the arts as a critical lever for sustained growth, and “The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead” published an editorial this January affirming public and private investment in public art.

The Museum’s past and ongoing partnerships with public and socially-engaged artists from Fargo and Moorhead and beyond – including the three Defiant Gardens collaborations – have elevated the visibility of and community conversations about the role of art and artists within the public realm. Future site work with the Pollinator Garden, the boxcar-enclosed Fern Grotto and around the Moorhead Power Plant hopefully will continue to root imagination about art as an anchor and catalyst for community-building encounters and enterprise.

This season of quiet planning affords time to think about the work of curating diverse sets of stakeholders to engage with and evolve the Defiant Gardens, and how each project imbedded into its site might inspire new interaction within the public realm, strengthening our social fabric. The Buzz Lab internship could extend the social horizons and establish the leadership of youth participants from a range of cities and schools, families and experiences. The legacy gardens at the Moorhead Power Plant site – representing the memories of people populating the plains – may surface individual and collective stories of land, home, the table and family from residents whose roots in the region span hundreds of years, three generations or just a few months. And the respite of a fern grotto during a harsh winter may facilitate conversation about the role of democratic spaces—outdoor and indoor—within the public sphere.