Defiant Gardens for Fargo-Moorhead

Plains Art Museum

Funding Received: 2013
Fargo, ND
Funding Period: 1 year and 5 months
July 31, 2015

After a winter of planning, the Defiant Gardens projects have been steaming along since May and we have good news and bad news to report.

In the good news area, Buzz Lab, our summer teen program focused around the Pollinator Garden for Plains Art Museum, reconvened for a second summer internship week in June. Ten teens from last year returned and eight new teens joined in and forged a strong cohort over their 4 days of study, art making, work in the Pollinator Garden, and final performance for their families. Lead artist Christine Baeumler and collaborating artist MeLissa Kossick led the workshops, with critical planning and involvement by Brianna McNellie, Youth Program Coordinator at Plains Art Museum.

We are happy that the perennials planted in the new gardens last summer came back--bushier than ever. Some plants didn't make it over the winter, and we are making plans to fill in and replace them with hardier varieties. We were eager to get our patio tables and chairs out as soon as the weather warmed up in May so that visitors and passersby and neighborhood workers and residents could enjoy the budding garden.

In mid-July, the Buzz Lab convened again and put their knowledge into practice for the public. We held a "Pollinator Party" to introduce the garden and the new public space outside the Museum's Center for Creativity to the public. The event was timed to coincide with the annual Fargo Street Fair, which brings thousands of people to downtown Fargo. With the Museum just two blocks from the main drag of the fair, we lured people off that beaten path with Tours of the Garden; Pollinator Trivia, and PIE brought to us by the collaborative team, "Low Tech/High Joy."

We had some good news on the Heritage Garden and Amphitheater in Moorhead too. After many delays due to the need for Moorhead Public Service to demolish and remove and excavate a decommissioned power plant, we got access to the site this past spring. MPS crews prepared the site and landscaped the undulating wave design into the hilltop area and created earthen terraces on the hillside to create an amphiteater.

In early June, we were ready to plant. Su Legatt, part of the artist team that inclues Rob Fischer and Kevin Johnson, gathered donated plants from nearby Moorhead residents. (She will also capture their stories about their gardens and their memories of the power plant, which dominated this neighborhood since the 1890s, and those recorded stories will be accessible via QR codes on garden signage.) Many volunteers and Concordia College interns from the Art Department along with Museum staff helped to plant the donated plants. Spirits were high. Beauty was being made. People walking or biking by stopped to see what was going on. We enjoyed sharing the vision of the garden with them.

Then vandals struck. On Sunday, July 5 in the overnight hours, vandals pulled out the newly-planted flowers that had just taken root and stomped on others to kill them. They ripped up the landscape fabric that was put down to prevent weeds from taking over the beds. They destroyed the lights that had been installed.

The project team, staff at MPS, and City of Moorhead were shocked and disapointed. This has been a set back. We have had to reconsider this element of the garden design, feeling that it is hard to ask people to donate plants with the fear that they will be destroyed again. We have made some protection plans and asked the Moorhead police to increase patrols and neighbors to monitor.

This raise the question about how creative placemaking efforts in areas that are vulnerable and initially are not heavily trafficked can prevent vandalism. Public spaces can be vulnerable to people with all kinds of intentions or resistance to new things coming into an area.

We plan to proceed with the other design elements of the garden this summer and assess whether we can put new plants in this fall.

Thanks to Fargo railroad train car collection Dirk Lenthe, we have secured a box car that will be transformed into artist Mark Dion's Fern Grotto for Fargo, an exquisitly designed space that will evoke a Victorian fern grotto. Crystal Rinkenberger, an B. Arch. graduate of the Department of Architecture at North Dakota State University, created construction drawings that will be used to transform an old box car into this new public space. The project team, including NDSU Landscape Architecture Chair Matthew Kirkwood, is planning all aspects of the rehab, interior build, and interior design while also trying to keep the costs within the project budget.