Irrigate is an artist-led creative placemaking initiative spanning the six miles of the Central Corridor Light Rail Transit (CCLRT) line in Saint Paul, Minnesota during the years of its construction. This is a unique opportunity that brings together huge infrastructure development, a high concentration of resident artists on both ends of the corridor, a diverse ethnic and cultural mix among the neighborhoods, and a city with a strong track record of artist community engagement. This artist-led community and economic development approach emphasizes cross-sector collaboration with local private and non-profit sectors. By mobilizing artists to engage in their community, Irrigate will change the landscape of the CCLRT neighborhoods with color, art, surprise, creativity and fun. Irrigate is a partnership between the City of Saint Paul, Twin Cities Local Initiatives Support Corporation and Springboard for the Arts.
ArtPlace asked Laura Zabel, Executive Director of Springboard for the Arts; what have been your most effective strategies for attracting the attention of people who matter?
A core value of Irrigate is that everyone matters. In particular, we are focused on engaging:
• Artists who live or work in the neighborhoods along the Central Corridor. We want the artists to approach this work as artists and as stakeholders in the neighborhood. We want them to see this project as an invitation and a charge to fully participate in their neighborhood.
• Business owners and neighborhood organizations. Key to Irrigate’s mission is to provide opportunities for entities along the corridor to leverage the creative thinking of artists to address their issues and opportunities during the LRT construction.
In order to serve and connect these two primary constituencies, we have focused on building relationships with organizations and people who are relevant and credible to these communities. A key and early success of Irrigate was the signing on as full partners of all 6 of the District Councils that serve the Central Corridor neighborhoods. The District Councils collaborate with Springboard staff to teach the workshops, and provide important outreach efforts to both artists and businesses in their neighborhoods. Their community organizing approach has helped us reach beyond the “usual suspects” and attract many artists and business owners who are new the idea of creative placemaking.
In addition to the on the ground strategy for reaching our key constituents, we also view our supporters, funders, and other partners as important collaborators in this work – these people and entities have mattered immensely in helping us create Irrigate – helping us test assumptions, fail forward and learn rapidly. Their insights, advice and contributions are invaluable.
And it turns out that having a huge list of partners who are authentically engaged in the project, along with hundreds of local artists and business owners who are working towards a common goal, is a pretty great attention-getting strategy. Each of these people has their own network that they communicate with and we have been thrilled to have the support of many local media outlets and quite a lot of interest already from other communities that are interested in Irrigate as a model for creative placemaking in their town. There are unlimited sectors, groups and types of people we want to share these ideas with – it would be impossible for us to reach them all – but with a big network of people who share that goal, it seems doable.
Last weekend, an audience of about 150 gathered at the Happy Cabaret – an event led by Tyler Olsen, an Irrigate artist, and hosted by Mai Village restaurant. In order for this event to happen we had to attract the attention of a lot of people who mattered:
• the artist had to be attracted to attend the placemaking training, design a project and find a partner
• the business owner had to be attracted to try a new strategy, and host a cabaret of crazy artists in their restaurant, something they had never tried before
• the neighborhood organizations had to be attracted to help the partnership happen and publicize the event
• the audience had to be attracted to brave the very heavy central corridor construction traffic and venture to a restaurant they’d never visited.
Because of the hard work of the artist and contributions of partners and collaborators all those people who mattered were attracted to participate. And the result was ‘Happy’ indeed. 150 people eating delicious food in a beautiful setting, watching fantastic performers…all in the middle of a construction zone.