Lanesboro Arts Campus

Lanesboro Arts

Funding Received: 2013
Lanesboro, MN
Funding Period: 1 year and 5 months
May 29, 2014

By Courtney Bergey

When we first began working on the Lanesboro Arts Campus project, I think there was a collective vision of what success could look like—our little town would be a vibrant hub for artists, young families would choose to move here, creative businesses would fill the empty storefronts downtown, and residents would be presented with an ever-flowing stream of opportunities to create, participate, and inspire.

Then, as we started tackling the steps needed for this outcome, the big vision got a little fuzzier. We started dealing with many of the issues our fellow grantees across the country are dealing with: construction delays, tense meetings, skeptical residents, fundraising slumps, and a whole lot of stressful decisions to make. Overall, the Lanesboro Arts Campus project has made steady progress towards completion, but it is hard not to get caught up in the minor setbacks.

We have developed a close working relationship with our City Park Board over the past few months, and will be working with them as we finalize and install our public art and wayfinding signage this summer. We have set up our online call for Haiku poetry to incorporate into the spaces, and are finalizing concepts for the production of the signage itself. We’ve scheduled a public bronze pour to bring our community into the process of creating sculpture (it’s July 19th if you’re in Lanesboro!), and we’re just starting to tackle details for a Lanesboro Arts Campus Festival in the fall. Construction on our buildings is moving along nicely, and will hopefully be completed by July.

One thing we have learned about working in a rural community is that often it’s best to show, not just tell. We artists can visualize all we want, but unless we can make our philosophies meaningful and progress visible to our constituents, we’re not doing the real, change-making, community-building work we set out to do.

So instead of explaining creative placemaking in lofty “grant speak,” we’ve begun to use our programming to show our community why investing in the arts and public spaces is so valuable. For example, we’ve been brainstorming accessible ways to integrate poetry into our programming as a way to introduce the idea of the Poetry Parking Lot to our community. We developed two new programs that have been relatively low-cost and make a large impact on our audiences:

-- Farmer’s Market Poet-in-Residence: We hired local poet Andrea Becker to set up her typewriter at the Farmer’s Market and create fresh, raw poetry for shoppers. People were delighted at the idea of a custom poem made just for them on a topic of their choice, and putting a real, live poet in a group of farmers made for a fun way to bring the artistic process to the people.

-- We also started a project called Recycled Haiku, in which we set up an old refrigerator door (from our historic theatre, no less) filled with magnetic poetry at community events. We encouraged participants to use the words to create their own Haiku, then “recycle” their words for someone else to use in creating their own poetry. The photo above shows a Recycled Haiku participant at the recent Earth Day Festival in Lanesboro.

Recent Wins
By showing our community the power of public arts engagement, we have seen a number of other initiatives and ideas pop up around town. The local history museum has approached our organization with ideas of integrating a walking tour to highlight the history of Lanesboro. The school has expressed interest in partnering with the project to have students build benches in industrial tech classes and grow native plants through their FFA horticulture program. A local publisher has shown enthusiasm for printing an anthology of the poetry we solicit throughout the year. The Lanesboro Arts Campus has always aimed to be a framework from which other meaningful initiatives can emerge, and seeing that begin to happen has been without a doubt the most rewarding aspect of our work.

Right now, our challenge is finding a way to empower community members to continue generating ideas and see them through without losing sight of our initial vision and frankly, what we’ve been raising money for. Our staff is stretched very thin as it is, so we always need to be careful about fostering new ideas and aiding outside initiatives without sacrificing our own programs.

The new ideas and initiatives sprouting up in our community have provided significant momentum for our project; and not only that, but they have also shown us that the strategies we’re employing have the potential to become a model for other small towns and urban neighborhoods around the nation. Strategies for visually demonstrating the principles of creative placemaking, creating meaningful and fruitful partnerships with local entities, and always keeping the integrity of the community at the center of our goals have become consistent criteria for success in the Lanesboro Arts Campus project.