By Courtney Bergey
A few weeks ago, I heard the phrases that every creative placemaker wants to hear:
“Oh my gosh! I’ve never noticed this place before. It’s so beautiful!”
“We thought this would be a good place for our family to picnic. We never realized there was such an amazing view of the river here!”
“I’ve never seen an artist work in public like this! What are they doing?”
All of these words were heard during our public bronze pour, which not only served as a practical art-making experience for our lead artist Karl Unnasch but also activated the underutilized green space we are hoping to transform with the Lanesboro Arts Campus. Though it was only a two-day, temporary experience, the event gave us some valuable insight on the current public perceptions of the space and what it needs to become a more inviting, useful place.
In the Project for Public Spaces’ Eleven Principles for Creating Great Community Places, one of my favorite suggestions is to “start with the petunias”—or rather, use temporary and inexpensive elements (like planting petunias!) to find what works in the space.
Our “petunia planting” was admittedly accidental, but it definitely made an impact on our project. We had picnic tables delivered to the space the day before our public bronze pour and mold-making workshops; when we came back the next day to arrange the tables and set up for the workshops, the tables were full of people! People were picnicking, accessing the river, hanging out under the shade of our temporary tents, and walking their dogs through the grass. During the event itself, many more people trickled in, surprised at the new use of this previously-ignored public space.
Our biggest challenge right now is simply keeping all of our projects moving forward without sacrificing the quality and thoughtfulness of the work. Our administrative staff (of 3) is juggling two capital construction projects, community engagement events, public space improvements, external communications, and all of the logistical and political details that seem to surface at every corner we turn. Plus, we’re still fundraising to finish all of these projects! Luckily, all challenges have helped us shape the project for the better.
On September 13, we’ll be celebrating the first phase of work with public Haiku, family art activities, and live music in the Poetry Parking Lot, and our series of poetry programming will culminate with the Lanesboro Night of Poetry at the freshly-renovated St. Mane Theatre. Our historic gallery building façade restoration is almost complete, and the artful signage is currently in production.
The positive feedback we’ve received from community members, partners, and participants since the bronze pour has shown us how important these public spaces are to our little town. With every public event, newspaper article, and meeting comes another idea for continuing this work and expanding our reach beyond our initial plan. We’ve been overwhelmed with exciting opportunities to partner with other organizations both locally and nationally, and we hope that as we continue on this home stretch of implementation we can develop ways to really share our model and experiences with other communities around the nation.