This is one of six organizations participating in the Community Development Investments (CDI) program. For more information about the program itself, click here.
The Southwest Minnesota Housing Partnership (SWMHP) is a non-profit community development corporation created in 1992 to address housing shortages that were creating barriers to economic growth in the region.
For the past two years, SWMHP has been exploring how art and cultural strategies can be woven into our community planning process to engage a greater cross section of residents that are not typically present in the local decision making process.
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The Southwest Minnesota Housing Partnership (SWMHP) is a non-profit community development corporation created in 1992 to address housing shortages that were creating barriers to economic growth in the region. Our services are driven by community engagement as we strive to understand market and community need and develop responsive solutions. Solutions are varied and unique to each place, challenging us to evolve as our region undergoes change. Our mission is to create thriving places to live, grow, and work through partnerships with communities. SWMHP is highly valued for:
Planning. Community Development planning and market analysis are important steps in community building for SWMHP. We assist cities, counties, and townships to evaluate their local needs, create a realistic plan, and access funding sources to get started.
Building. SWMHP strives to provide quality, safe affordable housing for residents in the region by constructing, acquiring and/or rehabilitating affordable rental units; and making homeownership possible for more people by designing and building quality homes at affordable prices.
Empowering. Not only do we provide financial and homeownership capability services, we continually seek and secure funding to provide low-interest mortgages and closing cost assistance for homebuyers.
Preserving. Maintaining the vitality of small communities in our region often requires rehabilitation of homes, rentals and businesses. SWMHP helps secure funding and administers rehabilitation efforts.
Supporting. In each community, we provide real estate development expertise to support local governments, businesses, school districts, community action agencies, and other service providers in their efforts to meet local housing needs.
SMWHP hosted a community forum to kick-off the CDI program in October 2015. Click here to view the program from the event and you can watch the video below.
Our 27 county region consists of many small discrete villages and cities spread across southern and western Minnesota. We are a historically agricultural region that experienced dramatic population losses during the 80’s farming crisis. This agricultural reliance forced our region to diversify, prompting job growth that would set in motion a great wave of new residents from every corner of the world. The newcomers to our region are injecting energy and a new sense of place as they shape a future for themselves and their families. This is occurring throughout Southwest Minnesota in many different locations, each creating its own unique place. These rapid shifts have led to an “identity crisis” for many cities and created an opportunity to lift up the voices of new residents to shape the future of the community.
We are using creative approaches to community development work in three cities that have undergone dramatic demographic shifts and are unique in size, demographics, assets, and opportunities. Worthington with a population of just over 13,000 is a growing regional economic center and the 3rd most diverse community in Minnesota, behind only Minneapolis and St. Paul, with over 50 languages/dialects spoken. Our second community is St James with a population just under 4,500. While this railroad community has experienced overall population declines, there has been strong growth in the Hispanic/Latinx community which now comprises over 30% of the population. Milan is a small community of just under 400 people that was facing severe population declines until a significant influx of Micronesian families helped to grow the community.
Last Updated: January 2018
For more information on SWMHP's arts work, visit www.partnershipart.com
For the past two years, SWMHP has been exploring how art and cultural strategies can be woven into our community planning process to engage a greater cross section of residents that are not typically present in the local decision making process. We have witnessed how art and cultural strategies can better identify the assets and opportunities that exist within a community, can connect with people in new ways, and can create solutions to community challenges. In doing so, the voices of local residents are elevated to reflect the traditions, heritage, and vision for their community.
With community planning at the core of our work we are focusing art and cultural strategies on the implementation of our planning processes in the three distinctive communities of Worthington, St. James, and Milan. Each community has experienced a rapid demographic shift in the past 25 years bringing about both change and opportunity.
As a growing regional center within Southwest Minnesota, our goal is to engage artists in Worthington to help reflect the changing demographics by reimagining design guidelines, public facilities, community space, transportation, and housing.
This effort focuses on the community’s desire to change the visual image of Worthington through the creation of new Design Guidelines for the city. The project consultant for the guidelines worked with an artist team to solicit community feedback and to bring cultural reflection into the process. The guidelines and standards are intended to nurture a gradual transition to a more pedestrian friendly environment and an environment in which the community can take greater pride.
We are also working with artists to capitalize on the vibrancy of the downtown and diversity of retail establishments and public services that exist thereby creating a welcoming gateway to the Nobles County Government Center. Through community conversations, we have learned that community celebrations in or near downtown are often noted as key community assets. The Nobles County Government Center is the location for the International Festival and is also one of the first facilities that new residents will visit for employment services, license services, or to access public assistance. As a physical entry point for many new Americans, we want to create a public space that is welcoming and representative of different cultures.
An asset mapping process identified transportation in Worthington as a major concern; with misperceptions on who can access public transit, and a lack of transit options for night shifts at the meat processing plant. Transportation is also a factor contributing to economic and racial disparities within Worthington. A team of local artists will purchase a decommissioned bus to create an Artmobile that will provide opportunities for community engagement to some of the most under-represented community members. The project will draw people into neighborhoods, sharing and creating together.
As a developer of affordable housing, we acknowledge that the ability to provide safe affordable housing is a critical piece of the poverty puzzle. In Southwest Minnesota, 1 in 6 children live in poverty. We are interested in exploring arts-based strategies that we can integrate within our affordable rental developments to help decrease the gap between opportunity and the reality that exists for youth in poverty within SWMHP housing communities. We plan to target these efforts at Grand Terrace, a new affordable housing development in Worthington.
St. James is a mid-size community with a population of just under 4,500. Despite overall population declines, there has been strong growth in the Hispanic/Latinx community. Through our recent projects, arts-based strategies are addressing healthy housing needs and downtown activation and revitalization.
Healthy Housing Initiative
A local housing committee recently highlighted the need to focus heavily on the preservation, maintenance and improvement of existing housing stock. An artist team composed of Jack Forinash, Mary Rothlisberger, and Kelly Gregory have developed creative approaches towards outreach and education efforts, especially among Latinx households. The artist team designed a healthy home toolkit that is being distributed by a team of neighborhood advocates. Their practice utilizes art and design to cultivate connections within communities and to foster a sense of pride. The connections established through the healthy housing initiative created a ripple effect in the community, inspiring the City to dedicate funding for rehabilitation, examine a handyman program, partner with their City Attorney to translate City documents into Spanish, and invite the first Latina community member onto the Housing Committee.
In conducting community asset mapping, the downtown was frequently highlighted in both a positive and negative light by community members. St. James has experienced a rise of Latino businesses helping to stabilize and give new energy to the downtown, but many residents still highlight vacant storefronts as a concern. In addition, community space reflects the strong railroad history of the community but does not highlight the diverse culture that exists within the community today. We hired Sara Udvig, a Muralist Artist with a strong background in community engagement to work with St. James residents to develop an art experience that is representative of the diverse culture of St. James, and which works to re-energize the area as a community gathering space. Through her community planning efforts two projects arose that will be implemented in the downtown. The Garden of Good People Mural will work to strengthen community connections and speaks to the giving spirit of residents. The second project is Bike-ro Economy, a micro economy on wheels that will bring the street vending energy to the streets of St. James.
Plaza de Saint James
The Plaza de Saint James creates a multifunctional space for people to gather and interact supporting outdoor performances and micro-economy ventures. This project represents an opportunity to raise the Latinx community voice and visual presence in the community in a way that serves the goals of local stakeholders interested in increasing the viability of local commerce in St. James. The Plaza could create a more culturally-invigorated, visual community landscape while making St. James feel like home for more of its residents.
Milan is a small community of just under 400 people that has been experiencing population declines since the 1940s. This population decline shifted in the mid-2000s when Milan became a destination for many Micronesian immigrants, who are allowed to move freely to the United States due a compact but have few legal pathways to citizenship and permanent residency. It is estimated that nearly half of Milan’s population if Micronesian. Artists are helping locals and a growing Micronesian population better articulate needs and desires around housing and the future of the community.
This Land is Milan
Placebase Productions, a community theater group based in the Twin Cities, led a community engagement process over the Summer of 2017 to transform the community into a stage to explore past stories, present conditions and future possibilities. The artist team explored themes around common ground between Norwegian and Micronesian heritage, immigration stories, the concept of home, and Milan’s history and hopes for the future. Over 40 community members donated 2,000 volunteer hours to participate in the musical held on October 7, 2017. The production highlighted local assets and opportunities and will be a springboard for future community development initiatives. It also raised awareness among skeptical local leaders on how arts based strategies can address community challenges and opportunities. Finally, the production encouraged community connections with over 50% of participants indicating after the performance they would connect more with community members they didn’t know.
The Listening House
The Listening House is a community-generated art exhibit exploring the many meanings of “home” to the people of Milan. A team of four local artists created a temporary exhibit inside a dilapidated house which has been lived in by both Scandinavian and Micronesian community newcomers. The goal of the Listening House is to identify shared community housing values in Milan through art, play, and conversation. The artist team was such an inspiration to the property owner that he has decided to invest funds in the rehabilitation of the vacant property, helping to alleviate the housing shortage in the community. This project will be the catalyst to engage in conversations on a larger scale rehabilitation effort to address poor housing conditions within the community and other community needs identified through the process.
We believe that art and creative processes can add value to our work; helping to advance collaboration among departments, SWMHP sites, and communities. We will be hiring a Resident Artist to work collaboratively with SWMHP staff; designing and delivering creative placemaking strategies that advance new ways of thinking, exploring, and implementing ideas amongst the staff and in the communities we serve.