This Saturday’s crisp, clear afternoon was especially welcome after a week of cold drizzle – Irrigate Arts certainly couldn’t have asked for more inviting fall day for “Art Happens Here,” a pop-up community carnival celebrating their first year of “creative placemaking” in St. Paul’s Central Corridor neighborhoods. Irrigate, which has facilitated and funded all kinds of arts projects in the area, encourages artists to work hand in hand with area businesses to ameliorate some of the inconvenience and hardship that inevitably accompanies long-term infrastructure projects. Their efforts have been particularly concentrated on training and facilitating work by artists who live and work in neighborhoods which are directly affected by the disruptions of ongoing light rail construction.
The turnout for Saturday’s afternoon-long celebration of art-making, schmoozing and performance was modest but enthusiastic: Irrigate artists and advocates rubbed elbows with art scenesters and neighborhood residents, excited kids and casually curious passersby.
According to Springboard for the Arts Executive Director, Laura Zabel, Irrigate (a collaboration of Springboard for the Arts, the City of Saint Paul, and Twin Cities Local Initiatives Support Corporation funded by a public/private coalition, including the Knight Foundation) has so far worked with more than 350 individual artists and 70 local partner organizations. Irrigate-sponsored projects have been as diverse in flavor as the populations who call these neighborhoods home. These have included: a playful investigation into the history of political campaign offices residing over the years on University Ave and a Zumba-inspired flash mob dancing the “Light Rail Shuffle;” there have been a number of dance, music and theater events animating abandoned storefronts and derelict buildings, as well as a huge variety of visual arts, interactive projects and public art installations geared toward direct community engagement.
As we listen to the smooth grooves of Soullections, the last performance of the day on Saturday, Zabel and I chat about the high points of Irrigate’s first year. “What really strikes me,” she says, “is the power of giving artists the invitation and the charge to do something for their communities, to use their artistic talents to make a difference” in the neighborhoods where they live.