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The Kirkbride Building in Fergus Falls. Photo by Tim Litt, courtesy of Springboard for the Arts

The Kirkbride Building in Fergus Falls. Photo by Tim Litt, courtesy of Springboard for the Arts

Knight Arts grantee Springboard for the Arts got some digital ink from Minnesota Public Radio last week: the arts organization has just been awarded a $75,000 Our Town grant by the National Endowment for the Arts. The grant will help fund the organization’s efforts to foster artist-led “creative placemaking and community storytelling” in the rural Minnesota town of Fergus Falls, where Springboard established a branch office in June 2011 with the aim of “mobilizing artists as leaders in rural communities.”

The objectives for the organization’s programs in Fergus Falls sound a lot like those fueling Irrigate, another endeavor in which Springboard (and the Knight Foundation) has been a key partner. Irrigate garnered national attention for similar “creative placemaking” efforts in the Twin Cities “central corridor” neighborhoods during the area’s years-long light rail construction. Arts-centered revitalization efforts were also front and center at the Rural Arts and Culture Summit, jointly presented by Springboard for the Arts and University of Minnesota – Morris this June.

Springboard for the Arts established an office in Fergus Falls in 2011: the Rural Program for artist-led placemaking beyond the city

Springboard for the Arts established an office in Fergus Falls in 2011: the Rural Program works to foster artist-led placemaking efforts outside the city – where you’ll find communities hit especially hard by the economic downturn and tectonic changes in the manufacturing sector.

According to Springboard’s press materials on the newly awarded NEA grant, “Imagine Fergus Falls is a year-long initiative that will engage artists as community leaders and lead to the creation of dozens of artist-led placemaking projects in service of the historic preservation and economic improvement goals of the City of Fergus Falls.”

Some specifics:

A major focus of ‘Imagine Fergus Falls’ will be the history and future of the Fergus Falls Regional Treatment Center, or ‘The Kirkbride,’ a state mental institution which was Fergus Falls’ largest employer for over 100 years. Built in 1897, at 500,000 square feet with 70 acres of farmland, this remarkable building is currently on the National Historic Registry and on Minnesota’s list of endangered historic sites.

According to reporting done by MPR’s “Ground Level” blog, Fergus Falls’ city leaders are in the midst of planning renovations of the old Kirkbride building with a Georgia-based development outfit called Historic Properties. And now, with influx of the funds from the Our Town grant – and the micro-grants for area artists’ placemaking projects that money will help subsidize – Springboard hopes to ensure those plans for restoring the historic site will be developed with meaningful input and assistance from area artists and storytellers.

To that end, Springboard recently hired a local artist and educator, Naomi RaMona Schliesman, to act as the “Imagine Fergus Falls” Artist Organizer in charge of engaging the community to develop projects around the historic Kirkbride building.

Springboard’s work in Fergus Falls is supported by the McKnight Foundation, Emily Hall Tremaine Foundation, Bush Foundation, Surdna Foundation and the Lake Region Arts Council. “Imagine Fergus Falls” received one of 59 Our Town grants awarded to projects across 34 states (the median amount awarded: $50,000). In all, a total of $4.725 million was granted in this, the third year of such NEA funding for arts-focused creative placemaking endeavors.

For more information on Springboard for the Arts efforts in Fergus Falls: http://www.springboardforthearts.org/who-we-are/rural-program-fergus-falls-office/.

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