Update: Please click here for videos from the night’s performances
Saturday night’s “We Are Here” concert in The Lyric at Carleton Place, off University Avenue, was more than just a rock show. It’s “creative placemaking” in action, part of a program which aims to galvanize artist-led economic development along the city’s six-mile stretch of “Central Corridor” light rail construction. The program, called Irrigate, is a joint project of Springboard for the Arts (a Knight Arts grantee), the City of St. Paul and Twin Cities Local Initiatives Support Corporation.
Last fall, Irrigate received a significant grant from ArtPlace (a public-private partnership which includes the Knight Foundation) to provide training and resources for artists with ideas for “creative placemaking,” to encourage partnerships between artists and their communities in the interest of finding new ways for everyone there to thrive, even in the midst of the upheaval of years-long construction.
While there have been some art installations and murals commissioned, as well as a few small-scale neighborhood-oriented events, this past weekend’s “We Are Here” concert was the largest of the Irrigate-sponsored artist-led projects to have come to fruition since the initiative got underway several months ago.
Jun-Li Wang, one of two artist community organizers working on staff for Irrigate, said, as of now, more than 200 artists have also completed the Irrigate program’s artist-training workshops. “Tonight’s event is just one of many taking shape in this neighborhood. Irrigate just gives artists a little boost — with networking and some training and funding — so they have the resources to turn their ideas into action, meaningful contributions to their communities.”
The vibe at “We Are Here” was earnest and enthusiastic, if a little shaggy; the concert line-up billed itself as a showcase of “underground” talent. The crowd on hand to listen skewed young, early to mid-20s, and most in attendance seemed to know each other; the audience started small but grew steadily as the night wore on. The four bands featured (Tiger Vs, the Big Sillies, TeamMates, Olsen Twinns) are newly formed or still developing; some have been playing in area bars, but in our cities’ well-saturated music scene, all of them are, indeed, as yet virtually unknown.
The venue — a room called “The Lab,” situated in The Lyric at Carleton Place, an apartment building affiliated with and adjacent to Carleton Artist Lofts— is an airy lobby/performance space with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking University Avenue. It’s an attractive space, but not one typically used for large public events like this. On stage, musicians played sets of experimental electro-pop against a backdrop of video art (much of it produced by the bands themselves) projected high on the walls behind them: vintage commercial clips for as-seen-on-TV products of the ’70s and ’80s, moody black-and-white film stills, digitally created abstractions of light and color.
Throughout the night, printmaker Rose Holdorf made screenprints just outside the performance hall — large banners designed in collaboration with the musicians and hung in succession by the stage; posters created all evening long on site and festooned around the room, hanging on lines to dry and free for the taking by those on hand at the end of the night.
In his statement written for the “We Are Here” website, the organizer of the concert, artist and musician Alan Skimser-O’Neil explains, “The idea is that a small community of underground artists can make a very positive and meaningful effort toward a promising goal with just a little nudge and support.”
When I chatted with him Saturday night, he elaborated: “We artists live and work and play in these neighborhoods, but we feel invisible sometimes — and so many talented artists are making interesting work, all the time, around here. With this show, we really do just want to introduce ourselves, to say ‘hey, we’re here and part of this community and ready to do our part.’”
Read an article about the Irrigate program, written for Knight Arts in October here. Find more information about the artists involved with “We Are Here” and get links to listen to sample tracks from the night’s musicians online at the event website. See also: http://irrigatearts.org/.