Big Art Here: Vision for the Future

SC River

Scenic view of the St. Croix River between Taylors Falls & St. Croix Falls

We love our neighborhood – an eccentric place comprised of the rural communities of Shafer (MN), Taylors Falls (MN), and St. Croix Falls (WI). We love the scenic rural setting, the beauty of the St. Croix River, and the unique people that live and work here. With an undeniable energy in each town, we believe there’s a way to connect these communities in a distinctive way to maximize the vibrancy of this area.

Amazing initiatives and resources are bubbling to the surface in this district, such as: an extension of the Swedish Immigrant Bike Trail that will physically connect Shafer and Taylors Falls via a multi-use recreational trail, a task force working to explore a National Heritage Area designation for the St. Croix River watershed area; a celebration of the National Park Service’s upcoming 100th birthday; and many more ideas that are just taking shape.

Bike Trail

Swedish Immigrant Recreational Trail near Shafer, MN

To advance the exciting potential and highlight the “je ne sais quoi” of the surrounding community, Franconia Sculpture Park is embarking on a creative placemaking project that will use arts and artists to capitalize on local assets, address community needs with creative solutions, bring art into unrealized spaces, and connect community members together in new ways. We are in the early stages of planning this project we have coined Big Art Here. The Big Art Here team is laying the groundwork for exciting change by pursuing funding opportunities and gathering community input.

art together

Artist Sarah Langsam at the St. Croix Falls Public Library working with local youth to create a collaborative public sculpture

You may be wondering what exactly is creative placemaking? The term “creative placemaking” was coined by Ann Markusen and Anne Gadwa Nicodeums in their white paper report on the subject written for the National Endowment for the Arts. Their publication defines placemaking as:

“A community development tool that brings together partners from public, private, non-profit, and community sectors to strategically shape the physical and social character of a neighborhood, town, city, or region around arts and cultural activities. Creative placemaking animates public and private spaces, rejuvenates structures and streetscapes, improves local business viability and public safety, and brings diverse people together to celebrate, inspire, and be inspired.”

The Big Art Here creative placemaking project is strategically focused on bringing the community into the conversation about how the arts can help drive activity in their towns and neighborhoods. Big Art Here is being developed to initiate creative activities that will be designed, created, and executed with community involvement. Creative placemaking is not just about designing beautiful spaces, it is also about triggering activity and community interaction. It’s about forming a space to nurture and develop connections between neighbors and visitors. These networks provide the perfect backdrop to generate a buzz that drives tourism, that sparks initiative for other groups to add creative activities in conjunction with Big Art Here, that boosts economic activity, and that all together creates a truly vibrant place.

To kick-off brainstorming for creative activities in our trio of towns on the St. Croix River, we invited several community members to participate in a project vision meeting in late November. Key community stakeholders shared the types of creative activities they would like to see and the spaces in their communities that are ripe for something new and exciting. A multitude of places and projects were identified, such as a sound sculpture on the river, a free creative fix-it shop in a downtown space, a pedestrian bridge across the river, sculptural projects in neighborhood parks, and more – we heard so many fantastic ideas! Conversations bloomed not only about physical objects, but also about how artists can provide needed services, how to solve infrastructure problems with a creative focus, and the use of food to connect people – we are truly inspired!

vision meeting

Group discussion during our first Big Art Here Vision meeting.

As we move forward, we will continue to drive conversation and involvement with stakeholders and mine information from multiple sources to build a successful project. Please stay connected with Franconia for project updates and keep dreaming about the creative ways to connect and bring a richness to the region. For more information, please contact John Hock at 651-257-6668 or johnhock@franconia.org.

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