Artists and City Government Collaborate for Urban Improvement in St. Paul

Artists and City Government Collaborate for Urban Improvement in St. Paul

Muscle, Amy Toscani, (Courtesy Teresa Boardman / Flickr)
(Courtesy Teresa Board / Flickr)
Skygate, by R. M. Fisher, in the public plaza in front of the Ecolab World Headquarters, was funded by Public Art St. Paul. (Courtesy Teresa Boardman / Flickr)

In St. Paul, Minnesota, public art is valued as more than just decoration. Susannah Schouweiler of Walker Magazine reported that the city has been proactive in the encouragement of artist-city government collaboration for nearly three decades, long before initiatives like ArtPlace became popular. City Artist in Residence positions exist on the government council, City Art Collaboratory puts artists in conversation with scientists to embed themselves in the “ecology” of the city, and art start-ups are encouraging business growth on “Central Corridor.” This cross-disciplinary relationship is only expanding in what Schouweiler calls St. Paul’s “quiet revolution in public art” and the city is reaping the benefits.

Mark Di Suervo Sculpture in Western Sculpture Park. (Courtesy Mykl Rovertine / Flickr)
Mark di Suervo Sculpture in Western Sculpture Park. (Courtesy Mykl Rovertine / Flickr)

Public Art St. Paul, a non-profit set up in 1987, provides private funding for creatives to hold City Artist in Residence positions within the city government. These artists are incorporated into city-led projects and initiatives, working with government officials, engineers, and public works officers on various capital projects, which create or renovate public buildings, public spaces, and streetscapes within St Paul.

Since the enactment of a 2009 ordinance for the support of public art, St. Paul has integrated its artists even more into key planning, development, and improvement projects. Current resident city artist Marcus Young has worked directly with the Public Works Department since 2008. His public art initiatives have included Everyday Poems for City Sidewalk, a successful idea to replace broken sidewalks with new sections inscribed with poetry. The City Artist in Residence program was expanded in December 2012. Young now has a team of two other artists with which he works, Amanda Lovelee, a visual artist, and Sarah West, who is focused on improving streetspaces with “architectural and large-scale public art installations.”

Additionally, grassroots initiatives by local artists have brought pop-up shops to retail vacancies, explored an artistic reaction to the current light rail construction, and pondered an artist’s ability to improve the ecology of the Mississippi River. Exemplifying a forward-thinking relationship, the Public Art Ordinance states: “Public art strengthens public places and enhances and promotes Saint Paul’s identity as a livable and creative city and a desirable place to live, work and visit.” With a government whose attitude toward art encourages these conversations, St. Paul continues to beautify, develop, and improve its public places.

Muscle, Amy Toscani, (Courtesy Teresa Boardman / Flickr)
Muscle, Amy Toscani, 2004. (Courtesy Teresa Boardman / Flickr)