By Ariel Herrod, CURE Program Assistant
ACTIVATE VACANT SPACE
Individuals from the area attended a weekend-long ‘Activate Vacant Space Workshop.’ Local community members collaborated with students from the Minneapolis College of Art and Design (MCAD) and design professionals to brainstorm ideas for two specific projects. Workshop attendees were split into two groups: one group planned signage and restoration projects for the Prairie Smoke Scientific Nature Area, and the other brainstormed ideas for revitalizing vacant buildings in Montevideo and Granite Falls. Only one project could be chosen for funding and implementation, so participants voted and chose to put up a public art installation in the windows of a vacant building for sale* in downtown Montevideo and to organize a Skillshare in the same building on a Saturday afternoon in November.
For the Skillshare, local artists took over a vacant building for the evening and offered to teach anyone who walked in the basics of their craft. Local area residents James and Lise Olson, who create beautiful stenciled spray-paint paintings, shared stencils, paint, and tips and techniques. Meanwhile, local artist-farmer Richard Handeen taught attendees how to score and break the tops off used glass bottles to repurpose them into tumblers, a self-watering planter, or shade for a candle. There would also be bicycle-powered music, pizza, and the promise of good company with other crafty members of the community.
Throughout the evening, I was struck by the collaborative nature of the event and the range of ages socializing together: grandparents played with toddlers, and there was someone from every age group in between. When a friend was hoping to rejuvenate a boring old T-shirt and I went outside to use the spray paint, we met a girl stenciling her own poster proclaiming “MARS NEEDS WOMEN” in a mix of pink and blue. She let us help her with some of the finicky designs around the words, and as I was finishing up my poster, another young person came out with a stencil he had designed himself and we shared my poster board to make a cooperative poster. People talked, played, and created art together in a way that makes it clear that rural communities are still alive and well, and still full of vibrant, creative people.
The ‘Activate Vacant Space Workshop’ and the Skillshare event were a part of the MCADWorks Upper MN River Valley Greater Minnesota Arts Initiative (GMAI). As the community partner for the Upper MN River Valley GMAI, CURE provided headquarters for MCAD’s activities in the region, organizing outreach, event support, and logistical aspects such as housing for students, orientation tours, and office services such as printing and wireless access. Additionally, CURE’s staff offered feedback at various stages of the collaborative community process.