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Camp Depression Tribute schulpture by Curtis Flexhaug on UND campus. JOHN STENNES/GRAND FORKS HERALD

Civil art ‘humanizes’ places, expresses identity, lecturer at NDMOA says

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With nearly 100 colorful, varying images, public art expert Jack Becker engaged an audience at the North Dakota Museum of Art Thursday night, hoping to inspire ideas for 42nd Street South and other parts of Grand Forks.


Becker, founder and director of the Twin Cities nonprofit Forecast Public Art, was invited by NDMOA and the Community Foundation to speak to Grand Forks community members about public art, with the hope that his experience and art examples would spark ideas for the proposed 42nd Street Destination Corridor.

“This is just for inspiration,” said Kristi Mishler, executive director of the Community Foundation.

An audience of about 50 people — including city employees, UND employees and other community members — took in Becker’s presentation, which had many examples of public art from around the Midwest, as well as nationally and internationally.

Familiar examples he showed ranged from monumental, like the Gateway Arch in St. Louis and the Eiffel Tower in Paris, to closer to home, like Paul Bunyan and Babe in Bemidji.

Those sculptures are examples of communities becoming identifiable by their public art, Becker said.

Public art “humanizes” cities, Becker said. He showed some examples of interactive sculptures, where people could write notes or take photos to share on social media.

One example of interactive artwork that Becker shared was a giant chalkboard in New Orleans, where people passing by were asked to write what they wanted to do before they die.

Another was a light-up art installment at a movie theater in Minnesota, where the lights changed colors depending on where people touched a railing surrounding the art.

“Public art should not be underestimated for what it can do for communities,” Becker said.

When considering public art, on 42nd Street or elsewhere, he said, Grand Forks should ask: “What’s the goal for the city? What’s the big plan for the city? And how can public art reinforce that?”

During a question-and-answer after the presentation, Mishler asked about who maintains public art and who generally pays for it.

Thousands of communities — ranging from big cities to small towns — have figured out funding for large-scale public art projects, Becker said, and he mentioned some examples of funding models.

But before anything can be figured out, local leaders should frame their goals for the project, he said.

“For art on 42nd Street, answer the question, ‘What would success look like?’” he said.