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'Ghosts' art project brings art scene in Grand Forks to life

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Artists for the project Adam Kemp and Madelyn Camrud, right, get out of the way while the McKormick-Deering threshing machine is placed on it's platform during Thursday's installation. Jesse Trelstad/ Grand Forks Herald2 / 7
The John Deere sits in it's final position along 42nd street. Jesse Trelstad/ Grand Forks Herald3 / 7
John Oncken, of True North Equipment, pulls the combine across 42nd street into the field. Jesse Trelstad/ Grand Forks Herald4 / 7
Madelyn Camrud, left, and John Onchen figure out the final placement of the threshing machine. Jesse Trelstad/ Grand Forks Herald5 / 7
Artist Adam Kemp finishes up the construction of the platform for the threshing machine. Jesse Trelstad/ Grand Forks Herald6 / 7
Madelyn Camrud, walks the field and drops cones for placement of the pieces Thursday afternoon. Jesse Trelstad/ Grand Forks Herald7 / 7

Artists paying tribute to the past revealed a surreal and haunting scene Thursday on South 42nd Street, but raising the ghosts of yesteryear breathed life into the future of art in Grand Forks.

Three hulking, white pieces of antique farm equipment were delivered to a patch of farmland near the Grand Forks intersection with 17th Avenue South, arriving on a trailers drawn by pickups and a tractor trailer. At times, the parade held up traffic -- like when a large, yellow forklift had to pull one of the pieces of farm equipment across the street and up a snowbank before coming to a rest in the empty, white field.

Titled “Ghosts,” the three-piece art project is a nod to agricultural history and an “ethereal” scene at night, when the three pieces of machinery -- a 1920s thresher, a 1960 combine and a 1970s swather -- will be bathed in light beginning on Friday and stay in place through March 31. Madelyn Camrud, a Grand Forks artist who worked on the project with fellow artist Adam Kemp, was happy with how it all came together.

“That really cuts quite a swipe through the trees right there,” she said, standing in ankle-deep snow and looking off at one machine’s silhouette.

Related: Grand Fort warming hut, snow fort takes shape in Town Square

The project was the first large-scale, temporary installment supported by the Public Arts Commission, a local nonprofit working to bring public art to Grand Forks. Born in 2014 from talks to bring more art to the 42nd Street corridor, the group has since grown to support an arts movement recognized by city officials and community members.

With “Ghost” finally in place, attention will begin to turn to what’s next for the Grand Forks public arts scene.

A fresh canvas

In December, the movement to cultivate ideas for public art culminated in the Grand Forks Arts and Culture Master Plan, a $60,000 document commissioned by the Arts Commission with $30,000 each from the city and the local Community Foundation. The plan called for a “Grand Loop” approach to public art -- one that focused on placements along 42nd Street, University Avenue, Washington Street and 32nd Avenue South.

Artist Adam Kemp finishes up the construction of the platform for the threshing machine. Jesse Trelstad/ Grand Forks Herald Nicole Derenne, coordinator of the Arts Commission, was bundled up against the cold to watch the farm-themed art be installed. Now that the Grand Loop has one of its first pieces of public art, she said, the Arts Commission’s next steps go toward building relationships with other local arts groups. Though the master plan calls for a centralized group to handle public art in the city -- something that could form from a merger of local arts groups -- Derenne said the first step in that direction is increased collaboration.

“Public art is a process,” she said. “There’s so much going on with regard to public art projects and plans with the city and community members with regards to the master plan.”

Future projects

For now, Derenne said, the Arts Commission still has its sights set on several upcoming arts projects.

The first is Project 88 a partnership with a UND student group and the North Valley Arts Council to place artist-painted pianos in locations around the city. A later project will help support a piece on immigration featuring figurines on Sorlie Bridge and the banks of the Red River, funded through the recent Forkin it Over microgrant program.

It wasn’t the only piece of public art to debut in Grand Forks. The Grand Fort, a project of the Greater Grand Forks Young Professionals and built by Opp Construction, was placed Thursday in the city’s Town Square. A warming hut heaped with snow, essentially making it a snow fort, the installation is expected to remain in place until warmer weather comes.

The road ahead

The future likely will bring more discussion on how to move forward with a potential centralized arts group. Bryan Hoime, president of the Board of Directors for NoVAC, said he sees his organization as potentially becoming the new group listed in the arts plan that would help coordinate art citywide. He added his group previously has handled public art pieces, and it often has tried to fit the role supporters of overarching group described -- a kind of central forum and resource for art and artists.

Grand Forks City Administrator Todd Feland said coordinating the new group is the next step for the city’s future with the arts. Having that discussion means hashing out bureaucratic details on how art is sought, placed and maintained by the group, which is only laid out in broad terms by the new arts plan, he said.

John Oncken, of True North Equipment, pulls the combine across 42nd street into the field. Jesse Trelstad/ Grand Forks Herald “We haven’t worked through all of that stuff,” he said, though he added installations like “Ghosts” make for a kind of “pilot project” to see how the community handles large public art installations.

There’s still a question of what will happen to the $300,000 donated by William C. Marcil, chairman of Forum Communications Co., which owns the Herald, to the Community Foundation. Made in 2014, both Derenne and Laurel Reuter, the first chairwoman of the group’s board of directors, said they don’t know what the future of the funds are.

Many community members still continue to give to the movement. John Oncken, a co-owner of True North Equipment, said he was involved in early talks to create a 42nd Street arts corridor, and his company gives $5,000 each year to the Community Foundation, which manages the Arts Commission’s funding, to help support public art.

“Public art is art for the people,” Derenne said. “It’s art for our community, and we really want to create projects that have community involvement, and like this project, evoke a general sense of our region’s past or our region’s future.”

Sam Easter

Sam Easter is a City Government reporter for the Grand Forks Herald. You can reach him with story tips, comments and ideas at 701-330-3441.

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