The Mayor's Choice

It was 4 p.m. Wednesday at Grand Forks City Hall when the sounds of bluegrass floated through the hallways and stirred curious employees from their desks.

Mayor's Choice
Xavier Pastrano, left, plays with the North River Ramblers, James Feist, right, Josh Driscoll, middle, and Katy Diers, bottom left, at the opening of his exhibit during the first-ever Mayor's Choice event Wednesday evening at City Hall in Grand Forks. Herald photo by Sarah Kolberg.

It was 4 p.m. Wednesday at Grand Forks City Hall when the sounds of bluegrass floated through the hallways and stirred curious employees from their desks.

In the atrium, a band played and new art pieces hung on the wall, inaugurating Mayor Mike Brown's Mayor's Choice Artist Program. The mayor himself was in an ebullient mood, talking about one of his favorite topics.

It's all about the quality of life, he said, because that's how communities are really judged.

"We don't want to be the richest community in North Dakota," he told the Herald, "we want to be the richest in quality of life."

He doesn't have the funds for an artist-in-residence that he wanted, he said, but he can at least do this, a partnership with the North Valley Arts Council that doesn't cost the taxpayers anything, not even the hors d'oeuvres or the band.


The chosen artist for the next three months is Xavier Pastrano, a Sioux Falls, S.D., native and a graduate student in UND's English Department, better known in the arts community as a member of the North River Ramblers, the band that was playing.

His work ranges from black-and-white photos of street scenes in Norway to stenciled acrylic paintings. They're on display on the first and second floors of the atrium in City Hall for about three months before the mayor chooses again.

Photos, stencils

Pastrano is a tall bearded fellow, who looked every inch the bohemian: A buttoned-up shirt, a vest, a pair of jeans, topped with a beard and a fedora. He talks rapidly as if he has a lot to say, but doesn't want to take too much time saying it.

He said he got into photography while teaching at the American College of Norway in Moss, a small town by the fjord south of Oslo. In his free time, he said, he'd wander the streets looking for subjects.

Near the door to the Engineering Department, there was a tragicomic black-and-white of a bicycle that, stripped of parts, looked like the victim of street violence. On the wall was a crudely spray-painted peace sign.

That seemed to him to be a contradiction, so that's what he called the photo.

Pastrano said he got into stencils to get out of a funk after his girlfriend broke up with him. Inspiration had run dry on his usual musical outlet, he said, so he turned to a friend who had gotten into stenciling.


"I think artists, when they suffer most, they're inspired most," Mayor Brown said.

But the stencils aren't just one-color like the sort you'd see on street graffiti. Pastrano layers the stencils and uses bright primary colors.

By the door to the Finance Department, there's a canvas with a stenciled hand holding a black handgun shooting blocks of colors that look a little like stained-glass. It's called "Bang!"

Pastrano said some people tell him it delights them even though it's so violent. That's all right to him, he said, even though all he really wanted was to flesh out the image and make it longer; he wanted a big piece to hang on his bare walls.

For the public

Marie Strinden, NoVAC's new executive director, said her group recommended Pastrano to Brown because stencils are an underrepresented media in the local arts scene. Though anyone could apply on NoVAC's website to be the next Mayor's Choice, she said the group prefers new artists or new styles from existing artists.

Strinden said the mayor's office initially approached her to look for new art for the walls of City Hall. When she suggested focusing on a few artists with the Mayor's Choice program, the mayor embraced it, she said.

For NoVAC, exhibiting art at City Hall is an ideal way to expose more city residents to art, she said. "I hope this shows people in Grand Forks that there is importance to caring about the arts, too."


To apply for the Mayor's Choice online: . Visual arts are acceptable, but so are performing arts, which would be performed at City Hall. Strinden said artists can submit one application and, even if not chosen, the group will keep it on file for future consideration.

Reach Tran at (701) 780-1248; (800) 477-6572, ext. 248; or send e-mail to .

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