A Hidden Creek: Redefining Public Spaces in a Small Town Park System

If the city of Sartell creates a strategy to use the existing park systems as a way to build culture and engagement, there will be long term improvements in community building, citizen engagement and pride in public spaces.


While working with the City of Sartell for the Sartell Mill Project, and considering the use of the public park system of a community for social, ecological and artistic purpose, this project unfolded while maneuvering the landscape of city government, community engagement, elections, fund development and environmental factors.

Nothing provides insight into a community's workings like doing a public art project. It was the first time for all of us. I personally was able to assist with getting ample funding and creating community conversations about the subject at hand: The Sartell Paper Mill. We had to consider historic, spacial, and artistic concepts while creating the framework of the project. With a midpoint fundraising effort, due to a budgetary downfall in the "foundation" (literally the cement became more expensive than expected) we realized that fundraising through crowd sourcing was the most difficult aspect of the project. 

I am connected to Watab Creek Park, because it was my childhood park (middle school years allowed for my freedom to explore without my parents or supervision.) Working on this project, made me realize that I wasn't the only one who had a similar relationship to this park. It was a place to grow up and explore. 

The Artist's Place 

Artists graphic.png

This graphic hold s dear, because it is ALL about my work with Sartell. When I graduated from Sartell High School, I was encouraged to study Architecture because I was creative and good at science and math. I dropped architecture after a summer internship because I realized I was not willing to be confined to an office, so much so, that I would prefer to work for Erberts and Gerberts sub shop. I transferred to an art program, and happily lost all sorts of direction in life.

Yet, through that period (from 1995 - 2015), I explored art, business, design, and education as possible income streams. I am now a practicing artist and teaching artist (where an artist goes into schools, community centers, and other programs to share art techniques, practices and curriculum.) I have engaged in social activism in gender, economic and racial equity in a variety of ways. Now that I have added public art, community facilitation, and entrepreneurship to my resume, this image may be my new self portrait.

I am now back within my community, although I don't live there anymore... installing public art, facilitating conversations, and shaking up the status quo. Not sure if they expected that when they suggested I go to architecture school.

Oh, and technically, I get to work with the architect I interned for through these community projects. He is fully aware that he may be responsible for my dropping the program. ;)

City Documents and Surveys

Red represents future parks or walkways. The red around Watab Creek makes me happy. I think that is something worth exploring. 

Red represents future parks or walkways. The red around Watab Creek makes me happy. I think that is something worth exploring. 

A Lesson in Placemaking

Placemaking belongs to everyone: its message and mission is bigger than any one person or organization. As a “backbone organization,” PPS remains dedicated to supporting the movement, growing the network, and sharing our experience and resources with Placemakers and allies everywhere.

Placemaking is

These are all aspects to consider in park planning. Conscious efforts to do so, would allow for many creative ideas over time. Ongoing projects, allow for an exponential experience (2-3 art projects a year adds up to many memories or pieces!) 

These are all aspects to consider in park planning. Conscious efforts to do so, would allow for many creative ideas over time. Ongoing projects, allow for an exponential experience (2-3 art projects a year adds up to many memories or pieces!) 

  • Community-driven
  • Visionary
  • Function before form
  • Adaptable
  • Inclusive
  • Focused on creating destinations
  • Context-specific
  • Dynamic
  • Trans-disciplinary
  • Transformative
  • Flexible
  • Collaborative
  • Sociable

Placemaking is not

  • Top-down
  • Reactionary
  • Design-driven
  • A blanket solution or quick fix
  • Exclusionary
  • Car-centric
  • One-size-fits-all
  • Static
  • Discipline-driven
  • One-dimensional
  • Dependent on regulatory controls
  • A cost/benefit analysis
  • Project-focused 

http://www.pps.org/reference/what_is_placemaking/

This is becoming more popular of a concept the more we try to go towards a collaborative culture, than a traditional hierarchical business/government/organizational culture. This is also a practice that artists naturally possess. 

This is becoming more popular of a concept the more we try to go towards a collaborative culture, than a traditional hierarchical business/government/organizational culture. This is also a practice that artists naturally possess. 

The upside of working with artists is that most of these traits are within. Some are not in every artists, but by creating a diverse program, where many artists come to the table, then the benefits accrue. 

The upside of working with artists is that most of these traits are within. Some are not in every artists, but by creating a diverse program, where many artists come to the table, then the benefits accrue. 

Industrial Inspiration leads to the Idea of Creative Industries and Economies

I walked to space that the mill once stood several times, because the demolition guys were okay with me doing so. I was able to get a sense of scale: in the space, the scrap that still existed, and the potential effects of the Mill Project. I was feeling sad, frustrated, anxious... for so many reasons... This is big for the people of the community. And as the artist making it happened, I didn't want to fuck it up. I was trying to balance all the viewpoints of current citizens, former employees and future generations all at once. That was more than I could handle, but I got through.

I walked to space that the mill once stood several times, because the demolition guys were okay with me doing so. I was able to get a sense of scale: in the space, the scrap that still existed, and the potential effects of the Mill Project. I was feeling sad, frustrated, anxious... for so many reasons... This is big for the people of the community. And as the artist making it happened, I didn't want to fuck it up. I was trying to balance all the viewpoints of current citizens, former employees and future generations all at once. That was more than I could handle, but I got through.

Looking at the mill sites as a graveyard, it seems that this is almost an ecological order of sorts. I spent many hours on the site, as it was recycled and shipped off, imagining what the land will be once it is cleared. I don't know, and neither does the community. Vast space will soon be available for development, and I fear that it will be yet another industry just because it was that before. 

The land by the mill is an opportunity for Sartell to build its community. The ideas I have for the community engagement artist would help get the ideas to the surface, and not through a disengaged consultant or specialist. I should explain:

When a local community spent $40,000 to bring in a consultant firm to discuss the future of their community, the people brought to the table, were either contacted via press release, or mass email. I got a text, because they knew I'd have fun things to add to the conversation. While I'm honored that I'm considered fun, I see the downfall to this method: not everyone is at the table. Rather, it's money and power that's there... bringing their same agenda to the discussion.

That information gathered during that year was almost wasted, in all honesty... creative ideas were left flat, only because the process didn't build enough support to make it all happen. Also did they truly have the capacity to do these great things? Also are they too "top down" for successful implementation? Yes, turns out they were. As of last year, the city did not get a NEA Our Town grant, because of these things. That's the funding source saying that the community isn't engaged enough.



Visual Journal of Process over time and space.