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Getting The Arts to the Proverbial Table

I often write about wanting the arts to be “invited to the table.”

What table, you ask? The tables where big conversations are happening; the ones where community-wide initiatives, strategic directions and smart growth are being discussed, planned and implemented.

So it was with great delight that my board agreed that I should accept a recent invitation from former Fargo Commissioner Mike Williams to join a business group on a trip to Norway. For one fabulous week, I spent structured and unstructured time with regional leaders, learning about the Internet of Things, drones, electric vehicles, alternative energy and more.

I wasn’t initially sure this trip made a lot of sense for me go on. But Mike Williams’ response was, “Glad to hear you’re interested in joining us on our learning tour. Public art is a large component of Norway’s psyche and is integrated into the way they design and build. Hope you can joins us; a well rounded group will make our learning experience a catalyst for implementing our citizens’ goals identified in Fargo GO 2030.”

In Norway, I was struck by how people-first everything is. We were in four different cities (Oslo and three smaller ones) and, in each place, cars were not catered to — people were. The intentional walkability and feeling of community it engendered was astonishing.

Each night, regardless of the weather, people were outside in droves, walking on cobbled streets that have been converted into expansive promenades.

Right after I came back from Norway, I was in Bismarck for Gov. Doug Burgum’s Main Street Initiative Summit, and he said, “If you want to attract cars, build and design your cities for cars. If you want to attract people, build and design your cities for people.” That sure resonated with my experience in Norway.

Norway has outdoor café seating year-round. They add sheepskin blankets and heaters to the tables and people stay in their coats, enjoying their incredibly expensive coffees and conversation.

I was inspired by the amount of public art that exists everywhere. Where we put out a few fiberglass structures — pieces that definitely are showing the wear and tear of our weather — they use bronze and concrete, art materials that will stand the test of time and nature.

I met with Arts Council Norway, where I discovered that regardless of budget and staff size (theirs are huge), we struggle with some similar issues: reaching out to new citizen artists to help fund their native art forms, overcoming misperceptions about how grants are funded and more.

Norway, and the people I experienced it with, will linger long in my memory. The arts are a significant piece of what makes us human, a community and a society, and Norway showed me that the arts can and do marry seamlessly with technology, infrastructure and growth.

This trip also proved what I have long thought: when you bring an artist to the table, the arts get woven into all kinds of conversations and are seen as a legitimate piece of the solution, as valuable to the outcome as everything else.

Norway provided quite a table, and I am very grateful.

This article is part of a content partnership with the Fargo Forum and originally appeared in print on Monday, February 26, 2018.



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