By Brandi Malarkey
TAP Member and Community Contributor

While many artists work with brushes, blowtorches, or musical instruments, for local artist and Broadway Square manager Ana Rusness-Petersen, conversation, collaboration and organization are her tools of choice when practicing the art of creative placemaking in downtown Fargo.

A Fargo native, Ana has been a practicing artist all her life. Although she has a theater and music industry background, her experience is broad: encompassing writing, photography, dance, theatre and community collaboration.

Creative beginnings

Determined to make a full-time living with art after college, Ana worked for a multitude of Fargo-Moorhead-West Fargo non-profits, at one point holding ten different art-related jobs at the same time. Her quest to follow a career in the arts eventually led to her managing NDSU’s Performing Arts facilities (including Festival Concert Hall and Beckwith Recital Hall) before exploring professional theatre work in Chicago, Seattle, and Austin.

With more than two decades of diverse arts experiences, Ana founded and successfully runs Ana Noelle Creative Productions, which allows her to produce, stage manage, and direct theatre projects and podcasts. She also writes and publishes articles, organizes events and festivals, and creates and sells fine art photographs.

If that’s not enough, Ana also consults on virtual stage management, arts leadership, and creative placemaking in Seattle, Chicago, Austin, and Fargo.

Creative placemaking

It was while completing the Master of Fine Arts program in Arts Leadership at Seattle University that Ana first learned about, and fell in love with, the idea of creative placemaking.

“A sense of place has always been important to me. Having a cozy place, a place filled with art and books in which to feel safe. So, the process of creating welcoming and inclusive spaces where people want to learn, play, dialogue, and hang out is the ultimate creative challenge,” says Ana. “How do we make a space welcoming and inclusive for everyone? How do we solve problems and overcome barriers to bring people together and make the community stronger? How do we create a space that makes a positive difference in people’s lives? Our environment impacts our well-being. How do we make sure that impact is a positive one?”

So when the Fargo Park District advertised for a manager of the new Broadway Square space in downtown Fargo, Ana couldn’t resist the chance to put her skills of venue and event management, organization, and the art of placemaking to the test in a very hands-on and focused way.

“Broadway Square is a unique puzzle and has so much potential to do amazing things for the community,” says Ana. “As a public space with private ownership, nothing is straightforward or easy. There are so many gray areas that just aren’t black or white. Everyone has a different interpretation of what is allowed or what rights an individual should have in the space. The community it serves ranges from small children and families to single adults and seniors. From people between homes to visitors from out-of-state, all utilizing a very small, shared space in different ways with different intentions. It can be tricky to navigate, but also is a really great opportunity to combine resources in new, unique ways.”

Creative collaboration

Ana believes the best placemaking occurs when there’s creative collaboration between a diverse set of people. This mentality is what helped her shape her new role as manager at Broadway Square.

“When I was given the job in April, I spent the first two months just meeting people and groups, talking about their visions for the space, how they saw themselves partnering with and using The Square. Getting input and hearing what people say and what opportunities they need is essential to the process.”

Ana believes that it is possible to create a space where there is something for everyone by focusing on collaboration, rather than competition.

“Broadway Square is all about amplifying and collaborating, rather than competing. Placemaking is about striving to make sure everyone wins. For example, providing resources like electrical outlets and water bottle filling stations. It gets needed resources to people who are between homes and benefits businesspeople taking advantage of a nice day to work outside, or parents with small children.”

Creative partnerships

Where programming and event development are concerned, Ana’s focus is to partner with the resources and businesses that already exist and are unique to downtown Fargo. This can mean bringing in local musicians and artists for an event, hosting fitness days with instructors from downtown studios, or highlighting social services that are available.

Day of Dignity

Ana cites the upcoming Day of Dignity event on September 5 as an example of creative collaboration and partnership at its best.

The event incorporates a personal care product drive, where community members can bring unopened, full- or travel-sized products like soap, deodorant, or toothpaste to Broadway Square, The Depot or Courts Plus, to be put in a Personal Care Pantry on the day where people are welcome to come and take what they need. There will also be opportunity for free haircuts and access to food and art opportunities.

 “It’s important to highlight all the great resources downtown already has,” says Ana. “Like the Downtown Engagement Center, which offers showers, health care and other basic services. We want to provide information and opportunities that may seem hidden without forcing people to go into spaces in which they may not be comfortable. Especially since COVID has made things more complicated.”

Creative process

As the first manager of the newly created space, Ana feels it is important to acknowledge that this is just the beginning of an ongoing process to make the space a welcoming and inclusive place.

“We want this to be a space that strengthens the community in every way possible. A space that endures over time. I just hope that I am living up to the hopes and expectations people have. I hope people know I am doing my best to make it the best place it can be,” Ana says.

Upcoming Events at Broadway Square

September 5: Day of Dignity

Held from noon to 2 p.m., this event is produced in partnership with Gladys Ray Shelter and the Downtown Engagement Center. Will feature free food, hygiene products, haircuts, and more.

September 14: Mental Health Matters

Held from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., this event is co-produced/co-sponsored with Prairie St. John’s and Fargo North High School. Will feature a collection of speakers, a short film, and provide information on area mental health resources.

Photo of author Brandi Malarkey

About the Author

TAP partner and community content contributor Brandi Malarkey is a multi-disciplinary artist, writer, administrator, and occasional hot mess. She is a collector of dead bugs and good books, and a believer that ordinary miracles and small kindnesses have the power to change the world. Learn more about Brandi on her website: www.itsallmalarkey.com.

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