Local visual artist Franklin Ugochukwu works in his artist-in-residence “studio” located inside an open storefront at West Acres on August 16, 2021. Submitted photo: Franklin Ugochukwu
As home to the region’s largest collection of regional art, with more than 80 local artists represented, West Acres has a lot to celebrate during its 50th anniversary this year.
The regional shopping center hotspot officially turned 50 on August 2, 2022. It’s a milestone to be celebrated for so many reasons. For us at The Arts Partnership, we’ve held some of our most important public and private events there, and today, it’s home to TAP’s Aptitude Creative Arts Studios.
“West Acres is one of our greatest and most enduring business partners,” TAP President and CEO Dayna Del Val said. “This huge milestone year for the mall is to be celebrated, particularly for the ways it’s supported local art and been a good community collaborator for the past 50 years.”
Del Val, who’s worked at TAP since 2010, said West Acres has and continues to be one of the organization’s greatest champions.
Aside from Aptitude and all the amazing ways West Acres supports The Arts Partnership, West Acres Development Chief Operating Officer Alissa Adams said the company has made enormous efforts to put art at the core of its commitment to community.
From FMVA’s onsite space to the artist in residence program, along with regular live performances and rotating exhibits, West Acres is a free and accessible gateway into community arts immersion, according to Adams.
“We see all our art and commitment to it as a way for our community to be able to connect to and experience the arts in a really easy environment where they might not always be able to experience in other areas of their lives,” Adams said. “It isn’t always easy for someone to walk into a gallery, so we feel like we can provide this safe, clean, happy, vibrant place that’s also free to connect with visual art or a live performance.”
Adams added that as much as the landmark shopping center can bring art into anything they’re doing, “We see that as a real asset to the region,” she said.
With that, here’s more from the COO, in her own words, about how art informs the space and why West Acres will continue to support local art now and for the next generations.
TAP’s Aptitude Creative Arts Studios is located next to Best Buy inside West Acres Shopping Center. The studios are home to several local artists who use the space to create and make their art. Submitted photo: Fermie Studios
TAP: What are the mission and values that drive you and your team at West Acres?
Adams: Community connection is at the core of who West Acres is and drives the decisions we make.
It’s very important for us to be connected to the community, whether that be through the arts or through giving back or making sure that we can be a place where people feel safe, comfortable and excited about visiting.
TAP: Tell us about the artist in residence program.
Adams: I actually have to give credit to Emily Williams-Wheeler who was our very first artist in residence, and she actually brought the idea to us. We just wrapped up our eleventh artist. It’s been so fun to see how every artist uses their time and the space differently. Our only major criteria is that they’re engaging the public, they’re in that space, they’re activating it, and so everyone can see what they’re doing. Then they leave a trace piece behind when they’re done.
Artists tell us the experience brings them closer to people they wouldn’t have connected with otherwise.
TAP: Of course we’re a little biased, but we believe art belongs to everyone, everywhere. How does West Acres follow that same belief?
Adams: Sometimes people have this perception of the feeling that art isn’t for them, when they can come out and walk into an artist studio or walk into Aptitude and truly see somebody working and have a conversation, and relate. Or in some circumstances it’s actually seeing themselves reflected in somebody’s work. The people that come into our space just get so much out of it and it’s always our hope that the artist does as well.
TAP: What else do you have planned to celebrate West Acres’ 50th birthday?
Adams: We did some fun things right around the week of the birthday (August 2). We had some live performances with local musicians and some kids’ activities. Right now, the shopping center is decked out with a kind of seventies themed decor, which has been really fun. We have Herbie the Love Bug in center court and we’ve been able to partner with some local creatives to create some really cool spaces, like our birthday lounge.
We will be having more special events and birthday promotions as we move into the holiday season.
TAP: You hear from a lot of people, “Malls are dying.” West Acres is not dying. Tell us what makes you different.
Adams: One of the key differences with West Acres compared to a lot of shopping centers around the country is that it’s locally owned, it’s locally managed. The people that are working in the mall and that are partners of the shopping center are truly engaged, not only in West Acres’ success, but the community’s success.
Our mentality is that trying new ideas and investing into the culture of our community and creating these vibrant places, partnering with artists, in the long run by doing those things you provide a greater cultural return. And the money will follow.
Having that life behind the brand is truly why West Acres has been successful for 50 years.
Follow West Acres: Stay up to date on the shopping center’s 50th birthday events and activities at https://westacres.com/.
About the author
Lonna Whiting is a freelance writer and owner of lonna.co, a content marketing and communications agency located in Fargo, North Dakota. She is a frequent contributor to The Arts Partnership’s content library and also provides strategic communications consultation to the organization.