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North Dakota Public Art: Connections And Conversations

Updated: Sep 30, 2021

Street art makes me stop and think. So I’m excited to showcase North Dakota public art this summer.

I received a grant from The Arts Partnership here in Fargo to focus on North Dakota public art across the state. This was well before we realized that 2020 was going to be a year of massive change and challenges. But I think it turned out to be perfect timing.

Right now it’s impossible to ignore important discussions about physical and mental health, racism and privilege, economic and medical disparities. In this moment, we are asking each each other what community means and how we can do things differently.

Art is a part of that dialogue. We look to art to appreciate beauty and mastery. Art can challenge or soothe. Art helps us consider new viewpoints and connect with each other.

The Bismarck Art Alley is one of my favorite spots to see North Dakota public art.

“Art starts conversations,” says Melissa Gordon, who is perhaps best known for her street art murals in Bismarck, including the Sitting Bull portrait shown above. “Art triggers memories. Art’s something different to each individual person. No two people are going to perceive a piece of art in the same way. That’s what can spark an interaction, a conversation between two people.”

Conversations are a vital part of what moves our communities forward. They help us make sure everyone is being heard and honored. They teach us things we didn’t know. They remind us that if we can disagree about small things with grace (like why the artist used those colors and whether or not that sculpture might look better over by City Hall) maybe we can handle more difficult conversations too.

And even if we don’t agree on everything, we all still need to coexist respectfully, together. We nod at each other sit near the sculpture in the park. Next winter, we’ll all pull on our boots and trudge through the snow and past that mural to score the best pizza in town.

Art doesn’t exist in a vacuum. And that’s especially true of public art, which is often literally shaped by its surrounding community. Street art is democratic. You don’t need money or influence or power to enjoy it. (Or not enjoy it. You can like some pieces more than others. It’s allowed. I promise. Art doesn’t care.)

Public Art in Fargo

We live in a society where it’s easy to surround ourselves with people who look like us, think like us, live where we live, shop where we shop. Public art doesn’t let us get too comfortable in our bubbles. If you see something colorful or interesting, it’s human nature to look at it. And if you’re standing there staring, it’s just good manners to acknowledge someone next to you who is doing the same thing.

“The best thing about doing public art is to to meet people, to hear their stories and to interact with people you wouldn’t see on a daily basis,” says Melissa.

I think we all can use a lot of more that. So this summer’s project is about showing you what’s beautiful and what’s next in North Dakota public art.

I’ll be traveling across the state (while social distancing, of course) and showcasing both new street art projects and longstanding favorites. I’ll bring you stories about the communities that host these public art pieces and interview the artists who brought them to life.

There are creative people and vibrant communities all over this state. I hope that this North Dakota public art project highlights artists and towns that don’t enjoy as much traffic and media coverage. And if it encourages even one person to get off the beaten track and see a familiar landscape in a new way, I’ll consider it a success.

This alley in Dickinson is one of my favorite North Dakota public art stops. Photo by Naomi Orre

Please tell me about your favorite North Dakota public art pieces and feel free to pass this post on to anyone who is working on project right now. While it’s literally my job to know what’s happening in the state’s art scene, please don’t assume that I know about what’s happening near you. My best stories come from readers like you and I have no doubt we’ll all work together to show off everything this state has to offer.

This year has been a time of growth and change. So many of us are craving a change of scenery, a new adventure or a fresh outlook. A North Dakota public art pilgrimage or Saturday afternoon day trip can offer a little escape, a moment of renewal, and the reflection and connection that we all need.

What about you? What’s your favorite place to find North Dakota public art? Which form of public art do you like best and why? Which cities (anywhere in the world) offer great street art scenes? What new North Dakota public art projects should I be aware of?

If you liked this post, check out my In Studio series about artistic work and the creative process.

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