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Erik Burgess, Published January 06 2014

Fargo commissioners set up public art task force with goal of enhancing city

FARGO – City commissioners here want to see more public art sprout up around town, and they put into motion Monday night a plan to make it happen.

At the urging of Commissioner Melissa Sobolik, the City Commission unanimously approved establishing a public art task force. Once it’s formed, the task force will review the city’s existing public art, set priorities for new public art and create a public art plan for the city.

“Basically doing an inventory,” Commissioner Mike Williams said. “What do we have, and what do we want? And where can we do things? … I think it’s a great idea.”

Sobolik pointed out that the city’s “GO 2030” long-range development plan prioritized three things: flood protection, infill and public art. But while Fargo has made “really good strides” in flood protection and infill, public art has lagged, she said.

Commissioner Brad Wimmer said as he has traveled to other cities, he’s seen many that have focused on displaying art in public spaces. Fargo’s attempt at that seems to start and end with a few multi-colored buffalo statues, he said.

“I don’t see us even close to any of the cities I’ve been to, and some of them have a very small budget,” Wimmer said. “Some of them do have a fairly large budget, and some of them rely strictly on private donations, but they all seem to be able to get it done.”

“If we can get some public art in some key areas, I think it’ll enhance the look of the city,” Wimmer added.

Sobolik said the art task force is meant to be temporary and would not need a budget for now. Williams said the city doesn’t have to spend a lot of money to get more art into the public sphere, in areas such as downtown, in parks or along trails.

“Sometimes it’s just incorporating an artist’s perspective into infrastructure on the front end,” Williams said.

He pointed out the sculpture garden in downtown Sioux Falls, which he said is a fairly inexpensive way to draw people to that community.

In a memo to the commission, Sobolik proposed having the public arts task force be made up of: two city commissioners, two planning commissioners, the city administrator, a park district representative, a representative from the Arts Partnership, a representative from the Plains Art Museum and one to three at-large representatives.

Planning Director Jim Gilmour said establishing a public arts plan is one of several goals for the planning department in 2014. He said another goal is working with a landscape architect to beautify some city storm water facilities.

Gilmour said one of the city’s highest priorities, though, is renewing its Renaissance Zone tax breaks, which will expire at the end of this year.

Renaissance Zone legislation, enacted by state lawmakers in 1999, provides up to five years of income and property tax breaks in exchange for development. Fargo was one of the first communities to apply in late 1999, establishing its Renaissance Zone downtown.

The program, as set forth by the Legislature, has a 15-year lifespan, but statute allows cities to apply for a five-year extension.

“It’s important we get that done,” Gilmour told the commission. “You all know how successful that program’s been.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Erik Burgess at (701) 241-5518