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Ryan Johnson, Published April 24 2014

Setting the pace: Art Marathon aims to boost passion for local arts

FARGO - In many ways, there isn’t a big difference between artistic expression and basketball, Andrew Mara says.

“It’s no more or less useful than any other kind of art,” he said. “Putting something in a basket isn’t inherently useful, but it is beautiful.”

Now, the chairman of The Arts Partnership board is gearing up for a new event that aims to build on that connection between art and athletics – and boost passion for the artistic opportunities that surround us.

The 2014 Fargo-Moorhead Art Marathon starts Saturday and runs through May 10, the same day as the 10th annual Fargo Marathon. Participants will have three ways to compete against each other by completing 26 “challenges,” such as viewing a new painting at Gate City Bank in downtown Fargo or taking a 30-minute class at Red River Dance and Performing Company.

Participants won’t need protein bars or water stations to keep going – unlike the marathon, they don’t have to rush to finish on the first day.

Still, Mara said he and other organizers have tried to tie it back to the Fargo Marathon. The number of challenges is significant because a marathon is 26.2 miles, for example, and he’s tried to give competitors a taste of what runners face as they get a second wind or hit the dreaded “wall” around mile 20.

“It’s this whole set of experiences for something that’s pretty boring at its base,” he said. “If art was something similar, where you had people going through all these different things and seeing art as this long string of events but also something you can see different things about, maybe we can build a different culture around art that we already have for sports and athletics.”

Creating something new

The first art marathon took place in 2013, though Mara said it was more of a “placeholder” with an online calendar of local events in the 26 days leading up to the Fargo Marathon.

The idea first came up a year before, when Dr. Susan Mathison of Catalyst Medical Center attended a conference that included the founder of the ArtPrize event, which draws as many as 400,000 visitors to Grand Rapids, Mich., each year

About 20 local arts supporters met the next day to see what they could do to bring that kind of passion here.

While many were focused on the long-term process, Mathison said she had a simple goal – finding a project that could be started soon.

“I brought up the Fargo Marathon as an example of some local people who just had a great idea, and they just had the gumption to take a chance and make it work,” Mathison said.

That’s when the idea struck – combine art and the local community’s enthusiasm for the marathon into one new event.

The Arts Partnership board agreed to bring that goal to life last fall, and has met with volunteers, sponsors and organizers to prepare for this year’s big launch.

The main contest will rely on marathoners downloading a new free app designed by Myriad Mobile called “Art Marathon” on their Apple or Android smartphones, and then using that app to scan QR codes that will be placed on the challenges around the community.

But Mara said there are two other options, including the ability to “micro-curate” 26 things on the list of challenges. Anyone can participate by sharing experiences on their Twitter, Facebook or Instagram accounts with the hashtag #fmartmar14 and tagging The Arts Partnership or ARTSpulse.

Participants can also blog or post photos or videos about their encounters with the challenges.

A panel of judges will select the first, second and third finishers for the micro-curation and blogging divisions, while the smartphone app winner will be the first person to successfully complete 26 qualifying events beginning Saturday.

Prizes, including cash, gift certificates and gear, will be awarded to the top three finishers in each category.

This year’s event could be the start of something new for the community, whether it’s building up to a bigger marathon next year or finding a way to reuse the Myriad Mobile app to give visitors ideas of art and events they might want to see while in town, Mara says.

The marathon has elements of a “scavenger hunt,” Mathison said, because competitors will have to check the event’s Facebook page and The Arts Partnership website to find the challenges across Fargo and Moorhead, and competitors can win prizes and bragging rights if they beat out the rest of the pack.

Still, she said the ultimate goal is to offer something fun and different.

“Mostly it’s just to get people to try some new things and see some new things,” she said.

If You Go

WHAT: 2014 Fargo-Moorhead Art Marathon

WHEN: Saturday through May 10

where: At galleries, businesses and outdoors throughout Fargo-Moorhead. Check www.facebook.com/FMArtMarathon for more information.

INFO: Most of the challenges are free, though some have a cost. Find out more about the schedule and how to compete by visiting www.theartspartnership.net/programs/2014-fargo-art-marathon or www.facebook.com/FMArtMarathon.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Ryan Johnson at (701) 241-5587