Partnership Art

In 2015, SWMHP was one of six organizations that received funding through Artplace Amercia to participate in the Community Development Investments (CDI) Program. The CDI Program was launched to investigate and support place-based organization incorporating art and culture into our core work, allowing us to better fulfill our mission of creative thriving place to live, grow and work. The three-year journey with Artplace allowed our organization the opportunity to learn, share our journey, develop strong relationships and projects with the art and cultural sector, and better serve the communities of Southwest Minnesota.

As a regional organization serving 27 counties in Southwest and South Central Minnesota, the organization first had to determine how we would integrate this work in a meaningful way. Initially, our effort focused on evaluating how art and cultural strategies can be woven into our community planning process to engage a greater cross section of residents that are not typically present in the local decision-making process. We identified three distinct communities that have gone through dramatic demographic shifts and were unique in size, demographics, assets, and opportunities. Worthington with a population of just over 13,000 is a growing regional economic center and the 3rd most diverse community in Minnesota, behind only Minneapolis and St. Paul, with over 50 languages/dialects spoken. Our second community is St James with a population just under 4,500. While this railroad community has experienced overall population declines, there has been strong growth in the Hispanic/Latinx community which now comprises over 30% of the population. Milan is a small community of just under 400 people that was facing severe population declines until a significant influx of Micronesian families helped to grow the community. We have witnessed how art and cultural strategies can better identify the assets and opportunities that exist within a community, can connect with people in new ways, and can create solutions to community challenges. In doing so, the voices of local residents are elevated to reflect the traditions, heritage, and vision for their community.

Today, SWMHP continues to partner with artists to deepen our community engagement, project development and program delivery. See below for a sampling of some of the innovative work implemented by Partnership Art. (Overarching Video)


Worthington Artmobile
An asset mapping process identified transportation in Worthington as a major concern; with misperceptions on who can access public transit, and a lack of transit options for night shifts at the meat processing plant. Transportation can be a challenge for residents of SWMHP properties in Worthington and is also a factor contributing to economic and racial disparities in the community. A team of local artists purchased a decommissioned bus and created the Artmobile. Artmobile provided opportunities for community engagement to some of the most under-represented community members, including residents of Grand Terrace Apartments, an SWMHP community. The project drew over 1,500 people into neighborhoods, sharing and creating together. Artmobile used creative strategies to educate the community on transportation options. Their research found that 60% of those participating in engagement activities with Artmobile were unaware of public transportation options. Nearly 50% of community members said they were more likely to use public transportation in the future. (Worthington Artmobile Video) (Daily Globe Article)

Grand Terrace Apartments
As a developer of affordable housing, we acknowledge that the ability to provide safe affordable housing is a critical piece of the poverty puzzle. In Southwest Minnesota, 1 in 6 children live in poverty. We were interested in exploring arts-based strategies that we can integrate within our affordable rental developments to continue building strong communities. SWMHP partnered with artist Nik Nerburn to create a documentary portrait of life at Grand Terrace, a new affordable housing development in Worthington. This effort worked to build connections between residents in the property. (Nik Nerburn Video)

St. James Healthy Housing Initiative
Following the completion of a housing study, St. James formed a local housing committee. This committee identified the need to focus heavily on the preservation, maintenance and improvement of existing housing stock. An artist team composed of Jack Forinash, Mary Rothlisberger, and Kelly Gregory developed creative approaches towards outreach and education efforts, especially among Latinx households. The artist team designed a healthy home toolkit that was distributed by a team of neighborhood advocates. Their practice utilizes art and design to cultivate connections within communities and to foster a sense of pride. The connections established through the healthy housing initiative created a ripple effect in the community, inspiring the City to dedicate funding for rehabilitation, examine a handyman program, partner with their City Attorney to translate City documents into Spanish, and invite the first Latina community member onto the Housing Committee. (Home Boat Collaborative)

Downtown St. James
In conducting community asset mapping, the downtown was frequently highlighted in both a positive and negative light by community members. St. James has experienced a rise of Latino businesses helping to stabilize and give new energy to the downtown, but many residents still highlight vacant storefronts as a concern. In addition, community space reflected the strong railroad history of the community but did not highlight the diverse culture that exists within the community today. We hired Sara Udvig, a Muralist Artist with a strong background in community engagement to work with St. James residents to develop an art experience that is representative of the diverse culture of St. James, and which works to re-energize the area as a community gathering space. Through her community planning efforts, multiple projects arose that were implemented in the downtown. The Garden of Good People Mural worked to strengthen community connections and speaks to the giving spirit of residents. The second project is Bike-ro Economy, a micro economy on wheels that will bring the street vending energy to the streets of St. James in 2020. Lastly, the Plaza de Saint James created a multifunctional space for people to gather and interact supporting outdoor performances and micro-economy ventures.

This Land is Milan
Placebase Productions, a community theater group based in the Twin Cities, led a community engagement process over the Summer of 2017 to transform the community into a stage to explore past stories, present conditions and future possibilities. The artist team explored themes around common ground between Norwegian and Micronesian heritage, immigration stories, the concept of home, and Milan’s history and hopes for the future. Over 40 community members donated 2,000 volunteer hours to participate in the musical held on October 7, 2017. The production highlighted local assets and opportunities and will be a springboard for future community development initiatives. It also raised awareness among skeptical local leaders on how arts based strategies can address community challenges and opportunities. Finally, the production encouraged community connections with over 50% of participants indicating after the performance they would connect more with community members they didn’t know. (This Land is Milan Video) (Ashley Hanson)

The Listening House
The Listening House is a community-generated art exhibit exploring the many meanings of “home” to the people of Milan. A team of four local artists created a temporary exhibit inside a dilapidated house which has been lived in by both Scandinavian and Micronesian community newcomers. The goal of the Listening House is to identify shared community housing values in Milan through art, play, and conversation. The artist team was such an inspiration to the property owner that he has decided to invest funds in the rehabilitation of the vacant property, helping to alleviate the housing shortage in the community. This project will be the catalyst to engage in conversations on a larger scale rehabilitation effort to address poor housing conditions within the community and other community needs identified through the process.

Milan Revitalization of Public Spaces-Goodspace Murals
Through This Land is Milan and the Listening House efforts, artists worked with long-time residents and a growing Micronesian population to better articulate needs and desires around housing and the future of the community. Milan has done an amazing job reflecting who their community was and preserving that cultural heritage. What was not reflected in Milan is who Milan is today and will be in the future. Community engagement revealed that cultural dislocation is a concern for both long-time residents and newcomers. One of the key challenges/opportunities that emerged from community engagement was to address the visual revitalization of public spaces. This effort not only revitalized public space within the community, but it also sought to build stronger relationships among community members and develop new community leaders. Goodspace Murals, the project artists, worked closely with community members to create a vibrant public space that reflects the town as it is today and will be in the future.

Prairie Homeless Companion
“A Prairie Homeless Companion” was a theatrical collaboration between zAmya Theater Company and Placebase Productions, using the framework of Garrison Keillor’s “A Prairie Home Companion” to shed light on stereotypes of ruralness and make visible the often invisible challenges of rural homelessness and housing instability. Over the course of a year, zAmya and Placebase engaged with the Southwest Minnesota Continuum of Care, providers, people with lived experience and other community members In southwest Minnesota, collecting stories of housing instability within the region. These stories were then used to create an original show and music. “A Prairie Homeless Companion” toured 4 communities In the southwest region (Marshall, Willmar, Hutchinson, and Worthington), as well as performed at the annual Minnesota Coalition for the Homeless Conference In Rochester and used a combination of zAmya and Placebase performers and musicians, as well as local actors and musicians, Including people with lived experience. Over 300 people attended a show and participated In talkback sessions with the cast and local social services and housing providers and zAmya hopes to adapt the show for performances In other parts of greater Minnesota.

Solace Apartments
Solace Apartments is a 30 unit multifamily development in St. Peter, Minnesota focused on recovery and family reintegration, targeted towards people exiting the criminal justice system or drug court, homeless individuals and others who would benefit from the availability of wrap around onsite services. By first providing housing and offering onsite services, Solace is intended to address personal and family wellness from several angles to break the recidivism cycle and promote recovery. A roster have artists have engaged with Solace to provide enrichment opportunities for residents, expanding the idea of wellness at Solace. Artists have worked with residents to tell their individual and family stories, build community as a development, strengthen family relationships, create home décor, develop artistic skills, plan a community garden, etc., while using community meals, physical arts, workshops, movies, and other engagement strategies as tools.

Read more

Mankato Free Press Article