Photos courtesy of APT, The Arts Partnership and Kilbourne Group
If you’re new to Fargo, there’s something you should know: It wasn’t always like this. We take for granted the bustling city center that Downtown has become—filled with trendy restaurants, farmers markets and charming buildings—but not all that long ago, the landscape was quite different.
In partnership with our friends at Tellwell and Kilbourne Group, we’ll be telling the story of Downtown’s transformation in a series focused on the pivotal projects and historic renovations that paved the way for what the area has now become.
EACH STORY WILL ALSO HAVE AN ACCOMPANYING MINI-DOCUMENTARY THAT CAN BE FOUND ON KILBOURNE GROUP’S BLOG: KILBOURNEGROUP.COM/NEWS
When McCal Johnson first moved to Fargo to begin a career in art, she assumed she would head to the big city after graduation.
“I didn’t feel like Fargo was a place where artists could really flourish,” says the local artist. “It felt like you started out here and then ran off to the bigger cities where there were more opportunities.”
That was during what would turn out to be a pivotal time for Fargo and a period of transformation that began to take place over the course of Johnson’s years at Minnesota State University Moorhead.
By the time she graduated in 2012 with a degree in fine arts, something about the local arts scene had noticeably changed.
“I remember thinking, ‘I can’t move!'” she says. “This place has evolved so much into a city that appreciates its art and its artists.”
That growth has only continued as organizations such as the Arts Partnership and the Fargo Moorhead Visual Artists, among many others, continue to advocate for the arts, illustrating how a thriving arts community equals a thriving city.
Milestones have included: expanding gallery spaces, offering more art classes for the community and downtown programming that engages locals with the vibrant art scene in an interactive way.
Campaigns such as The Arts Partnership’s “Support Local Art” stickers and t-shirts encourage folks to shop local and buy work from local artists. All the support helps professional artists like Johnson make a living in Fargo-Moorhead.
The most recent milestone can be seen in the form of APT, a creative incubator that opened in the summer of 2016.
“APT is a chance for artists to come together and work in individual and shared spaces, a chance for the community to collide with art and a chance to test this idea that artists are stronger when they are together,” says Dayna Del Val, President and CEO of The Arts Partnership.
The idea for APT was born from the combined vision of The Arts Partnership, a Fargo-based nonprofit that advocates for local artists and art groups, and Fargo commercial-development firm Kilbourne Group.
Kilbourne Group, which is founded on the philosophy that “vibrant downtowns create smart, healthy cities,” maintains that the art and culture of a community are a vital piece of the puzzle.
“To create a unique experience for people, you need to have creativity,” says Kilbourne Group Prseident Mike Allmendinger. “It’s thinking about things like, ‘What could happen here, in our downtown, that you could not experience anywhere else in the country?’”
Kilbourne Group approached Del Val about creating an arts incubator in January 2016.
Already, Kilbourne owned a building scheduled for renovation in early 2019—an 11,000-square-foot space that was once used for military training. It was spacious and filled with studio spaces—a perfect place to fill with artists and a way to test out the idea of a creative-arts incubator in Fargo.
Today, there are nearly 30 resident artists in the building, Del Val says, ranging from oil painters to ceramicists to musicians. There are even florists, chefs and fashion designers. In addition, the space has hosted a variety of events such as breakfasts, birthday parties and even a small opera.
And because the building will be completely renovated in 2019, the artists are free to do what they wish. Erica Tagestad Edwards, a floral artist, and her sister, a painter, decided to give their carpet a makeover by drizzling it with swirls of paint.
Last fall, a team of artists came in and painted the hallway with chalkboard paint, which is now covered in doodles and illustrations, of course.
“My goal is for this building to be on its last leg before we hand the keys over to Kilbourne,” Del Val says with a laugh. “Well-loved—like a good baby blanket.”
APT is certainly feeling loved by artists like Johnson, who come in to work in their studios and get inspiration from other artists. For some artists, it offers a welcome alternative to working alone in their homes or singular workspaces.
“Working alone secluded in my house . . . it’s lonely,” Johnson says. “Working in a space like this allows me to have community with others and be inspired by other artists. And it’s nice to be around people who can come and give you feedback on your work.”
While the building currently holding APT is a temporary testing ground, it’s a significant step toward growing and supporting the arts community of Fargo-Moorhead, Del Val says.
“I don’t think this community will ever not have an arts incubator of some kind again,” she says. “This is the beginning of the next phase of Fargo, and we’re going to get to say that we were on the ground level.”