Three years ago St. James was named a recipient of a three year grant focusing on art and community engagement in different parts of the community.

In September 2015, the Southwest Minnesota Housing Partnership (SWMHP) received a three year award from ArtPlace America’s Community Development Investments program to assist in incorporating arts and cultural strategies into their ongoing work with communities in the region. The focus of the Partnership Art projects made possible by this award, in Saint James, Worthington, and Milan MN, are to engage arts and cultural strategies in comprehensive community planning and development to help strengthen the social, physical and economic fabric of communities. Now after efforts from community leaders the hard work will soon pay off as work is beginning to be completed.

Sara Udvig the main Artist working on the project  gave an update about the progress of the different projects in St. James.

Question: How’s the plaza going?

Answer:  Well you can see that we poured the first ring. I’m working with Ed Rathman Junior and the countryside concrete crew and they are fantastic! Their technique is amazing and they’re really great guys which makes my work so much easier. The site was really challenging to grade, there’s a lot of fill in there to make everything safe for people of all physical abilities but also just visually beautiful. Jamie Scheffer and Sam Hanson have been wonderful people to work with, I hear the word yes a lot and often find Jamie has tasks checked off my todo list when I open my inbox. I can safely say no partner has ever treated me better. Stradtman and the public works team removed trees and bushes Corey Suess did literal tons of great dirt work and a lot of head scratching with me as we plotted out the design... let’s just say we are all lucky that Ed has 15 years of experience. He helped us make the best decisions, the plaza site has so many challenges, the grade difference WAS something like 3 feet.. So imagine making a mostly flat space from what could've been a great skatepark or rollercoaster and that’s what these guys accomplished. I’m so happy and so proud.

My work is mostly about showing up with a smile on my face and place in bronze footprints that we captured from community members throughout 2017. Ed built me a bridge so I can reach across the 5 foot walk and Julieta Ochoa is helping me set the inlays in the concrete. Julieta and I have worked together throughout the year, she’s been a huge help in organizing people around the work. She’s one of those people I couldn’t have done without.. it takes a lot of people with a lot of heart to make these crazy public art things happen. I’m so fortunate to be right here.

Question:  is there anything you still need? I know you were originally considering a much smaller space before Down Food Group donated the Plaza site. Did the budget work out?

Sara: Thanks to a generous discount from Cemstone, it did! But it really would not have otherwise, We are still scraping by. Highly colored concrete that’s going to last is really expensive, I applied for a donation through Cemstone and they thankfully decided the Plaza and the people of Saint James worthy of sustancial gift. I also have to thank Ed and Corey for working with me!! And of course the amazing original project funds that come from Partnership Art through Art Place America and the Prairie Lakes regional arts Council through a grant from the Minnesota arts and cultural heritage fund.

We do have a need! There is one really simple way for the community to contribute. We need field stones, ranging in size from 3-7 inches across. I’m going to place a sign by the plaza where people can drop them off. Or we can arrange to pick them up. We’re making benches and we’d really love to source local stone so more folks can be part of the plaza.

Question? I know you have more than one thing going on in Saint James, what about Garden of Good People Mural?

Sara: Yes! Jason Monnens and crew Along with partnership art artist Arnold Carlson set up the scaffolding! I did do some heavy lifting.. but these guys have more courage than me that’s for sure!

We were able to get the mural up on Sunday and thankfully the rain held off. Most of the mural was painted with community members in 2017 through community painting days. We used a process that could be like into creating mural wallpaper Which allowed us to paint inside in the winter.

I’ll be finishing it up in the next couple weeks whenever we’re not pouring concrete. There is still another mural panel in the lower section and then there are metal phrases I took from community member stories that I will attach to the building in what’s now empty brick space on the upper half.

So there still a good amount of work to do.

Everything will be finished up here in the coming weeks and then we will join the Uniting Cultures group in celebration at their multicultural fiesta on September 15.