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Published December 08, 2011, 11:38 AM

Fargo project seeks to turn flood ditches into art

FARGO, N.D. (AP) — A North Dakota city that has coped with major river flooding in recent years is aiming to turn its drainage ditches into functional civic beauty, with the help of a federal arts grant.

By: DAVE KOLPACK, Associated Press

FARGO, N.D. (AP) — A North Dakota city that has coped with major river flooding in recent years is aiming to turn its drainage ditches into functional civic beauty, with the help of a federal arts grant.

The Fargo Project is meant to serve as a pilot program to transform into neighborhood commons several large holding ponds that were constructed throughout the city in the last decade to help with the annual flooding.

It's an unusual project for the National Endowment for the Arts to finance, but represents the "intersection of arts and communities," said Rocco Landesman, the group's chairman, who toured the state's largest city Thursday.

"I wanted to see what was going on," Landesman said. "I think it's going to be a great showcase for us around the country, to show how you are creating parks or making physical, structural changes in your community that add an important aesthetic element."

The NEA is giving out "Our Town" grants of about $6.6 million total to 51 communities in 34 states. Fargo received $100,000, which the city will match. Specifics about how the holding ponds will be redone are nebulous so far. The city is soliciting ideas from the public that "reflect the internal life and cultural vibrancy," according to the project description.

Landesman called Fargo "probably the flattest place" he's ever seen, which is the reason the city carved out the temporary drainage basins. City officials said in the past, 3 or 4 inches of rain would flood streets and shut down areas of the city.

"I'm anxious to find out what you can do with these spaces," Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker said. "Right now it's strictly the ducks — the geese on occasion — that get to use them."

The city has tapped ecological artist Jackie Brookner to lead the project, which will take one of the storm water detention ponds and turn it into a neighborhood commons. Designs for the other 19 basins will be done locally.

"We're very excited to be working with our local art community and helping us solve this problem, as you heard the challenge from the mayor on how to make things more beautiful and multi-functional," said Nicole Crutchfield, a city planner.

Brookner plans to visit Fargo every couple of months to work on the project, with local artists assisting, organizers say.

Michael Strand, a North Dakota State University arts professor, said the effort shows the momentum that is building in the Fargo arts community. Strand recently moved back to his hometown after spending 20 years in Nebraska.

"I came home, and I came home really romantically, wanting to come to this community and do projects like this," Strand said.

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http://www.thefargoproject.com

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