It is one thing to look objectively at statistics and trends, but it is quite another to believe that they tell the story of the future.

On Saturday, January 25, students from the Minneapolis College of Art and Design’s (MCAD) Rural Arts Initiative returned to Upper Minnesota River Valley for its second time in a month and presented to an audience interested in reimagining and revitalizing rural Minnesota’s economy and culture through the use of art.



It is one thing to look objectively at statistics and trends, but it is quite another to believe that they tell the story of the future.
On Saturday, January 25, students from the Minneapolis College of Art and Design’s (MCAD) Rural Arts Initiative returned to Upper Minnesota River Valley for its second time in a month and presented to an audience interested in reimagining and revitalizing rural Minnesota’s economy and culture through the use of art.
About four dozen locals, representing towns from Granite Falls to Ortonville, attended the CURE  facilitated event. Judging by the excitement in the idea exchange that followed, it appears that it will be the first of many collaborations to follow.
The students of MCAD’s Rural Arts Initiative class––which is funded through a grant from the Bush Foundation and involves projects in southwest Minnesota and the Iron Range––arrived in the area during the first weekend in February, receiving a tour of the river valley and visiting a number of artists studios over the course of Saturday and Sunday.
Upstream, the students took in places of interest such as Tokheim Stoneware, the Milan Village Art School and the CURE offices while Sunday was devoted almost entirely to Granite Falls. Besides a jaunt through the riverside city’s downtown they also perused the wood working studio of Dale and Jo Pederson, Brad Hall’s art studio-church and the newly refurbished K.K. Berge Building.
A blog of their travels recounts the experience and a particular fixation on the prices of some of the structures.
“10:30 AM Tour Brad Hall’s studio in Granite Falls. Studio is a converted church that he paid one dollar for. (Chicago-based designer moves to Granite Falls and lives in a glorious studio/home/converted church.)
11:15 AM Visit another (larger) church that has been purchased for one dollar with the idea of creating a youth hostel/home.
Pass many homes that are for sale in Granite Falls for, wait, one dollar. Some homes will be demolished by the city if not occupied/purchased.”
 
Presentation
In the weeks leading up to the January 25 gathering, the MCAD?students put together presentations outlining their experience of the area and ideas for viable projects that might lead to growth.
Rural Arts Initiative class professor Bernard Canniffe opened the meeting stating they held no beliefs that they were going to tell locals what they should be doing in their own backyards.
“We hope this is a conversation starter for a catalyst for us to come up here for a more sustained period.”
Two groups of students conveyed their project ideas and followed up their presentations with actual examples being instituted elsewhere, often in community’s with similar characteristics to the area.
Ideas included enlisting young documentarians to make a short film establishing a narrative for the region, opening a restaurant with local foods and the development of an internship program where MCAD students would earn credits for working with local artisans.
Students also noted that the visit changed their perspectives on rural living, and that they came away viewing the area as a viable, perhaps ideal location from which to make their livelihoods and create art.
Said Canniffe, “Discussing this in Minneapolis we thought we were going to help you in some way, but I think you’ve done more to help us. Our Lives are better for coming ... it’s been a transformative experience.”
Students spoke of the sheer beauty of the landscape, the wide open spaces and the affordable housing and buildings. They said the opportunities for historic preservation left them nothing but inspired.
“Coming here and listening to the stories opened my eyes to the idea that there is the potential to have a good life and happy life, and I don’t to have pay $1,600 month rent,” said MCAD student Brian Mueller.
“There are different ways to measure our success and be happy,” added  Alex Fritz, “You don’t have to live in New York.
As MCAD class prepared to make its way back to the city, both sides expressed that they were anxious to continue the conversation and begin working on developing real-world projects.
In the end, the residents of the Minnesota River Valley will still be in charge of writing their own story, but youthful collaboration only promises to bring about positive results. And who knows, after visiting they may even decide they want to be a part of the long-term narrative.