Tuesday night, the Moorhead Public Service Commission tabled a motion to suspend the Defiant Gardens public art project at the now-defunct Moorhead Power Plant. The decision gives the commission and organizers of the project more time to work around concerns that making the site environmentally sound will be too large a task for the commission.
The initial proposal was put to the commission by Moorhead Public Service General Manger Bill Schwandt. Schwandt was concerned that extensive work needed to bring the site up to environmental standards, specifically the excavation of soil from around the power plant itself, would cost too much in city staff time. Suspending the project would have required returning $70,000 in grant funding for the project from the National Endowment for the Arts.
“This looks like more work than it will be worth to Moorhead Public Service,” Schwandt said during the commission meeting. “We all went into this project with the best of intentions, but this just isn’t going to work for us.”
Plains Art Museum Director and CEO Colleen Sheehy, who is spearheading the Defiant Gardens project, expressed frustration with the commission’s handling of the issue, saying, after more than three years of planning that “it seems unfair that we’re questioning the basis for this project.”
“We want art infused in our communities, not just in our museums and galleries,” Sheehy said, adding that many Moorhead residents see the Defiant Gardens project as a way to beautify existing city assets and improve quality of life.
Sheehy asked the commission to reconsider the proposal and work with the museum and Defiant Gardens artists on finding a way to work around any environmental roadblocks to the project, suggesting altering the plans slightly to include areas around and across the street from the power plant building itself. Peter Schultz, chair of the art department at Concordia College, reaffirmed his support for the project as an artist and a Moorhead resident and pledged the support of student artists in maintaining it. Other Moorhead residents also voiced their support for the project.
Public Service Commissioners agreed with Sheehy’s and Schultz’s concerns, unanimously voting to table the motion to suspend the project and vowing to revisit plans for the site with organizers.
Image: Britta Trygstad, Reflection #2, digital photograph, 2010. Via plainsart.org.