A Minneapolis-based design consultancy, Works Progress Studio, has been picked to develop a public art component for the Arlington Hills Community Center, a new $16 million library and recreation center scheduled to open in May on St. Paul’s East Side.
Located at 1200 Payne Av., the Arlington facility is a 40,000-square-foot glass and metal-panel complex that will include a branch of the St. Paul public library, a St. Paul Parks and Recreation center with gym and fitness equipment, a digital-media lab for teens, and community meeting rooms.
“We’re thinking about how our project can re-imagine what a civic space like that can be,” said Colin Kloecker, an architect and co-director of Works Progress with his wife, designer Shanai Matteson.
Their firm, founded in 2009, specializes in collaborations with creative types ranging from bike riders to photographers and stand-up comedians. Much of their previous work has been temporary or ephemeral, including art surveys and community conversations. They’ve done projects at Walker Art Center, the midsummer Northern Spark festival, and the Bryant Lake Bowl.
The duo plan to have a design proposal ready for review in May and to finish the $90,000 Arlington project in a year. They anticipate focusing on the teen center, which is to be stocked with everything from computers and digital design equipment to sewing machines. A newly formed teen advisory council will likely have ideas about how the space might be used.
While the commission was open-ended, Arlington Hills committee members suggested that the designers focus on “stories from the community” and the possible creation of “some sort of archive for the stories,” Kloecker said.
“When we think about stories, we think about inviting people in the community to bring their own experiences into this public space,” Matteson said. Stories might be shared in performances, recorded on film or video, or told from a stage or platform, she said. “We’re throwing ideas around but we’re at a phase where everything is just simmering.”
Money for the Arlington Hills project was allocated through St. Paul’s Public Art Ordinance, which requires that artists be involved in the city’s capital projects from start to finish. That ordinance, passed in 2013, differs from the typical public art procurement process in which artists are brought in at the end to add a dash of cultural frosting (painting/ sculpture) to an already completed building. The St. Paul ordinance designates 1 percent of eligible project costs for public art.
Works Progress was chosen by a committee that included representatives from the St. Paul Public Library, St. Paul Parks and Recreation, the Payne Phalen District 5 Planning Council, and the St. Paul community.