The Walker Art Center's Open Field -- the green space abutting the center's building in Minneapolis -- is on a roll.

That's the case both figuratively (the space has become an accessible, blank canvas that is filled with free-form performance art, with the exhibit changing daily) and literally (people of all ages have been inspired to roll down the big hill that was the backdrop to the original Guthrie Theater).

There's been some rocking along with the rolling: An estimated 10,000 people filled the hill for June's Rock the Garden concert.

But mostly, Open Field is a place for creating art, often in the cross-discipline, multimedia methods that are in keeping with the artistic ethos of the Walker itself. An art "Tool Shed" acts like a library, where sketch pads, iPads and nearly everything in between can be checked out. Many people create or consume on the field itself, while others use the structured part of Open Field, with its common tables hosting book clubs and community meetings on topics ranging from Native American treaty rights to an ongoing series on the symbolism of different colors.

The space itself is the result of cross-discipline collaboration: A charrette design process brought together artists, architects, designers and others in an intensive day of "co-opetition," according to Andrew Blauvelt, the Walker's chief of communication and audience engagement.

The architecturally striking Walker expansion, designed by the internationally influential architectural firm of Herzog & de Meuron, opened in 2005, joining the Sculpture Garden, home to one of Minnesota's most-photographed landmarks, the "Spoonbridge and Cherry."

The Walker, Sculpture Garden and Open Field have created a dynamic as unique as some of the art. In the process, the Walker has become a world-class art center, with attendance in the top five nationally of modern and contemporary art museums. And despite the common misconception, the Walker has become more accessible and egalitarian. Indeed, far from being elitist, both the Sculpture Garden and Open Field are free, which eliminates the socioeconomic barrier some associate with art. And while preservationists were understandably disappointed that the Guthrie was knocked down when the theater moved into its new riverfront digs, its replacement this year with Open Field may have actually led to more Minnesotans' experiencing art.

With the Sculpture Garden showing its age, a modest $7.5 million proposal for renovation was included in last year's bonding bill. Requested by the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, which owns the land, and endorsed by the Walker, the funding was reduced to $2 million, then line-item-vetoed by Gov. Tim Pawlenty.

It's likely that lobbyists from both organizations will try again next year. Opponents may try to portray the proposal as frivolous in light of the state's budget woes, but they should recognize that successful public spaces like Open Field and the Sculpture Garden -- which has attracted nearly 7.5 million visitors since it opened -- let alone the Walker itself, serve to draw us together during these tough times.

At a minimum, they're part of the civic and intellectual infrastructure that helps make the Twin Cities a terrific place to work and live. "It becomes more important and vital as it gives a sense of hope, possibility and potential," said Olga Viso, director of the Walker.

Viso's vision is the right one for the Walker and the times, and it should be supported in next year's bonding bill.