Public art plans for Arlington Hills take a fresh approach

A public art project coming to the Arlington Hills Community Center may bring a media pod, tables with live plants sprouting from them, and a giant sign proclaiming “We Belong Together” to the new building. (submitted photo)

One idea Works Progress has for the community center is to add live plants to the furnishings -- a work table would have live plants in the middle to add appeal to the surrounding space. (submitted photo)

If your idea of public art is static paintings or murals on walls, the public art project at Arlington Hills Community Center is redefining the term to embrace both new technology and nature.

With a media pod, tables with live plants sprouting from them, and a giant sign proclaiming “We Belong Together,” the plans for embedding public art into the new building look to take on a fresh, open ended approach.

The plans come via Works Progress, a group hired by St. Paul Public Libraries and St. Paul Parks and Recreation to incorporate art into the new community center.

The group will have $90,000 in city funding allocated specifically for public art at the building to work with for the project.

After months of gathering input and brainstorming ideas, Colin Kloecker and Shanai Matteson from Works Progress are just about ready to submit the project to library and parks administration.

Dubbed “Belong Together,” the grouping of projects embodies the no-boundaries approach officials expected.

“We knew that we weren’t going to get a statue or anything typical,” said Joanna Brookes, Public Service Director for Arlington Hills Community Center, who has helped coordinate with Works Progress.

Sense of belonging

Perhaps the most flashy part of the project is the roughly 50x4 foot lighted sign stating simply “We Belong Together” that would be mounted outside above the library’s main entrance.

The idea for the sign comes from a theme that Kloecker heard repeatedly as he and Matteson were soliciting input from community members.

“We kept coming back to the idea of belonging,” he said  “This is a community that belongs together,” despite it being comprised of a diverse body of people.

“With all the differences and the different perspectives, there’s strength in that... it’s something that people can relate to on a number of different levels.”

Living art

Another theme that came up often was the idea of caring for the community, and for the space.

From that comes the idea for integrating plant life into the building. That could mean constructing a living wall of potted plants, or tables that are both planters and work surfaces.

Kloecker called this concept “a gesture saying ‘These need our care.’... This project won’t work without active care.

”That’s where the Eastside Care Corps comes in -- the idea would be to have a team of people from the community come into the building weekly to care for the plants. The team would also organize annual public events to explain their work and engage more people from the community.

The plants could also be cloned and propagated, allowing community members to take clippings -- a little piece of the community center to grow in their own homes. That idea came from a visit to the nearby Polly’s Coffee Cove, where a 40-year-old coleus plant has been propagated hundreds of times.

Media pod

Expecting that the community center’s CreaTech teen center in the basement will be a popular attraction, Koecker and Matteson had an idea -- introduce a venue on the main floor of the community center where creators can gather friends and families to exhibit their work.

A “media pod” would be an area on the main floor of the building that would display videos created by teens and other community members.

Works Progress is already busy with its own video project, telling the stories of youth and seniors in the community. The media pod would be a way for these video projects to have a regular audience in the community center.

Community outreach effort

Kloecker and Matteson didn’t come up with these ideas in a vacuum; rather, they spent months meeting with community groups, the community center’s teen advisory group, the East Side Arts Council, business owners, and the Payne-Maryland Project team from Arlington Hills Lutheran church, which has been involved in the facility’s planning process for years.

Brookes lauded the group’s efforts to talk to community members while coming up with their ideas.

“We feel like they’ve done a really good job of reaching out to all kinds of different people in the community,” she said. “They’ve done a lot of homework and we really appreciate that.”

Let them know

To leave feedback on the project, Works Progress is soliciting comments until the end of the week. Visit to leave a comment online, or visit the Arlington Hills Community Center to leave a comment in person.

Contact Patrick Larkin at 651-748-7816 or at Follow him on Twitter at @ESRPatrickLark.


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