Northfield downtown neighborhood idea wins competition for scarce economic development funds.

Riverwalk Arts Quarter"The Riverwalk Arts Quarter the 'go to' place for art entrepreneurs and patrons alike"...we will... "create a legal entity, a sustainable business, and a destination" and "we will market and promote Northfield as an arts town and the Riverwalk Arts Quarter will be its center". With this introduction, a project team which had polished up their winning idea from the Town Meeting held April 12th, presented their proposal for funding to a dozen jurists from the community Tuesday nite in competition for $15,000 in grant money from the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation (SMIF).

Their idea for 'creating a base for a viable, self-sustaining arts market and generating sales for artists, downtown businesses and arts organizations', got all the money. And the competition was formidable.

The SMIF grant process to fund asset-based projects with community-wide support is called the Town Meeting Initiative (TMI). The culmination of many months of training and team building, a public Town Meeting called "Creating the Riverwalk Arts Quarter'" with 71 attendees was held at The Grand in April at which 9 project ideas were brought forward by the public. The funding needs of these 9 ideas was $59,000 which, when matched, would total over $100,000.

Philip Spensley, head of the Arts and Culture Commission presented a vision for a public space adjacent to the library. ArtOrg's Dave Machacek presented 2 public sculpture ideas as well as an attempt at a Guinness Book of Records. Other ideas included an arts destination plan, a film festival, street performers, a fine arts festival, and a Saturday Summer market, each based on the downtown riverwalk neighborhood. Teams at the Town Meeting consisting of the public and TMI members turned these ideas into rudimentary project plans, and by the end of that evening, 7 of the 9 ideas had made the cut having been merged into 4 'winning' ideas eligible for the next round.

On Tuesday, May 12th, before 23 members of the community representing the project teams and 12 members of the TMI, Dave Machacek of ArtOrg presented "The Riverwalk Public ArtProject which involves sculpture, an ArtCable over the river, Sidewalk Poems and a novel Five Sculptures 'hidden in plain site'

Dave also was project spokesman for the ArtOrg project called The Big Print, an extension of their successful 2008 1000 Print Summer, which might draw 3000 people to the downtown and qualify as a world record size work of art.

Another project, consisting of 3 winning ideas which had ended up being combined at the Town Meeting decided to withdraw their 'French Country Market, Fine Arts Festival and Buskers' projects due to complications of qualifying for the October 2009 completion requirements from SMIF since their events wouldn't be launched until Spring 2010. Instead, they threw their support behind the Riverwalk Arts Quarter Organization project with hopes of future collaboration.

With combined project budgets of $90,000 and grant portion requests exceeding $35,000, the TMI team, in closed session, finally settled late Tuesday night on awarding the Riverwallk Arts Quarter Organization project the entire $15,000. All three projects were well liked and met many of the criteria established by SMIF. It finally came down to whether the Arts Quarter would be better served by funding a big art event or a big art project or by providing seed capital toward a sustainable legal entity capable of fundraising and supporting multiple activities including events. In the end, the decision was that partial funding of more than one of the projects being considered was not desirable, and so only one of the competing projects could prevail.

The tentatively named Riverwalk Arts Quarter Organization will use the funds to establish, by October, a non-profit entity, develop a business plan, a marketing plan and a calendar of events all toward promoting profitable and sustainable market opportunities beginning in 2010 to support and encourage local artist and art services entrepreneurs, establish the Riverwalk Arts Quarter as an arts destination and strengthen the community's Arts Town efforts.

For information, contact Felicia Peters (Northfield Arts Guild) or Dean Kjerland (507 786-9700), Co-Community Coordinators for the RAQ-N/SMIF partnership.

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