FARGO — West Acres has a new Aptitude.

The Fargo shopping center has teamed up with The Arts Partnership to bring more arts to the area’s biggest retail mall.

The project, called Aptitude, will transform 6,000 square feet of currently unoccupied space near Best Buy into 20 studio spaces with tall ceilings and skylights and a kiln room, all of which could be open in August.

“We look at it as a cultural return on investment. It gives a platform for the arts and we think it’s important for the customers to have access to the arts as well, ” says Alissa Adams, West Acres’ senior vice president of marketing and business development.

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Aptitude is the next stage of the arts incubator space called APT in downtown Fargo which opened in 2017. Located at 225 Fourth Ave. N., the 14,000-square-foot APT site will close at the end of June as the building's owners, Kilbourne Group, will develop the property.

While Aptitude is smaller than APT, Dayna Del Val, president and CEO at The Arts Partnership, says its location in the mall will lead to higher visibility.

“This gives us access to sheer volume of potential supporters of the arts,” says Del Val. “The only possible place I could think of where we could have engagement like this is if somehow we became the pre-game opener of every home (NDSU) Bison game.”

Architect rendering of "The District at West Acres," a new 30,000-square-foot space that will feature four to five restaurants and other "experiences," including the arts generator, Aptitude, just out of frame on the right. Special to The Forum
Architect rendering of "The District at West Acres," a new 30,000-square-foot space that will feature four to five restaurants and other "experiences," including the arts generator, Aptitude, just out of frame on the right. Special to The Forum

Aptitude will host two 30-minute open houses at 8:45 a.m. and 5:15 p.m. Tuesday, April 30, to show off the potential and encourage new artists to apply for studio space. Aptitude is currently only accessible by a door outside the south side of the mall, which will be marked and open for the open houses.

Del Val says some of the artists from APT will likely move out to Aptitude, but she thinks new artists will apply after visiting the open houses.

Aptitude won’t be open to the public during all regular mall hours, only Thursday evenings to start. Del Val said they are also thinking of hosting free concerts on Fridays in the mall.

West Acres has long supported the local arts scene and displays selections from its art collection for public viewing in the mall. In the past, it has filled an unoccupied storefront with an artist’s studio, creating an artist-in-residency.

Aptitude will be located near The District, a 30,000-square-foot grouping of restaurants and entertainment options that will roll out its first phase this summer with the opening of CRAVE American Kitchen & Sushi Bar.

“Having the artists in the space brings additional life to that end of the shopping center,” Adams says.

A rendering of The District at West Acres, a new 30,000-square-foot space that will feature four to five restaurants and other "experiences." Special to The Forum
A rendering of The District at West Acres, a new 30,000-square-foot space that will feature four to five restaurants and other "experiences." Special to The Forum

Del Val thanks Kilbourne Group for offering space for APT and is now excited to take the idea to the next step at West Acres.

“The mall is a universal experience,” she says. “The mall represents the diversity that is this community. We’re not asking people to come to the arts, we’re bringing the arts to where people already are.”

Adams says that 30 percent of West Acres visitors come from outside the Fargo-Moorhead area, and Del Val thinks Aptitude can help point travelers to the area’s museums, galleries, theaters and other artists’ studios.

“I really view this as a gateway to the rest of the arts community,” Del Val says. “We can be the beginning of people’s arts experiences.”