FARGO — A collection of creative studios designed for artists to build their small businesses while connecting to the community is now open at West Acres Mall, bringing new possibilities for local creators to south Fargo's shopping center.

The arts incubator Aptitude kicks off its grand opening with a lineup of Holiday Art Markets running through the end of December.

Stepping into the corridor connecting Aptitude to the Aquarium Court near Best Buy, a bright neon sign welcomes guests with a message from famous French artist Henri Matisse: “Creativity takes courage.”

Through a long hallway, the space opens up to 19 individual studios that represent a new way to support local art.

Dina Schulz (from left), Spencer Johannes and Tara Fermoyle pose for a photo inside one of the studio spaces at Aptitude. The three artists have been part of the creative incubator since its inception. Ethan Mickelson / The Arts Partnership
Dina Schulz (from left), Spencer Johannes and Tara Fermoyle pose for a photo inside one of the studio spaces at Aptitude. The three artists have been part of the creative incubator since its inception. Ethan Mickelson / The Arts Partnership

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A year in the making, the incubator is a literal dream come true for some artists involved from the start.

“I knew immediately I was in,” says Dina Schulz of Rockgirl Studio. “I instantly got chills of excitement when I heard West Acres planned to construct permanent art studios. The hardest part has been the wait, but I’m settling in now and I feel like I’m home.”

Spencer Johannes. Ethan Mickelson / The Arts Partnership
Spencer Johannes. Ethan Mickelson / The Arts Partnership

Personal touches

Dina Schulz. Ethan Mickelson / The Arts Partnership
Dina Schulz. Ethan Mickelson / The Arts Partnership

The four walls inside each studio invite artists to add their own little touches. Schulz’s space features details such as blue walls and countless displays full of rocks.

Like her fellow resident artists, Schulz splits her space between a work area and displays for her products. Jewelry from Rockgirl Studios ranges in style, including rough and polished stones from quartz, turquoise and others she finds on digs. Another of her signature designs is a play on words including a rock, paper and scissors strung through a simple chain.

Inside Rockgirl Studios, Dina Schulz balances workspace including a jeweler's bench and various tools with her jewelry and rock displays. Ethan Mickelson / The Arts Partnership
Inside Rockgirl Studios, Dina Schulz balances workspace including a jeweler's bench and various tools with her jewelry and rock displays. Ethan Mickelson / The Arts Partnership

Fresh from a successful stint in West Acres’ Artist in Residency space, Tara Fermoyle of Fermie Studios is another artist now operating out of Aptitude. Her ceramic work is influenced by her background in interior design and often includes a signature zipper.

Tara Fermoyle. Ethan Mickelson / The Arts Partnership
Tara Fermoyle. Ethan Mickelson / The Arts Partnership

“My style is colorful, textured and a little whimsical,” Fermoyle says. “The collective reads as the same style, but I try to freshen things up like doing things that have a lot of architectural elements. My colorful pieces are influenced by textiles, fabric and patterns.”

While she may have her own distinct style, Fermoyle also has experience developing designs around a specific theme. She explains, “The mark of a good designer is being able to curate a space based on the clients’ needs. From my experience working at different showrooms, we really worked to curate quality furnishings that offer a lot of options for customization.”

Tara Fermoyle brings her interior design skills to the ceramics world with rich ceramic designs from holiday ornaments to mugs. Ethan Mickelson / The Arts Partnership
Tara Fermoyle brings her interior design skills to the ceramics world with rich ceramic designs from holiday ornaments to mugs. Ethan Mickelson / The Arts Partnership

In addition to jewelry and ceramics, other arts on sale during the Holiday Art Markets include paintings, prints, photography, faux flower arrangements, woodcarvings, crafts and soaps plus literature like novels and poetry.

New opportunities

Inspired in part by the opening scene to “Mister Rogers' Neighborhood,” Dayna Del Val, CEO of The Arts Partnership, imagined a small community feel inside the spacious mall.

“This has been a fabulous project to work on with West Acres. We are so grateful for the opportunity to be inside their space and to be able to provide this opportunity to a number of artists of all types,” she notes.

Inside the dedicated kiln room, work by Spencer Johannes of SRG Ceramics is ready for the final sanding phase. Ethan Mickelson / The Arts Partnership
Inside the dedicated kiln room, work by Spencer Johannes of SRG Ceramics is ready for the final sanding phase. Ethan Mickelson / The Arts Partnership

West Acres' CEO, too, praised the project.

“We made a substantial investment to build all this out because we believe in it and we believe in our artists,” Brad Schlossman said during a video shot inside the empty space to preview Aptitude in April.

West Acres demonstrates art is good for business. For example, the mall works to beautify public areas and add work to its collection of local and regional artists — the largest in the state.

West Acres brought that dedication to the next level by partnering with The Arts Partnership to reimagine 6,000 square feet of unused space into a mini mall-of-sorts for local artists.

Support for Aptitude has also been provided by the Fargo-Moorhead Convention and Visitors Bureau, Office Sign Co., Fireline Neon Co., Cereal Creative Studios, the FM Modern Sewing Guild and individual donors.

If you go

What: Holiday Art Markets at Aptitude

When: Upcoming markets will be held on Nov. 30 and Dec. 1, 5, 7, 8, 12, 14, 15, 19, 21 and 22

Where: West Acres Mall, 3902 13th Ave. S., Fargo

Info: For hours and a look at the artists, visit theartspartnership.net/aptitude

This article is part of a content partnership with The Arts Partnership, a nonprofit organization cultivating the arts in Fargo, Moorhead and West Fargo. For more information, visit http://theartspartnership.net.