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Arts partnership explored: Fargo schools study co-op with Plains Art Museum

The Fargo School District is seeking a new location for its Creative Arts Studio, and the Plains Art Museum might offer a solution. The groups are looking for ways they can share resources and talent to improve arts education in the region. Discu...

The Fargo School District is seeking a new location for its Creative Arts Studio, and the Plains Art Museum might offer a solution.

The groups are looking for ways they can share resources and talent to improve arts education in the region. Discussions are being spurred by both agencies' needs.

The district wants to move the studio, which is located in the basement of Clara Barton Elementary, to gain more space and to expand its offerings. Meanwhile, the Plains wants to establish itself as a leader in regional arts education.

"If we combined our efforts, it would enhance the K-12 arts experience, but also enhance the museum's outreach," said School Superintendent David Flowers.

No details have been approved by either organization's board, but leaders expect to have a better focus by January, Flowers said.

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Collaboration between the Plains and Fargo schools could improve arts education for all ages, in addition to making both groups eligible for more grant dollars, said local artists.

"It's about getting the best bang for your public dollar," said Meg Spielman Peldo, an artist and Fargo School Board member.

Jon Offutt, a local glassblower, said the collaboration could provide a "richer, more dynamic environment" for students, the community and artists.

The Creative Arts Studio was founded by the school district in 1975. It has always been a district-wide program, but its mission has changed through the years.

In the beginning, the studio was a place where working artists and students mingled, said Offutt, who attended in the 1970s. Back then artists maintained the facility in exchange for studio space and access to equipment. Students submitted portfolios before being admitted to the program.

In exchange, students had nearly unlimited access to the studio. Offutt received a key to the school building by the time he was 16.

"You'd never get that now," he said. "It's a different time."

In recent years, the studio space has shrunk because of fire code concerns. Today it consists of a small gallery and a couple rooms where elementary students work with clay and print-making materials.

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Each of the district's 5,400 elementary students visit the studio at least once during the school year. After-school and summer programs draw about 400 students. In addition, the space is used by adults who take art classes through Moorhead Community Education.

For some central Fargo families who have enjoyed easy access to the studio over the years, that could be hard to hear.

"We certainly think of it as part of our neighborhood," said Loral Hannaher, whose third-grade daughter has attended summer classes at the studio. The family lives within two blocks of Clara Barton. "I rather like the basement, but I can see why they might want to move it."

Offutt sees a partnership between the Plains and the School District as a return to the Creative Arts Studio's original mission.

"You could fill the studio space and keep it operating and dynamic most of the day," he said.

Access to the museum's exhibits also could enhance what students learn in the studio and classroom.

"How fun would it be to have real examples of Pueblo pottery to show students and not just pictures," said Spielman Peldo, who has taught in the Creative Arts Studio.

The Plains could help fill some of those gaps in school curriculum.

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"The number one responsibility of a museum is to educate," said Edward Pauley, president and chief executive officer of the Plains. "We're about demystifying art-making and art-looking."

Another idea being tossed around is bringing in visual artists to work with students during the summer, much like Trollwood Performing Arts School brings in performing artists to work with students.

Also, a partnership between the Plains and Fargo Schools could provide more opportunities for students who want a deeper understanding of the visual arts.

"If there's mutual territory where we can work together, we should do it," Pauley said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Erin Hemme Froslie at (701) 241-5534

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