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Podcast: Engaging through Art with Carrie Christensen, Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board

Posted on August 4, 2020


Carrie Christensen

Carrie Christensen
Senior Planner
Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board
LinkedIn | Twitter


Meaning making and synthesizing. Carrie Christensen, Senior Planner for the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, joined the podcast to talk about how she has employed artists to be partners in the community engagement work they do. Partnering artists has improved the quality of engagement and brought more diverse residents to the table.

This is part of ELGL’s Creative Community, a partnership with ArtPlace America and CivicArts to write, explore, share, and learn about creative placemaking.

Host: Kirsten Wyatt

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Episode Transcript

Ben Kittelson

Hey GovLove listeners, Ben here. We got a really exciting episode for you today. We’re talking to Carrie Christensen from the City of Minneapolis about an ArtPlace initiative. I just want to share with everybody that this episode was recorded back in May. So it was recorded on May 15. And in our effort to bring you kind of some up to date episodes on COVID-19 and some of the reactions to you know, protests around the country, this episode kind of got shelved for a while. So as you’re listening on this, this is a little bit of a, you know, an episode that was in in a time capsule. So some of the more recent events that happened in Minneapolis or across the country were not covered or, or hadn’t happened yet, back when this was recorded. So I hope you enjoy this episode, you learn a lot. Thanks for listening.

Kirsten Wyatt

Coming to you from Portland, Oregon. This is GovLove, a podcast about local government. GovLove is produced by ELGL, the Engaging Local Government Leaders network. We engage the brightest minds in local government. I’m Kirsten Wyatt the ELGL, co-founder and executive director, and today I’m excited to welcome Carrie Christensen to GovLove. Welcome to GovLove Carrie.

Carrie Christensen

Hey, thank you so much. Nice to be here.

Kirsten Wyatt

Today’s webinar is part of our creative communities series in partnership with ArtPlace America and Civic Arts. We’ll learn about Carrie’s work in the City of Minneapolis at the intersection of arts, parks, culture and creative place making. But first we’ll get started with a lightning round. What is a food that everybody likes but you do not?

Carrie Christensen

I think that I have to say granola and hummus, which I feel like are both sacrilege because I actually grew up in the Bay Area while I’m based in Minnesota. I feel like I’m a bad Californians but not like….

Kirsten Wyatt

Wow, I mean, and those are both really healthy choices to be really unhealthy at times as well. [Laughter]

Carrie Christensen

Yeah, right. That’s my that’s my excuse. [Laughter]

Kirsten Wyatt

What is your favorite font?

Carrie Christensen

Um, well, I’m trained as a landscape architect. So for my, I have a serif and a sans serif, but I think sans serif, my serif font and really a Garamond girl.

Kirsten Wyatt

Okay.

Carrie Christensen

And then my sans serif font these days has become Calibri, which is our agency font. So I’m just I use it all the time. And I have come to love hate it. So I, it’s my go to.

Kirsten Wyatt

So I don’t want to make you feel bad. But we had a ELGL Facebook group discussion on fonts, and someone called Calibri the mom jeans of fonts.

Carrie Christensen

Oh, yes, yes, absolutely. It’s so it’s so safe and comfortable. [Laughter]

Kirsten Wyatt

Yeah. All right, what is your most controversial non-political opinion?

Carrie Christensen

I have one that, I think is maybe not very controversial, but I really do think that as a nation, we should shift to four day work weeks. I think that it would boost productivity, I think that it would increase our health. There’s been, you know, other countries that have led the way in this amazing pattern, and I think we should follow suit. And then another thing that I think is a little more personal, it’s probably more controversial is I believe in magic. And I, I really, I always am looking for ways to kind of look for magic in different things. And I’m actually doing a little bit of deep dive into my, my cultural roots. As someone that failed, long, long ago, my people from Scotland, and Germany, and I’ve been studying Nordic runes, so I’m kind of learning how to be almost like a fortune teller. So that’s my kind of controversial secret life that say, love.

Kirsten Wyatt

I thought we were gonna talk about four day workweeks, but rooms are way more interesting. So, if you came to an ELGL conference, like could you read people’s runes? Like are you that sophisticated yet or are you still working on it?

Carrie Christensen

I’ve mean, I’ve done it with people, you know, mostly friends and people that know me and know that I’ve got a lot going on besides my belief in magic, but you know it’s a game, sort of a little table with a maybe like a velvet curtain surrounding it.

Kirsten Wyatt

That would be amazing. Okay, I’m putting it on our to do list for our next when we can all get together in person again. So last question. What is your best self-care tech during these times of quarantine and sheltering at home?

Carrie Christensen

Yeah, great question. So I am one of those folks that is at home with two kids, of school aged kids that are both doing remote learning. And I’m also working full time and my partner is out. They are in critical sector work. So it’s you know, it’s been very jam packed every day. And when I started this, I remember reading, there’s some quotes floating around about how it’s more and more important for us as caretakers of remote learners to focus on mental health and physical health rather than school learning outcomes. And I think that’s been super important for me to keep centered as a parent that like their well being, and mine is more important than if they’re finishing all their homework. And I mean, I can’t necessarily apply that to my job. I think I’ve got some other types of obligations with work, but certainly, as a parent, it’s been really good to be like, right, productivity is not as important as us getting through this without, like, like never wanting to talk to each other again.

Kirsten Wyatt

[Laughter] Yeah, no, I agree with that very much. But let’s, let’s now talk about your work. Share with us, share with our listeners more about your career path. How did you get to the City of Minneapolis?

Carrie Christensen

Yes, thanks. Um, so I’ve been with the Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Board, and we probably are a freestanding agency equivalent agencies that were separate from the City of Minneapolis. We’re one of the few urban park systems that is actually a separate government agency. We have our own elected body, our own taxing authority, we hold our own land. And it’s been that way since the late 1800s, which I think has been part of the success of Minneapolis parks. And part of what I think is really exciting, because it’s this political landholding entity, right that’s focused solely on parks. Anyways, I’ve been there for about three years and I’m a senior planner. I work on a combination of policy, design, and do a lot of community and other stakeholder engagement within that. But before I came to the park board or Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, I worked largely as a consultant in the planning and design world, focusing mostly on public art, public art administration, cultural planning, creative placemaking creative place keeping all over the country. And I decided several years ago, umm when I think national politics were shifting that I felt like hey, I no longer wanted to just act as an outside consultant to cities and government. I really want to get inside of government and see what kind of change I can make. And that was really inspiring moment and I’m so glad that I’m now rooted in my my own community. But before I transitioned, I was working across the country and was also working locally on projects here at that intersection of arts and community. And one of the programs that I was involved with for several years is called Creative City Making and that brought together artists and city staff who were focused primarily on racial equity work in city process. And then you know across the country, it was really looking at that model as the intersection of arts and city government, and how can other communities work with artists on primarily city process. So like plans and increasing access to democratic systems, not so much the public art side, and that I ended up working with communities around the country to kind of help them do that work. And another thing I think about my sort of central to my career is that public space has been a very common denominator in much of my work. As I mentioned, I’m trained as a landscape architect, but I have taken a rather non traditional path and spent most of my career in cross sector, cross cultural spaces at this intersection, I refer to my work often as at the intersection of equity and the environment. I think what’s been really important in my career, I’ve been fortunate to be supported by a few fellowships over the years. I think it feels like this, like every decade having some kind of fellowship to help push me into a different place on my path. And I always like to give a shout out to those kinds of growth opportunities. So in 2001, I was a Fulbright Fellow in Slovak Republic and in 2011, I was a Creative Community Leadership Institute Fellow here in Minneapolis. And now I’m currently Practices for Change Fellow at the Herberger Institute at ASU in Tempe, Arizona. And those have all been really informative, I think, not definitely not just about the work and the career path for me, but those moments of like learning and deepening of my own kind of worldview and skill set and leadership potential has been really critical.

Kirsten Wyatt

And how did you find that path? You know, to this intersection of equity in the environment? I mean, was there something formative that kind of started you down this path or started you into this work that that you might want to mention?

Carrie Christensen

Yeah. You know, I grew up in the Bay Area, so, and I went to college there in the 90’s. If anyone knows anything about the 90’s, in the Bay Area, there was what I refer to as the dotcom boom, you know, that that was a really wild time to see community change. And I think I learned so much about the intersection of economic, racial, social justice and the built environment, especially looking at things like the affordable housing crisis and what people were commuting and still do, you know commute like two or three hours to get to work, so they can afford to live in a house and hold their job. And that, so I think that was like a really important kind of civic education for me. And then I ended up working right out of school at a nonprofit. I moved to St. Louis, Missouri, which I consider like a rebound migration. My father was from St. Louis and so I went back to my Midwest roots after growing up mostly in the bay, and worked for an affordable housing developer that actually did, so it did historic preservation, affordable housing, and job training all for youth, all in the same organization. And I think that was also a really important formative moment of understanding that it’s those Venn diagrams that I love working in that Venn diagram of like, where these different intersecting kind of dynamics and solutions and opportunities and barriers are all colliding. And so that was another, I think that kind of laid some very important groundwork for the rest of my career and I’m always looking for those intersectional spaces that both worked and thought about the built environment and the just the natural environment, as well as ideas of equitable distribution of resources and racial and social and economic justice.

Kirsten Wyatt

And as you, you know, learn and continue to think about these, you know, these big important themes, how does your artist lens come into play? And, and are you an artist yourself? Do you, do you create art?

Carrie Christensen

Yes, good question. I, so, you know, I think creative thinking is something that is certainly not just for artists and I, I just think that the ability to look at a system and see connections and make meaning in  complexities is just a, such a critical skill right now and COVID time right now in our world era of information overload. I mean, there’s just so many, I think so much importance in being able to think, then spot intersections and, and make meaning of like really complex systems. So I would say that, above all else, is in terms of like, I consider myself a creative person, and certainly have artistic practices. But I really do think that you know creative problem solving is for everyone and is a skill that all of us can be nurturing in ourselves in a variety of ways. And I think that understanding that having, having understanding your own creative process, I think can help us be better problem solvers right. And so, having space and like cycles and ways and places to practice your creative process outside of work outside of high stakes places, is really important because of that, and not just because of that, it also feeds your soul and helps you be a whole person and come to show you show up and faces as a healthy like mind and heart body, which I think are all really important parts of being a creative thinker. And so, one of the things you know that my most recent, this fellowship that Herberger has helped me name is that I think, you know, I’ve partnered with artists on work and processes in city government for years and this fellowship has actually helped me name something a little different, which has been that I really want to cultivate my own creativity inside of this system so that I can kind of embody that cross sector creative like radical thinking, innovative thinking, like in my work every day. So doing the things that I’ve learned in working with artists over, over the years been really…

Kirsten Wyatt

Sorry.

Carrie Christensen

No, that’s cool. [Laughter]

Kirsten Wyatt

Sorry. Working with artists over the years, if you want to start with there, sorry.

Carrie Christensen

Yeah, so we know working with artists over the years, has really taught me the importance of, of creating space to take care of yourself or creating space to be creative so that again, you can show up and do the work in a more full way. So anyways, this latest thinking for me has been about hey, I almost want to consider myself like my own artist in residence and how can I kind of be this secret artist in residence in my role in government, and how can I sort of free myself up to be a little bit more of a risk taker or a little bit more of a creative thinker or just relying on you know beauty or play as something that is just as important of a tool to me as, you know, a good work plan. How can I push myself to keep centering, a lot of the things that artists have centered in my working partnership? And how do I keep feeding myself so that I can do that and like, keep that in my, in my mind’s eye.

Kirsten Wyatt

Well, and I love that. And it’s such, it’s, it’s the reason that, you know, we wanted to work on this really exciting partnership with ArtPlace with Civic Arts because of this idea that that local government, and creativity, you know, should go hand in hand and that we can’t limit ourselves by thinking that this is a project just about like murals or public art, that there’s so much more and there’s so much more depth to this work. And so I appreciate you sharing that. And so I’d love for you to dive in and tell us more about how you are doing that and about your role in Minneapolis parks and how arts and creative placemaking and culture are integrated into what you’re doing, you know, day to day and as you plan for the short term and the long term.

Carrie Christensen

Yeah, I think that, so I’ve mentioned earlier partnerships with artists and how can we, how can we create space in our work as government officials, you know, to work in partnership with artists rather than just hiring them for a product, you know, that idea of like transactional versus transformational. How can we create transformational spaces with artists so that so that we can actually do deep dives rather than saying, hey, here’s this deliverable I need you to make pretty for me, right. Artists as innovators, artists as system change thinkers, artists as folks that especially for artists that identify as community based artists that really might represent a geography or culture group or a racial ethnic group, that mean those kinds of like deep expertise that artists bring I think are incredible, incredible. I don’t I don’t want to use the word asset because it feels extractive. But I think that, like, it’s an incredible gift, you know if we can work with it and like create space for it. And so I think that you know, I’ve got, I think building relationships with artists is one way of doing that, making sure that we’re creating a lot of space and time that you know long term partnerships with artists are going to be more meaningful and make more impact inside of systems. You know, they’re able to spend more time inside that system or with you as a staff. And I think artist in residence programs can do that. I know there’s a lot of them emerging around the country, there are more kind of process based artists in residence thinking more about hey, how do we, how do we engage more people in our democracy? Or how do we, how do we get this kind of this like really complex information out to people in a way that they’ll understand it so that they can then you know like use the services or get the small business support. You might think there’s so many, having artists like really dive into the question with us rather than just say, hey, I want a graphic designer for this like set of an identity package. So that’s something that has been you know, I’m looking always looking for opportunities and ways to do that in our work. I think that artists are really skilled at you know, bringing play and beauty into spaces, but that is definitely not the only thing that they’re bringing with that. I think it’s also deep listening and like deep empathy and ability to kind of show up where people are at. And those are all things that, you know, we, like local government doesn’t always do that well, and it’s a gap that artists can really play if it’s done, I think in a way that’s respectful of community and of the artists. So, you know, I think the idea of artist support is also really important to hold as we talk about the role of arts and government, and making sure that, you know, the radical, like free thinking, creative thinking and system busting out of the box, you know, that all that can be held in a way and heard, it’s really important and that for you know, not to invite this into places where they might, for example, need to be like a human shield, which is kind of an intense metaphor, but that you know, in a community meeting, bringing in a facilitator, just because, you know, you might be afraid as staff to get yelled at, that, you know that that’s not going to necessarily be the most respectful way of bringing an artist into a collaboration, right? But if it’s, it’s like a longer, deeper, more complex process, and you’d like co-design this whole thing together, and you’re going to tag team and like got each other’s back, like that’s a very different thing. So those are, those are a few kind of points more of consideration, I think, and ways that you know, that I think of arts and government and artists and government right now.

Kirsten Wyatt

Go ahead.

Carrie Christensen

No, you go ahead.

Kirsten Wyatt

Are there, do you have some examples or ways that you’ve seen artists and cultural practitioners most successfully partner and make those transformations in local government? You know, anything that really kind of jumps out as you know, an example of best practice.

Carrie Christensen

Yes, great, thanks. Um, we so I mentioned Creative CityMaking, which, for years, it was a partnership between a local arts organization and the City of Minneapolis. So Intermedia Arts and the city partnered and they had artists and you know, city staff working together on these projects that usually lasted between a year and 18 months. So, and recently a transition was held in the city of Minneapolis and I, and so there’s one project that has spanned the time, you know that transition from being an Intermedia-city partnership, and now just being city held, which is called Hearing Tenant Voices. And it was initially, I think it was with the Regulatory Services Department, it was the partnership with the staff from that department and of two performing artists, one of whom is trained deeply in the pedagogy of the oppressed, and theater of the oppressed, and they ended up, so the question that was posed in the beginning of the project was, it is called Hearing Tenant Voices and was the regulatory services, so housing inspectors and their leadership, acknowledge that, hey, we’re, we are now a majority renter in our city, we’re at 53%. And how can we, how can we shift the way that we see renters? You know, how can we shift the dynamics and instead of like, instead of always kind of putting homeowners first and whether it’s political or economic, circles, how can we how can we start to shift that? And so because they are an asset, it means the majority of our community right like that’s really, really important political and economic part of our city, if you want to like put it in total government speak. And, and so these artists were like, okay, if you want to engage more with renters, that’s great. But what’s going on inside of your department? And how, what ability do you have to actually really listen to tenants and understand what they need and want and think. And so they actually spent the first I think two years and maybe I think it’s still going on, conducting training is due to the oppressed, training modules. It’s Regulatory Services staff, including housing inspectors, you know fire, police, you know all sorts of regulatory staff and they’re out in the field interacting with tenants every day, and really, really getting folks to embody some of the practices that in theater the oppressed, you know, it’s a, it’s a really great way to kind of examine your own bias and examine really tough sticky issues, but in an embodied way that isn’t just like pure head, you know, and it helps you kind of like digest it and move through it in a totally different way than you would if you were, you’ll receive like a report from someone saying, hey, I need you to be more responsive to tenants like that very, very different way of learning or hearing. And so that has now, it took a couple of years for some baseline training to happen. And then now they’ve been transitioned to having, doing some training with a core group of tenants in the community. And that took about a year and then they finally brought tenants and city staff together and did some, like theater of the oppressed work all in one room. And it was about you know, there was like some cultural shifts within the department that were just incredible to witness and like that ability to do more deep listening to tenants. I really think that these ongoing trainings are a way of like, not basically helping to the staff, not be as either defensive or guarded or right, maybe not going in at the same amount of you know pre-determined assumptions or it’s done, just wonders. And it’s actually now led to some tenant rights sort of regulations in the city that came right out of that work. So it helped organize tenants, it helped create better avenues for tenant advocacy. And that has really now resulted in after several years, though, in some actual shifts in the way that tenant rights are, are advocated for in City Hall. So that’s one of my favorite stories of Creative Citymaking, and I think it just it tells so many I think it teaches so many different lessons to me every time I think about it.

Kirsten Wyatt

Right. Well, and this, I hesitate asking this question because it’s such a government question. But you know, what types of measurements, you know, obviously, you know, the passage of this, you know, tenant protect protection, you know, legislation or regulations, I mean, that’s obviously a measure. But anything else like that you were able to do, to showcase, you know, to maybe a skeptic, or maybe somebody who, you know, had a question about this program that like, yes, this worked, yes, this approach was worth it. Or is that something that you just let people know from the start, like, we’re not going to have a measure on efficiency or effectiveness, but we’re going to see it in other ways.

Carrie Christensen

Yeah. There has been some tracking and I’m sorry, I’m not totally up to date on what how the department has been measuring success. So I know that there is an evaluation. There’s a few evaluations online about this work. And I’m happy to send you some links that that talk a little bit more about how the impacts of this work were measured. And I think that that, that will do the work justice in a way that I can’t necessarily right now. And I think that, but that’s coming more from like the creative placemaking world and when we talk about it from a regulatory services world and how you know, I think the question of why do they keep training their staff, you know, the success of this training has been supported by leadership number one, has also resulted in political shifts, number two, and that staff themselves really get a lot out of it. And there’s been like really positive evaluations from police, from fire, from housing inspectors about this work, that that I think it’s for also, that idea of, this work is hard. Like going to someone’s home and like expecting to look at their house and tell them what’s wrong with it, is like a really tough thing to do every day. So having a space where they can process that in an embodied way I think is just as important as the other parts of this that kind of “training”. But I can certainly share some evaluations with you that that would do like the, I think the kind of power of that work more justice than I can.

Kirsten Wyatt

Wonderful. So, obviously, we’re recording this episode, you know, in these, you know, very difficult times with a lot of uncertainty related to COVID-19. And we’re watching local government agencies nationwide, you know, figure out the right way to respond. You’ve definitely taken arts and culture and integrated it into your work, your agency’s work around placemaking, communications, engagement. Can you share more with us about how this is actually the time that we need creative placemaking the most as we are in COVID response and recovery?

Carrie Christensen

Yeah, um, we need it. Yeah, so I mentioned it when we were talking through some of the ways that our partner, city government is responding. And obviously, the physical spaces is a big part of our work. There’s been just an amazing amount of challenges for us, of course, like things are changing daily in terms of what our governor and what our leadership is asking of our, both our public spaces from a programmatic and a public use and a physical space standpoint, right. So it’s constantly needing to be nimble. And I think that, that’s something I think that for example, like creative practitioners and artists are really good at being nimble, right, and like being kind of being flexible, like figuring out how to make something work. I think government, government is much harder for us because I think I really love that about government sometimes too, because I think it helps us be consistent and transparent, like making sure we’re doing things in an equitable way. So being nimble sometimes can be in contradiction to that. Being quick moving in responses, like those are all hard things. So I just want to applaud like governments across the country that I see trying to be really nimble and responsive and figure out how to work through all this. And so, a few small ways, you know, here in the Twin Cities that I see, like parks playing that role. So I mentioned and we talked about placemaking, umm one of my, one of my creative placemaking roots as a landscape architect is tactical urbanism and how do we, how can we use creative interventions in the landscape to test long term larger infrastructural change? And, you know, how do we pilot like a, the closure of a roadway might be, for example, a question that and that’s something we’re asking right now. We’re not, so we have a Parkway system around, we call it and that’s almost 70 miles of Parkway that courses through our city, connects the river and the and the lakes. And it’s a really fabulous, you know there are bike paths along most of it and it’s a really beautiful part of our city that is it’s accessible to almost, you know, like everyone that lives in Minneapolis uses the parkways and they are worth, they’re thought of basically as linear parks but really they are streets. And we’ve never, we’ve always they’ve always had vehicular access. Like that’s something that’s just since their inception. There’s always been cars on them along with separated and bike and ped facilities. And this, so in the pandemic because of social distancing, our leadership said, hey, you know what, I think there’s portions of the parkway that we could actually close to increase the amount of space we have for people to walk and hang out outside. If we close them to cars, and there’s portions of the parkway that wouldn’t impact residents, you know they have alley access, you know there’s actually large stretches of the parkways that don’t have residential access like from them. So they made the decision to close them and have been closed I think, now at least over a month, and I think for another month. And it’s a really exciting thing to see. You know, that’s like a, I think it’s very much a creative placemaking tool, to give tactical urbanism kind of piloting change, and they move you know, we moved quickly to make it happen. I think one of the challenges with it is that it also requires a lot of temporary infrastructure and it’s not cheap to do. And you know, it takes a lot of communications effort. It takes a lot of infrastructure efforts, like poles and Jersey barriers and the mobilizing the signage to 70 miles of parkway. It’s not 70, but it is close, but mobilizing signage all over the city. And there’s just a lot of effort that those seemingly really small shifts take. And we all, we all know that and I think, for us know, as we’re planning for our future, I think we start to think about, okay, how can we make these kinds of changes more easier for ourselves in the future, if we’re faced with things like this again, and I do think being ready with infrastructure is going to be a really important reality for us, moving forward. But anyways, I think that’s an interesting example of placemaking in the time of COVID, and I know there’s other cities around the country that are doing similar things with closing streets to automobile traffic. Yeah. And you know I think other small ways, working with artists, I mentioned graphic designers and graphic design and having you know beautiful products from artists while it may not be like a deep artist in residence. I also think it’s a really important tool for us to use all the time in order to create welcoming, welcoming visuals that people can understand whether they speak English or don’t speak English or whether they read or don’t read or whether they’re a kid that just loves like graphics and can’t read yet at all. You know those are you know, and for us, one of the ways that we’ve been working with graphic designer instead of saying, hey, you can create this flyer is actually, you know, can you create a series of infographics and develop a color palette based on our more traditional color palette we’ve been using for the last 10 years. So can you riff off of that and create something that still reads park board, just gives us more freedom and is a little more like fun and welcoming, and vibrant and eye catching, and contemporary, and well, you know, accessible. So that’s been a really like small but mighty way of working with local artists and randomly talented graphic designers out there. We’ve also….

Kirsten Wyatt

It’s such a good point, though. I mean, because there’s so much information and if you were to just have, like a Word document fact sheet, like no one would pay attention. And, and so this idea of what’s the most creative way we can share this very important information, I mean, I think some of the, you know, again, like you were saying the infographics or even the beams or, or you know, the ways that people are continually updating information, I mean, it’s just such a critical area to keep people interested and keep their, to keep them up to date on the best information. And like you say, you know, maybe it’s their literacy skills are lower or they don’t speak English. I mean, some of those different creative ways to keep people engaged is so essential.

Carrie Christensen

Yep. Yeah, totally. Hundred percent agree. And I think another thought with communications is that as we move so much of our work on mind, for process, you know, I’m a planner. So I work a lot with community engagement, a lot of like sharing out on process, and here’s where we’re at, here’s, you know, here’s what we need your help making decisions. And so, trying to get creative with that because of an overload of information there too. And so, we’ve recently worked with a stop animation artist that worked, I have a crew that used to work with me on planning and design projects, called the Youth Design team. They’re hired groupies from across the city, but they worked with this animation artist to create a film about we’re currently working on our comprehensive plan. And that’s been such a great tool because it’s, it’s like this very human, lovely experience, like cut paper and youth voices that are like beautifully produced, you know, because it’s done with an artist. And it’s been I just think how can we keep pushing the boundaries of the way that we communicate out? Well, you know, policies and other clunkier things but, you know, we always are faced with that struggle. I think that right now, I’m so focused on being online for community meetings and stuff, I’m just constantly looking for examples on ways that other entities are doing it. It’s been good.

Kirsten Wyatt

I love that. That is such a, that’s an amazing way to get people to pay attention to something that ordinarily maybe they, you know, they would skim over I mean, that’s incredible.

Carrie Christensen

Yeah, yeah, but so again, it’s like artist does, you know, I think it’s artists, the role artists as translator and the role of artists as meaning maker, like it’s more than just like making it beautiful. Like those are, those skills are it’s to order to create a video like that and produce something that is like very complex act, right? That’s right, like incredible amount of synthesis that happens in that. And then my last example, I think that we’re, we’re gearing up again for continuing engagement. And with this comprehensive plan, and we have a summit that we had to transition online, that was going to be a big community gathering and now it’s going to be a big community gathering instead of a half day it’s going to be a week. So we’re drawing it out and making it longer putting it all online. But then we’re hiring an artist to act as a basically a respondent during the whole week and he is a graphic recorder and does just the most beautiful work like synthesizing and doing, he calls it a draw deep listening through drawing. So he’ll be drawing, listening to all the videos, listening, reading the recommendations and listen to the different like open conversation hours and the listening sessions and, so there’s like representing ideas, and also helping us identify gaps, connections, significance, so that as we start to refine and work on our draft comprehensive plan we’ve got like this beautiful synthesis that we can use. It also brings like a layer of like entertainment and like human, humaneness to the whole like online thing that I’m pretty excited about like he’ll be having a little live cam going or some other kind of like that drawing process and it’s a little way to bring a little levity into to it right kind of again, I like a process. It might not be at the top of everyone’s mind, but it’s still like, we’re trying to keep some of our work going in this crazy time and that’s a reality, you know, a lot of us are faced with is like, how do we keep keeping on and like, right, being bold and, adjust and still do good work and be responsive and…

Kirsten Wyatt

yeah, and not lose that momentum, for sure. Do you have any I guess, you know, predictions or ideas about if participation will be greater because of this kind of more human centered focus on engagement. And, and also that people maybe are, are trapped in their homes and, you know, want ways to engage or do you think that do you think it’s gonna be, you know, more of the same, you know, levels of turnout for community members, you know, participating in these comp plan discussions?

Carrie Christensen

Yeah, I do. I do think that not just the graphic recorder, but the role of like arts and culture connectors in the Twin Cities, like artists as organizers and cultural organizations as organizers is another kind of thread of this and them being allies with us in this work is so important. And that’s that’s a big part of turnout, you know, is working with our, all those great partners and organizations, but I do think, so one of the things that the Creative CityMaking work that we saw was, we definitely had increased turnout and increased numbers of folk and more diverse folks showing up when artists were involved in engagements and because of engagements become more accessible. And so in this case, it’s a little it’ll be maybe hard to measure but i do, i just think as a philosophy for me with engagement, you know, making it mobile, making it fun, making it like you know working with artists on it, I think are all critical pieces of good engagement practices. And they’re, I absolutely believe that more people show up and more diverse voices feel welcome, but also that artists are really good at creating platforms for people to tell stories. And that’s like part of what they you know, they tell stories and they create space for others to tell stories in really incredible ways. And that’s something too that feels like the actual quality of the engagement I think it can also be a lot deeper and better with you know, and working with artists.

Kirsten Wyatt

And you touched on this a little bit, but let’s talk specifically about how involving artists increases or makes processes more equitable and, and even more accessible. Any good examples to share? I mean, I think, obviously some of this work with the comp plan and you know, some of your predictions on that, you know, relate to that as well, but, but any other examples that you might like our listeners to be aware of as they consider bringing artists into their own process?

Carrie Christensen

Um, yeah, so I’ve mentioned this idea of artists as meaning makers and synthesizers, and I think so, you know, engaging artists and creating a really great engagement tool, like, that’s a wonderful, important thing to do. Like, you know, a small area plan I worked on several years ago, again, a creative city making project was so the team of artists that created this really interesting, we called it a mobile engagement theater and they were out and it was a university neighborhood. They were trying to target students and get students more involved in this municipal planning process, which can be really challenging when students are more a transient population and may not like to see themselves in cities, you know, processes and don’t know, you know. So they brought this fear out into the quad and had this historical glance at the neighborhood and then a little bit of a like, here’s what the current neighborhoods all about, and then what do you think the future should be about? And it was this really interesting, like huge bike pedal powered theater with a scroll that was like really weird, interesting and beautiful. They had great information and just like both told the story of place was kind of this strange spectacle. And then, you know, they gave out like stickers and some t-shirts or something. So they had some really interesting like, artist design initiatives. And it was like all of those pieces were critical to doing good engagement and I think the artists team that was collecting, that ended up, I think they got, they gathered like 40% of the surveys through the mobile engagement theatre and through this theme that they created that was like a visual representation of the, of the survey that was online. So, you know, almost half of the data on that, for that, that informed that small area plan ended up coming from students you know through this, like creative engagement process. And then one of the most critical things was that they took these like graphic recordings of, you know, of the, from the students and helped translate it into meaning before the planners so planners could use that data in a way that was like consistent with their other data. But then, you know, for that project and other projects, actually having the artists like, sit at that table in the meaning making stage like so, we’ve been working with this process called a data jam, where we all look at the data together and say look at key scenes and do it as a collective, rather than just having one person at their computer like make meaning of all the comments, especially involving the people that collect the data. So the artists know in the meaning making process and thing, what do you see what meaning can you make out of this? Like, what do you think the recommendation should be given what people are saying? And I think that’s, that that role, again, of like artists as translator of the community engagement expert, but also as like meaning maker, a really important thing that I think has to do with community equity, but also artists equity, and like really, that and you could roll it out to it’s not just for artists, but for anyone that might be hired to do community engagement work, like how do we involve people out you know, not, not just like faces that, that like represent the diversity of the community, but they’re actually like, people that can help spot patterns and like make meaning and make recommendations and how do we, how we bring more power into that part of the process, I think is a really important question. And I think artists can be wonderful thinking partners in those cases.

Kirsten Wyatt

Well, and I love that and it goes back to what you were saying earlier about, like, engagement isn’t just a transaction and what you’re trying to do is make this transition and make it something that is really, you know, changing the way that the government is going about, you know, getting this information and then figuring out what to do with it. It’s not just someone’s job to sit behind a desk and like read through all of this and then make the call.

Carrie Christensen

Yep.

Kirsten Wyatt

So, you know, all of this excitement or maybe just my excitement aside of all of these, you know, awesome programs and, and initiatives that you’re able to work on, what are some of the challenges that our listeners who you know are as excited as I am right now might need to know about or that you’ve experienced that, you know relate to taking an arts and culture approach in local government?

Carrie Christensen

I think you know, as we think about this post COVID world you know, I just think for the for the rest of our lives we’ll remember this time, but I think this is also isn’t the last we’re gonna see of it, right? Like, we have, like a new, and so many of us are probably entering into this next chapter like this new awareness of what is possible on a global and local scale. And I hope to see some really awesome systems change work come out of this. You know, it’s, like both terrifying and exciting. But I think you know, one of the biggest shifts that I’m seeing in our system right now is or biggest shifts in the conversation is a focus on public health. And I think, you know, we’ve often times were called, like the parks and recreation board, right. I mean, we’re focused on recreation and Parkland. We’re not called the parks and recreation and public health or …. I think that public health is becoming much more centered in our work, right now in there, in during the pandemic, as a necessity. And I think that I am hopeful in the future, in the role that arts and culture can play in that I just jot down all this all the amazing skill sets that artists and cultural practitioners bring to this kind of work. I think it’s going to be so important to rely on their talents, as we work to center public health more and continue to need to right, and though, like, I think about the role of artists and culture workers being able to communicate really effectively and plan and engage community and do really interesting programming that cuts through all sorts of barriers and entertain and educate and express the uniqueness of place. I think that whether it’s like through really small acts of, you know, graphic design all the way to like deeper systems change artists and residents programs, I think that centering public health, no and creative intersections, there’s hope to see a lot more of that. And in the name of equity and justice and making sure that especially our most vulnerable are, are protected and educated and communicated to have avenues to engage. So that’s one big one, I think, for post COVID. And then I also think, you know, one of the things that’s been so challenging and interesting is this, like emergence codes of conduct you know our governor has them, ….. there’s sometimes there’s discrepancies between municipal, just like there’s so many different kind of codes of conduct and the ways that we’re supposed to show up and should your, you know, safe practices and I would I would love to dive deeper into this notion of codes of conduct and like, how do we show up in a space. So it’s not just about social distancing. It’s also about like, who is welcome in this space, and what activities are welcome in this space. And so how can we work with artists and culture bearers to develop language and images and storytelling around this idea of codes of conduct is centered in that public health idea, but I think it’s, you know, as, as like regulatory authorities and as places that need to have these guidelines, like how can we be more all encompassing of like, not just the public health pieces, but you know really think about welcoming and space accessibility for all cultures and people. And I would love to have like, an artist friend was actually talking about this for one of the Greenway which is like a bike and ped corridor that goes through our city, this idea of codes of conduct that are truly welcoming, you know, and, and like truly there in the for the good of all, and I, I would like love to work on on that as a project moving forward in the post COVID era especially.

Kirsten Wyatt

Well, and you know, as you stated at the top of this episode, you know, this time for creativity and thinking differently, I mean, if there was ever a time with how quickly things are changing and information is being shared, and we’re having to change the way we do business, I mean, what a perfect time to find ways to get more artists, artists involved with local government. So thank you for that. So my last question, if you could be the GovLove DJ, what song would you pick as our exit music for this episode?

Carrie Christensen

I think coming from Minneapolis, I gotta give Lizzo a shout out. I was thinking that the song “Like a Girl”.  I think that Lizzo is totally a lover and a fighter. And I think that we need to bring both currents into our world right now. Lizzo in that song to me embodies you know, leadership and power in various ways. So go Lizzo.

Kirsten Wyatt

I love it. I love it. Well, thank you so much for coming on and talking with me today.

Carrie Christensen

Thank you so much.

Kirsten Wyatt

GovLove is produced by a rotating cast of awesome ELGL volunteers. ELGL is the Engaging Local Government Leaders network and our vision is to amplify the good in local government and we do this by engaging the brightest minds in local government. Our full suite of COVID information and resources is available online at elgl.org/COVID-19. For our listeners, you can reach us at elgl.org/govlove or on Twitter @govlovepodcast. Thank you for listening. This has been GovLove, a podcast about local government.


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