GRANITE FALLS — Granite Falls is under construction. This rural community along the Minnesota River is modernizing its arts infrastructure, a change that has lasted several years.
There is an established artist-in-residence program sponsored by the city.
The Granite Falls Arts Council operates the KK Berge building downtown, where it offers an ever-changing lineup of exhibitions and workshops by local, regional and even national artists.
And, one block away in the heart of downtown, is the YES House.
Building space for the arts community
The three-story, 5,000 square foot building is being prepared to offer the full package for the arts. Its top floor, now completed, houses two apartments intended to accommodate guest artists.
Plans for the lower two floors include developing a co-working space, small business incubator, performance hall, art gallery, media lab, youth zone, artist studio, studio recording, a yoga/dance studio and a rock climbing facility.
“There are a lot of people doing really good work here,” said Ash Hanson, director of the Department of Public Transformation, Arts Economics moving into the community. The Department of Public Transformation, the non-profit entity she founded, is working to develop YES House as part of this arts infrastructure.
The building was donated by a Granite Falls family to the Department of Public Transformation in 2018. Volunteers helped prepare its interior for its new role. A $900,000 fundraising campaign was launched earlier this year. With its remodeled floor, the YES House is now focusing on Phase 2: the remodeling of the two lower floors.
Looking forward to future developments
Most importantly, YES House is working to chart its future and engage the community.
At the end of June, Luwaina Al-Otaibi joined the team as Community Engagement and Events Coordinator. She is working to put together a team of residents to help determine how YES House can best serve the community.
Al-Otaibi said a variety of suggestions have already been put forward, ranging from poetry and literature programs to knitting get-togethers. There are also discussions of larger events, such as live plays and exhibitions.
As Al-Otaibi strives to involve the community, his sister, Sarina Otaibi, is also working with a newly created YES House Futures Committee. Its objective is to establish a five-year plan for the sustainable support of YES House and its objectives.
Connecting and engaging with the community is at the heart of it all, according to Hanson. She said there had been a gap in communication with the community during the COVID pandemic.
Both Hanson and Al-Otaibi are optimistic about YES House and the growing arts economy taking hold in the community and region. Al-Otaibi said she was impressed with how many people in the community were willing to volunteer their time and energy.
She pointed out that support also comes from many young people in the community. Despite busy family and work commitments, “they show up and share their talents because they want it to be a fun and dynamic place to live,” she said.
“It’s very inspiring to work with these people,” she says. When new ideas come up, you can always find a group of people here to bring them to life, she added.
She also credits community leadership with helping to foster the growth of the arts economy.
“I think the leaders are ready to take risks,” Al-Otaibi said.
YES House’s goal is to support efforts to make the community a better place to live, and not just through the arts, Hanson said. The project’s mission includes supporting efforts to expand recreational activities and other quality of life initiatives.
Art enables rural communities to envision creative and alternative futures, Hanson said.
The benefits of this growing focus on the arts are already being felt, they noted with Al-Otaibi. “People are proud of where they live and want to be invested and involved,” Hanson said.