Decades ago, Jack Becker got an interesting-sounding job at Minneapolis City Hall. The job title was gallery director of city art productions, and it came with a phone and a desk.
"And then they said, 'Jack, there's just one catch — there's no gallery,'" he recalled.
Becker became a sort of artistic matchmaker, pairing artists with available spaces around the city. When the job ended, he created Forecast Public Art to continue the work.
Now Forecast is marking its 40th anniversary. It still works in the background, matching artists with projects.
"We realized we could help artists realize their visions in public spaces and play to their passions," he said.
In 1989 Forecast established a statewide grant program for artists interested in public art. It also started publishing a magazine, Public Art Review. Forecast was building a national reputation as a resource hub.
MPR News is Reader Funded
Before you keep reading, take a moment to donate to MPR News. Your financial support ensures that factual and trusted news and context remain accessible to all.
"And we realized we could be the public-art resource and consultant to developers and cities and community groups," Becker said. "And that has grown to an incredible extent because the field is exploding, and the interest is exploding."
Now Forecast works with communities across the country. Becker runs the consulting arm of the business; meanwhile, Theresa Sweetland has succeeded him as executive director.
Sweetland said public art is no longer simply about putting art in a public space. Increasingly, the conversation around public art has become focused on equity and reflecting the community. Whose stories are being told?
"How does it feel every day to walk into your town square as a person of color or indigenous person and see Confederate monuments?" she wondered. "Or monuments that tell a story of violence against you and your communities? That is not a healthy environment."
Recently Forecast worked with Augsburg University to find art for the new Hagfors Center for Science, Business, and Religion. Standing in the main lobby atrium, Augsburg President Paul Pribbenow pointed up to windows decorated in what first appears to be an abstract pattern.
"This is Martin Luther's handwritten version of 'A Mighty Fortress is Our God,' overlaid with the cell structure of an American elm tree," he said.
Working with Forecast and the building architects, Augsburg incorporated six works of art into the structure of the building. More than 25 additional commissions hang on its walls. It's a diverse roster of artists, including Ta-coumba Aiken, Tina Tavera and Rory Wakemup.
"That was important to us because, at this point, Augsburg's undergraduate population is almost 50 percent students of color," Pribbenow said. "And so we want to reflect the communities they come from."
Pribbenow said Forecast connected the school with a network of artists, and then helped the school to create a selection process. He said the result is a collection of artwork that knits together the different disciplines being taught, and draws in the public to visit.
Sweetland, Forecast's executive director, said clients increasingly seek to use public art to address changing demographics. It recently worked with five city planners in southern Minnesota; Sweetland said they all wanted to focus on building social cohesion.