Witt (Siasoco) and Fortuitousness: An Old Office Building Offers a Unique Opportunity to Explore the Role of Art in our Everyday Work
For more information regarding everything written here, read this article on Witt Siasoco’s work on the website Creative Exchange.
The Cornerstone Group moved into its current office space at 6334 Lyndale Ave. on a sunny Richfield morning in 2013. The building is, so far as we can tell, at least 80 years old, one story, gray, and falling apart. Our office is close quarters (1.5 rooms), dark, on the mouldy side, and there are mice. The office is temporary—the building will be demolished sometime next year in preparation for the new Lyndale Gardens development—but, to our delight, in addition to saving us money, this humble office has offered perks that would not be possible in most other spaces. First of all, we have an opportunity to get to know our local Richfield community up close. This is a major advantage for us as a real estate development company striving to “create healthy, thriving communities.” This location is a great chance to become a part of the community for whom we are building. Second, the Richfield Artist in Residence, Witt Siasoco, works in our basement.
Cornerstone and Forecast Public Art devised the Richfield Artist Residency Engagement (RARE) as a way of getting artists and developers into the same space to figure out how to infuse more artists and art experiences into Richfield. We selected Witt and the choreographer Emily Johnson as our first RARE artists. In early 2015 Witt was looking for a space to anchor his residency, and we happened to have an empty basement office. How fortuitous! We were happy to provide our artist-in-residence with a temporary creative dwelling, but we also came to discover that, paint fumes notwithstanding, Witt had a remarkable, positive impact on our business.
We did not foresee the extent to which Witt would help us understand our local Richfield community—far more than we thought possible. His work depending heavily on community engagement, Witt developed relationships with a huge range of characters on the block, young and old, skaters, shoppers, local business people, and passers-through. He also created a range of art works which, although this was not their primary purpose, offered neighbors an opportunity to engage and interact with Cornerstone and the work we do. Witt was not an ambassador exactly—and we never asked him to be—but through his creative processes we got to meet many of our neighbors, see our entire block from a more intimate perspective, and, ultimately, feel like a part of the neighborhood.
We also did not foresee the extent to which Witt would make this old, ramshackle office building into an exciting place for us to call home. Witt was not the first serious artist working in the building. Cornerstone previously invited a group of Richfield artists to use the empty office next door for studio space. They hold twice-weekly open studios under the name The Artful Nook. Witt, in contrast, works in his studio nearly all day, every day. His is a different kind of occupation. In his winding series of basement rooms he created a maker’s space where artists and creative friends stop by to use equipment, share ideas, or clear out a corner to do their work. Be it painting, printing, sculpting, building or recording there were at least four artists creating different projects in the basement last few times I visited. It is inspiring to work in a place where there are so many different creative projects going on; it makes everyone’s work better.
Keep in mind, it is a part of Cornerstone’s stated mission to seek out ways of using the arts to create healthy community—that is why this collaboration with Forecast was such a good fit. But Witt’s presence right below us—and in this setting of all places—led us to explore our mission in new ways. You can’t imagine the sort of conversations his work made possible: How does the presence of art and artists make both our civic and business community better? What role can art play to bring more people to the community table who otherwise would not be there? How do artists make us more aware of the creative potential of the spaces where we live and work? To name a few.
Since his studio had already become a gathering space Witt created his own series of formal conversations about art and community. Serving as host and interlocutor to such Twin Cities artists as Wing Young Huie and Ta-coumba Aiken, Witt started a videocast to which he invited friends and neighbors. Our basement had become a veritable salon a la’ Gertrude Stein’s Paris apartment in the 1920s. All manner of characters and ideas coming and going, many came to just sit and listen, soak in the atmosphere that felt both infectiously creative and distinctly Richfield.
Just as many families keep a humble wall or door frame for marking the height of its members as they grow Witt asked every person who ventured down the basement stairs to mark his or her height on the wall right inside the entryway. Everyone knows this building will be torn down within a year, so this record of visitors serves as a reminder of how fleeting these moments can be of an artful community springing out of a glut of fortuitous circumstance—and lasting usually for too short a time. But in our work at Cornerstone we hope to use what we have learned from this experience to create art-filled communities that need not be so short lived. We are thankful to have Witt in our office building for as long as it remains standing. We highly recommend that you read about his work and seek it out wherever you can find it—in addition to our basement.
Start with this marvelous article on Creative Exchange about Witt and his many projects both as Richfield Resident Artist and all around the Twin Cities.
Meanwhile this unique partnership between Forecast and the Cornerstone Group is heading into a second year with a new set of artists – Sha Cage, E.G. Bailey and Greta McLain – where we will continue to explore the possibilities and potential of artists and developers working together towards common goals.