FARGO — As home to the largest regional art collection in the region, with more than 80 local artists represented, West Acres has a lot to celebrate during its 50th anniversary this year.
The regional mall officially turned 50 on August 2. It’s a milestone to celebrate for so many reasons. For us at The Arts Partnership, we have held some of our most important public and private events there and today, it is home to TAP’s Aptitude Creative Arts Studios.
“West Acres is one of our largest and most consistent business partners,” said TAP President and CEO Dayna Del Val. “This huge milestone year for the mall should be celebrated, especially for the way it has supported local art and been a good community partner for the past 50 years.”
Del Val, who has worked at TAP since 2010, said West Acres has been and continues to be one of the organization’s biggest champions.
In addition to Aptitude and all the amazing ways West Acres supports the Arts Partnership, West Acres Chief Operating Officer Alissa Adams said the company has gone to great lengths to put the arts at the core of its commitment to the community.
From FMVA’s on-site space to the artist-in-residence program to regular live performances and rotating exhibits, West Acres is an affordable and accessible gateway to arts immersion in the community, according to Adams.
“We see all of art and our commitment to it as a way for our community to be able to connect and experience the arts in a really easy environment that they might not always be able to experience in other areas of their lives,” Adams said. . “It’s not always easy for someone to walk into a gallery, so we feel we can provide this safe, clean, happy and vibrant place that’s also free to engage with visual art or a live performance.”
Adams added that as much as the historic mall can bring art to whatever they’re doing, “We see it as a real asset to the region,” she said.
With that, here’s more from the COO, in her own words, about how art informs the space and why West Acres will continue to support local art now and for generations to come.
TAP: What is the mission and values that drive you and your team at West Acres?
Adams: Community connection is at the core of who West Acres is and drives the decisions we make.
It’s very important to us to be connected to the community, whether it’s through art, through giving back or making sure we can be a place where people feel safe, comfortable and excited to visit.
TAP: Tell us about the artist in residence program.
Adams: I actually have to give credit to Emily Williams-Wheeler, who was our first artist in residence, and she actually brought us the idea. We just finished our 11th artist. It’s been so fun to see how each artist uses their time and space differently. Our single main criterion is that they’re engaging the public, they’re in that space, they’re activating it, and so everybody can see what they’re doing. Then they leave a trail behind when they’re done.
Artists tell us that the experience brings them closer to people they wouldn’t have connected with otherwise.
TAP: Of course we are a bit biased, but we believe that art belongs to everyone, everywhere. How does West Acres follow that same belief?
Adams: Sometimes people have this perception of feeling like art isn’t for them, when they can go out and walk into an artist’s studio or walk into Aptitude and actually see someone working and have a conversation and connect. Or in some circumstances it is actually seeing oneself reflected in one’s work. People who come into our space just get so much out of it and it’s always our hope that the artist does too.
TAP: What else do you have planned to celebrate West Acres’ 50th birthday?
Adams: We did some fun things right around birthday week (August 2nd). We had several live performances by local musicians and several activities for children. Right now, the mall is decked out in a sort of 70’s themed decor, which has been really fun. We have Herbie the Love Bug at center stage and have been able to collaborate with some local creatives to create some really cool spaces, like our birthday lounge.
We’ll have more special events and birthday promotions as we move into the holiday season.
TAP: You hear from many people, “Commercial cities are dying.” West Acres is not dying. Tell us what makes you different.
Adams: One of the main differences with West Acres compared to many malls around the country is that it is locally owned, locally managed. The people who work at the mall and who are partners of the mall are really committed, not only to the success of West Acres, but to the success of the community.
Our mentality is that by trying new ideas and investing in the culture of our community and creating these vibrant places, collaborating with artists, in the long run, by doing those things, you provide a greater cultural return. And the money will follow.
Having that life behind the brand is really why West Acres has been successful for 50 years.
Stay up to date on the mall’s 50th birthday events and activities at www.westacres.com.