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In 2006, volunteers work on the River Bench in the southern end of Hudson's Lakefront Park. The bench was created by 60 Hudson children and parents who contributed more than 1,000 hours to the project, working with local artist Lynn Jermal. The history of Hudson’s connection to the St. Croix River is expressed in mosaic designs. An engraved stone timeline also marks Hudson’s history. (Submitted photo)

Art Bench Trail through St. Croix Valley will highlight community creativity

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Starting next spring, The Phipps Center for the Arts will launch a new marketing campaign to encourage residents and visitors to explore the small towns of the St. Croix Valley. The Art Bench Trail will connect seven artistic benches that were created between 2006 and 2011, with up to three more benches in the works.

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The Phipps is leading the effort as a way to promote tourism to the region and strengthen connections between people and communities through art. Each bench is a unique community art project which was designed to build relationships and a sense of civic responsibility among participants, and help spark appreciation for the St. Croix River and the other special qualities of each participating community.

“Each one of these benches has a great story,” says Anastasia Shartin, visual arts director of The Phipps. “People from all backgrounds came together to create them. They also say a lot about the history, wildlife, and other ways people connect with the St. Croix River.”

The Kresge Foundation recently awarded the project a grant to help promote the Art Bench Trail as a destination. Next spring, The Phipps and its Bench Project community partners, including the St. Croix Valley Foundation and the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway, will unveil a website (www.artbenchtrail.org), brochures with maps, new signs at each bench, and a marketing campaign to encourage local and visiting tourists to explore the St. Croix Valley, bench-by-bench.

Visiting the benches is a great way to tour the scenic river valley and visit its unique small towns. Most of the benches are located in parks that are good destinations in their own right, and the driving routes connecting them are mostly rural highways which crisscross the valley.

“Visiting two or three benches will be a perfect way to spend a day with family and friends,” says Shartin. “They’re located in great places to explore or have a picnic, and are near other sights, including local businesses and restaurants, parks, and other natural and historic sites.”

There are currently benches in St. Croix Falls, Marine on St. Croix, Bayport, and Hastings in Minnesota, and Somerset, Hudson, and Prescott in Wisconsin. The benches were created collaboratively, partnering youth, artists, businesses, towns, and other members of the community to create unique works exploring the connection with the St. Croix Valley’s nature, history, and culture.

Individuals or organizations interested in helping plan events or otherwise promote existing projects are encouraged to contact Shartin at (715) 386-2305, ext. 103 or ashartin@thephipps.org.

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