On a cold day in February, I jumped on a call with Christopher Scott, who had wisely headed to a warmer climate to work remotely during the pandemic. Christopher relocated to Minneapolis in 2019, and joined the Artspace Board of Directors in 2020. I wanted to talk with him about his new role on the board, what initiatives at Artspace he’s particularly interested in, and what drives his commitment to community development work.
Artspace (AS): Please tell us about yourself.
Christopher Scott (CS): I’m still a newbie to Minneapolis-- I’ve lived here for less than two years. I moved here and about four months later COVID hit, so I decided to stay with family in North Carolina and work remotely.
AS: Smart – the weather has to be better in North Carolina right now! How did you come to move to Minneapolis?
CS: I visited Minneapolis for the first time three years ago for work, and that job brought me back almost every other month after that first visit. When I made the decision to relocate permanently to Minneapolis, I joined Mortenson Construction as part of their solar and renewable energy work, which they’ve been doing for over a decade. My role in the Solar Group is business development – cultivating customer relationships and new product development. Although Mortenson represents my first experience in a construction firm, the thread that connects the journey of my career is a focus on urban planning and the built environment. Morentson also is building a more recent commitment to DEI, and I was intrigued at the prospect of using their platform to advance energy democracy and justice in Black communities. I received my master's degree in Urban Planning, and have long focused on directing my energies toward disinvested communities of color, primarily in cities. I’ve learned over time that the impact of this work extends far beyond urban geographies.
AS: Can you talk a bit more about your community development work?
CS: I’ve been involved in community development in one shape or form since college. My career has spanned the nonprofit and for-profit sectors, and I’ve been with large and small companies. During my professional journey I even launched and led a mission-based organization from the ground up, The Centennial Parkside CDC , that is located in Philadelphia. In my work, I’m interested in the financial and business models – implementing more effective ways to direct money into disinvested communities so that they have the opportunity to thrive.
AS: How have the arts been a part of the community development work you’ve been involved with?
CS: Art has emerged as a critical part of my approach to equitable community development. Leveraging the arts, and artists specifically, to engage residents in community dialogue and investment interventions has also been a core part of my approach to this work. This has played out in a few different ways: Tactical urbanism and urban placemaking have been some elements of the programing work that we did at The Centennial Parkside CDC. There, we focused on engaging arts and artists as a way to communicate with community residents how those residents might control their destiny—for example, through ownership of space. I believe that the arts have a way of sparking the imagination for people to see beyond their current condition and aspire to what is possible.
AS: Please tell us about your history with Artspace, and why you chose to join the board.
CS: Several threads have woven me into the Artspace family. Professionally, I first came to learn about Artspace through my introduction to community development work in Minneapolis. In my former role as Director of the Rose Architectural Fellowship at Enterprise Community Partners, I worked with architects on a number of affordable housing projects in Minneapolis. These projects were based on principles of public interest design, with a human-centered design practice that places emphasis on the economic, social, cultural, health, and environmental outcomes in the neighborhoods where they serve. I also learned more about Artspace’s work through a Rose Fellow who was hosted at a Community Development Corporation on Pine Ridge Reservation, very close to where Artspace was developing a project.
AS: Yes, the Oglala Lakota Artspace development is an LLC partnership among First Peoples Fund, The Lakota Fund CDFI, and Artspace.
CS: On the personal side, I also became fast friends with Kelly Lindquist (President/CEO of Artspace) even prior to permanently relocating in Minneapolis. Through Kelley, I learned more about the beginning and history of Artspace, and the journey that created the unique organization that Artspace has become.
AS: What Artspace project or initiative are you most excited about?
CS: Kelley introduced me to the Rafala Green Fellowship program, and that is something that gets me really excited about going on the path with Artspace. I had an immediate connection to the Artspace fellowship because of my work with the Rose Fellowship. I would definitely like to get more involved in the strategic direction of the Rafala Green Fellowship. I know what it means to be a minority who wants to see people like you in positions of power in community development. At Enterprise, we were able to move the Rose Fellowship from an unsustainable, grant-dependent model over time to a structurally integrated program within the organization. The business plan aspect of how to move from a formerly grant-driven program into a sustainable model interests me. I’m interested in Artspace’s work to facilitate an inclusive approach that results in sustainable, healthy, and affordable communities.
AS: Thank you for your time, Christopher. We are extremely grateful for your support, and look forward to working with you!