Case studies

Fargo Sandbag Project

Fargo, North Dakota

Fargo sits along the banks of the Red River, USA and in 2009, this river reached 40.82 feet during a massive flood that left the town significantly damaged. In 2011, when another massive flood was threatening, the citizens of Fargo began working to fill three million sandbags to be ready to prevent another massive flood.

Instead of the typical burlap or mesh sandbag, Michael Strand, an associate professor and Ceramics Department head at North Dakota State University, created the Sandbag Art Project. Realising that many Fargo residents were unable to help with sandbagging – children, seniors and others who may not be able to endure the physical work of filling or slinging sandbags – Strand worked with the city to bring sandbags to these people so they could help by decorating them with encouraging notes and drawings. The response was wonderful. Volunteers filling sandbags were encouraged and entertained as they pulled out each sandbag with a different decoration.

Michael created a scene where the “flood warriors” are flagging at 3 a.m. as they pass 40-pound polypropylene sandbags toward a makeshift dike. Suddenly a laugh accompanies a sandbag down the line. It’s not the usual white or orange bag but is decorated instead with a pink robot, or with a character called ‘Sandbag Superman’. Or maybe it just carries a simple message: ‘In order to be strong, eat chicken’.

“It gets our students to think about the inclusion of community with their own work. Art can exist as creative activity, community outreach, research and service all at the same time.” – Michael Strand

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