WILLMAR - Downtown art doesn't have to be a mural on a wall or a sculpture in a park. It can also be a performance by a Latin band, pop-up photography exhibits or a cultural celebration. And this summer and fall those and several other events and projects will hopefully bring people to downtown Willmar, to not only take part in the art events, but to gather as a community.

"It gets back to the vision and mission of Willmar Main Street, that downtown is the foundation of our community," said Sarah Swedburg, city planner and coordinator of Willmar Main Street.

Last year Willmar was chosen as one of three Main Street Minnesota communities in the state to take part in the three-year Artists on Main Street program, a partnership between the Preservation Alliance of Minnesota and Springboard for the Arts, with funding coming from the Bush Foundation. Artists on Main Street provides communities with funding for art-based projects in the downtown areas of participating cities.

Willmar's Artists on Main Street kicked off early this year, with interested artists asked to attend one of two creative placemaking workshops on March 2, to learn about the program and how they could be part of it. Swedburg said about 30 people attended the workshops, which organizers considered to be a good turnout.

By March 31, when the project proposals were due, Swedburg received 16.

"Which is excellent, more than we expected," Swedburg said. "It showed people were interested in the program, that we had the capacity."

Willmar's program ended up funding 14 projects, which will share the $20,000 in funding from Artists on Main Street.

"This $15,000 goes directly to the artists for their projects," Swedburg said, with the remaining $5,000 funding administrative costs.

The chosen projects vary greatly, from actual art displays to music and community art projects.

"We defined artists broadly," Swedburg said. "It has taken on all sorts of different faces."

The first project to be funded was a concert May 4 by the Latin band Los Lobos Nortenos at Spurs Restaurant in downtown Willmar, as part of a Heritage Day celebration. Swedburg said crowds of people came out to enjoy the music and good food throughout the evening.

"We had a great turnout," Swedburg said.

A second Artists on Main Street project also took place at Spurs, a Mother's Day mural on the restaurant's large front windows.

Upcoming projects and events, with dates and times still to come, include a mask making program in the fall, pop up art carts including one that allows people to make their own logo and print it off, traveling museum exhibits and the Willmar High School Art Club creating art by transforming cracks in a building facade into an art piece.

"I'm really excited to see what comes from that," Swedburg said.

Other events will include a July community block party and barbeque to celebrate the year-long resident composer and the art created, and a Somali Celebration Day in August. The months-long art celebration will conclude in October with a fun event to celebrate the program's first year and begin the kick-off of the second.

"All sorts of fun things," Swedburg said.

There will also be two permanent sitting areas created around Becker and Litchfield Avenues, to physically give people a place to gather and enjoy downtown.

"To bring people downtown for more than just a big event," Swedburg said.

The creativity and imagination shown by the artists as they applied for the funding grants was exciting and welcomed by Swedburg.

"People came out of the woodwork, a mix of people who wanted to promote art," Swedburg said.

The hope is the events and art installations will inspire people to continue creating and come downtown.

"It is fun to see the ripple effects," Swedburg said. "To hear the reignited excitement of being downtown."

The Artists on Main Street program will go on for another two years in Willmar. The second year comes with $10,000 in funding, while the third year has no money attached, but Willmar still has access to technical assistance. Swedburg hopes the successes from the first year will help make the program sustainable through the third year and beyond.

"It has been a great effort that has shown artists are a huge asset in our community," Swedburg said. "There is an appetite for this type of work in the community."