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Fosston's Firefly Center for Art & Wellbeing takes innovative approach to addressing mental health concerns

Grand Forks Herald - 9/22/2023

Sep. 22—FOSSTON, Minn. — The Arts and Culture Commission of Fosston is hosting a fundraising event, "Breaking Down Barriers," from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 23, to support construction of the Firefly Center for Art and Wellbeing in the community's downtown area.

The Center is envisioned as a mixed-use facility that will house mental health services, art therapy, space for creatives and community groups, and residential units in response to a rural housing shortage.

Tickets, purchased for $50 or $100, are available at

or at Nord's Pharmacy and Gifts in Fosston. For more information, go to

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Saturday's event will include live music, food and drinks and interactive art, and the opportunity to help with destruction of the space to prepare it for the construction work, organizers say.

It promises to be a night of excitement and inspiration, as guests "will have the opportunity to literally 'break down barriers' in a symbolic gesture of unity and support," according to an announcement from Barbara Johnson, co-chairperson of the Center's board of directors.

The Center is "reinventing the traditional approach to mental health care by creating a unique space that not only provides a place for all to connect through art or a variety of community events, but also brings professional mental health services to Fosston and the surrounding communities," according to a news release announcing the fundraising event.

Funds raised during the event will be used to renovate space for offices, community space, a studio space, art gallery and two one-bedroom apartments, and to invest in a new HVAC system, said Heidi Danos, who co-chairs the Center's 12-member board of directors. The apartments will be available for members of the general public to rent.

About half of the roughly 10,000-square-foot building, located at 102 S. Kaiser Ave. — which used to house a grocery store — will be used for the Firefly Center for Art & Wellbeing. The other half is occupied by the Auto Value store, Danos said.

The part of the building where the Center is housed has been vacant for quite a few years, she said. A laundromat, which occupied a small part of the space, closed last year.

The entire cost of the project, which a local committee has been working on for nearly three years, is estimated at $800,000, Danos said.

A $200,000 grant from the Otto Bremer Foundation, based in St. Paul, will be used for building renovation. The Blandin Foundation of Grand Rapids, Minnesota, has provided a grant for $110,000 for the project.

The top priority is renovation of the 1,200-square-foot area allocated to Alluma, a regional mental health services provider with offices in Crookston. Its staff serves an eight-county area in northwestern Minnesota.

Two years ago, the Firefly Center board learned that Alluma was seeking a permanent location in Fosston to expand its services there and into east Polk County, so the board members reached out to explore options, Danos said.

This partnership with Alluma represents a new model for mental health services delivery that combines the arts with mental wellbeing to a more inclusive and destigmatized environment for those seeking care and boosting rural access to critically-needed mental health services in a creative and comprehensive environment, the Center has noted on its website.

Danos and others are hoping the space will be available for Alluma to move into sometime in January, she said.

"The start of the new year," she said. "That would be the goal."

With assistance from Artspace, a nonprofit organization that specializes in consulting on financially sustainable, artistic and multi-use spaces, the Firefly Center's board of directors developed a plan to ensure the facility's financial sustainability.

Income will accrue from rent paid by Alluma and renters who will pay market rate for the apartments, Danos said. Other sources of income will include space rental for classes and events, as well as makers' space rentals.

The Center, a 501c3 non-profit corporation, is led by a board that includes volunteers with background in the arts, mental health services, financial and housing areas, as well as those who have had lived experience relative to mental health.

The group, which is continuing to seek grant funding, welcomes funding from individual, business and corporate donors.

Discussions about the issues surrounding mental health have gained unprecedented attention in recent years, and "society is awakening to the reality that emotional wellbeing is just as vital as physical health," according to the news release from the Center.

Creativity can improve mental health in various ways, the Center's advocates say. Studies show that creative activity — through music, visual arts, dance and other forms — has a positive effect on brain health, cognitive function and emotional wellbeing. Creative expression can improve symptoms and responses to various mental health challenges, from anxiety to post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Leaders envision the Center becoming a place "where creativity and health come together in an unbiased, creative environment that fosters community, inclusion, and equality," the release states. "The Center aims to create a space where the boundaries between mental health care, creative expression, and community blur, (thereby) reducing the stigma of mental health care."


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