Fargo has gotten a bad rap. First, there’s the city’s lackluster location in the middle of nowhere. And the infamous 1996 Coen brothers movie didn’t help either. But if you’re willing to look beyond the layers of farms, college co-eds (25,000 of them between three schools), and vowel-laden accents, you’ll find a disarmingly cultured town.
The city’s arts community owes a deep debt to brothers James O’Rourke and Orland J. Rourke (the latter was an esteemed art professor at Concordia College, in adjoining Moorhead, Minnesota), who founded the Rourke Art Gallery and Museum. Now in its 50th year, the museum showcases more than 3,000 works from local and regional artists, as well as a diverse repertoire of art movements, from pop to American Indian. Such visual dichotomies would seem haphazard and jarring if it weren’t for the museum’s intimate, convivial setting in the rambling 1913 Moorhead Federal Post Office. A few blocks away, you can roam the gallery, which features rotating exhibits of art for sale in a classic Victorian manse.
Like the Rourke, the Plains Art Museum seamlessly juxtaposes old and new. Since 1994, when the museum relocated to the International Harvester warehouse on the outskirts of downtown, the 56,000-square-foot space has been transformed into a state-of-the-art, climate-controlled facility, all the while preserving its heavy timber beams and rough-hewn quality.
Art abounds on Fargo’s main drag, too, though you might not know it at first glance. With the exception of the college bars, most establishments along Broadway are decorated with photos and paintings depicting pastoral life on the plains. It’s all done informally, but the effect is beautiful and homey. Skip the more crafty art co-ops in favor of Fargo’s newest: Ecce (pronounced et-cheh). Siblings Mark and Brenda Weiller have transformed a lofty, turn-of-the-century brick building into a yoga studio, art gallery, and retail shop. She leads classes while he curates a mix of mod artisan wares and rotating “Midwestern contemporary” art exhibits. Every few weeks, they throw open the doors for gallery openings. They’re chic-yet-casual affairs—a chance to rub elbows with local art enthusiasts and inevitably forget you’re in Fargo.
MNMO’S GUIDE TO FARGO
WHERE TO STAY
The Hotel Donaldson has 17 modern suites, each featuring the work of a different regional artist. $159–$194 per night, 888-478-8768, hoteldonaldson.com
WHERE TO EAT
JL Beers, where the locals literally line up for burgers and 32 tap beers, 701-492-3377, jlbeers.com; Green Market Kitchen, seasonal small plates in a no-frills setting, 701-241-6000, greenmarketcaterer.com; The Hotel Donaldson, for fine regional fare or cocktails in the art-infused lounge, 888-478-8768, hoteldonaldson.com; Josie’s Corner Café and Bake Shop, $2.25 for pie and coffee on Tuesdays and Saturdays, 701-234-0664
WHAT TO DO
Just across the river in Moorhead, the Rourke Art Gallery and Museum reside about a half-mile apart (details at rourkeart.org). You can’t miss Ecce Art + Yoga on Broadway, a glass-encased gallery, shop, and studio in a reclaimed warehouse (ecce216.com). A few blocks away, the landmark Plains Art Museum draws art and architectural enthusiasts alike (plainsart.org).