Whether planting trees, trading popsicles for feedback on city plans, or creating an “Emotional Warming Hut,” the Metropolitan Council’s new Parks Ambassador has brought people together in creative ways.
Amanda Lovelee is an artist by trade. She brings many years of public engagement experience to the Council, as well as bona fides in planning and project management.
Lovelee started her new journey in July by making the rounds of regional parks leaders and park implementing agency staff. She’ll continue meeting with community members and park staff through the fall to gather input about what people want and need in our regional parks.
She is thrilled with the opportunity ahead.
“I love living in a region that has both a rich arts community and an amazing parks system,” Lovelee said. “I am excited about a job centered on the idea of bringing parks to people with a focus on equity: Making sure everyone has access and feels welcome in one of our region’s amazing assets, nature.”
The position was born out of the 2040 Regional Parks Policy Plan, first adopted in 2015 to help fulfill one of the Council’s primary parks strategies: “Strengthen equitable usage of regional parks and trails among all residents, across race, ethnicity, income and ability.” Lovelee replaces the Council’s first Parks Ambassador, Celina Martina, who left the agency early this year.
It’s worth noting that in the past few years, several park agencies in our region have also added new parks ambassadors or engagement staff to help attract more parks visitors from underrepresented communities in the region.
Arts engagement leads to Parks Ambassador job
Lovelee has a unique background. A native of Saratoga Springs, N.Y., she has a BFA in Photography from the University of Hartford, Conn., and an MFA in Media from the Minneapolis College of Art and Design.
Before coming to the Council, she worked for six years as the City Artist for the City of Saint Paul. Lovelee had many successes: a vacant lot turned research site and gathering place; sculptural houses for native bees; a bikeable table that activates underutilized space, and more. But she is most proud of Pop Up Meeting. This project transformed a city vehicle into a popsicle truck that brought the City to the people and gathered feedback on planning projects in exchange for a locally made popsicle.
Lovelee lives with her husband and two children in Minneapolis.
Q&A WITH AMANDA LOVELEE
What attracted you to the position of Parks Ambassador?
I am really interested in how we use, connect and share public space. I truly believe in the value of nature to our well-being. I am excited about a job centered on the idea of bringing parks to people with a focus on equity. Making sure everyone has access and feels welcome in one of our region’s amazing assets: nature.
What is your background related to the arts and the outdoors?
Over the past decade I have done many large-scale art projects that sit at the intersection of art, science and public space. In the 21st century we are not going to create change in one sector – we need cross-sector collaboration. I have really enjoyed working with many different specialists across many different fields and pulling together people’s passions to create change.
How do you see the Parks Ambassador position fitting into the larger context of the Regional Parks System?
I hope the Parks Ambassador position turns into a program across all regional parks. How is each park agency doing work to invite and welcome everyone into their parks? I see this position as just the beginning of this much-needed work around equity and parks.
What are your job goals for the next 6-12 months?
My goal is to meet people. To meet many people across many different communities, meet people already doing this work, meet with all the parks implementing agencies, meet people within the Met Council also thinking about this work. I also hope to experiment and develop prototypes with partners and collaborators.
Do you have a long-range vision of how you’d like to see the position develop over time?
I wish I could say I have a clear plan but I don’t believe that is the goal of this job. I hope this position is shaped and developed over time by the wants and the needs of the community along with the regional parks implementing agencies.
Is there is specific plan for attracting more visitors from underrepresented communities?
Partnerships, relationships and collaboration. Again, it is not my job to prescribe what different communities want or need but rather to listen, learn, and share what I hear. This is going to take time, but it is work I am excited to do.
Other thoughts about your new job.
It is important work to build equity and I know there will be challenges. I just need to remember to have fun and to get outside! I do have a job in parks, right?!