Last week, six of the leading contenders in the Minneapolis mayoral race gathered for a first of its kind forum on “creative placemaking.” You’d be forgiven if you thought that referred to a State Fair-style competition of elaborate holiday-themed table settings.

Thankfully, moderator Marianne Combs of Minnesota Public Radio, opened the forum with a definition of Creative Placemaking, thereby sparing the candidates from a conversation better saved for late-night college dorm debates attempting to define “art.” The Humphrey School of Public Affair’s Ann Markusen, a leading voice on Creative Placemaking, defines it this way:

In creative placemaking, partners from public, private, nonprofit, and community sectors strategically shape the physical and social character of a neighborhood, town, tribe, city, or region around arts and cultural activities.

It was uncharted territory for the six candidates who participated: Betsy Hodges, Cam Winton, Jackie Cherryhomes, Stephanie Woodruff, Mark Andrews, and Bob Fine. (Don Samuels made an appearance via written remarks, which was appropriately meta of him).

Hodges got first crack at the first question. Her comments (and a large majority of the rest of the candidates’ opening remarks) could be summed up with her declaration, “The arts are fundamental to our city now, and into the future.”

We artistic types are unfamiliar with being pandered to. If this had been Real Time with Bill Maher, the audience would have erupted in gratuitous applause.

This, however, was why the forum’s organizers, the Minneapolis Arts Commission, tapped a professional like Combs to moderate. Hoping to discourage vague platitudes, she immediately followed up, reemphasizing her question, “How will you incorporate arts placemaking into your administration?”

Moderately more substantive points from the candidates followed. We learned that Winton wants more transparency in how the city spends funds on the arts; that Hodges signed onto ending the Minnesota Orchestra lockout via the Mitchell plan (not to be confused with the post-WWII plan for Europe); and that Bob Fine supports dedicating a percentage of tax revenue directly to the arts.

There was also discussion of artistic projects, past and present, that felt serious at the time, but don’t translate well to a written review. Cherryhomes touted her leadership on the artist-design of manhole covers in downtown Minneapolis. This unfortunately led to a record number of uses in a mayoral forum of the word “manhole.” We learned Winton strongly opposes giant mood rings, or at least publicly funded mood rings. And in a rather impolitic moment, Fine divulged that his favorite museum is New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, notably not even in the right state.

Ultimately, however, it was each candidate’s interaction with the creative community that proved most revealing. As Andrews noted toward the end of the evening, talking about art humanized all of the candidates — which, if you’ve ever met a human, you know has its pluses and minuses.

Andrews was the only participant to self-define as a member of the Creative Class, a nod to the Richard Florida devotees in the audience. He also proclaimed having “the soul of an artist,” though he didn’t say whether it was his own or if he simply captured someone else’s and wears it in a crystal around his neck like a wizard.

Hodges let slip that she’s sitting on an unpublished young adult novel she penned before entering public service. No word yet on whether it involves vampires, werewolves, or the under-appreciated undead archetype of the teen-heart throb universe, mummies.

Winton apparently learned “campfire guitar” and several Ani DiFranco songs in a successful bid to woo his now wife. Which begs the question, will his next campaign commercial be a jingle he writes and performs himself?

Woodruff is an accomplished saxophonist, having played since grade-school marching band. She missed the opportunity to steal the show with a Bill Clinton-style sax solo.

If, like me, you think too much of politics consists of scripted statements on the same Sisyphean issues, last week’s forum was a valuable and deeply appreciated breath of fresh air. A parting remark from an audience member noted that artists are valuable because they’re up for tackling any problem, and if they don’t have the tools to solve those problems now, they’ll build the tools.

That’s the spirit we need in a mayor.