Saturday, October 29, 2011


1. This NEA Our Town grant is about "placemaking" . That's the way spaces take on meaning... they become "pleasurable or interesting". This is a way of making them memorable. People will be likely to return to a place where they had a good experience. Placemaking has been a big concept in architecture and city planning.
But here in a rural county it takes on other features. Instead of plazas, downtowns or parks, we have the Farms, 612 of them. What can arts and artists do on the Farms to make visitng there more memorable, "pleasurable or interesting"?

Arts has a very particular role in this. Sometimes making something memorable is a matter of simple diversion, shock or eccentricity. But even a "Freak Show" is a stirring activity: "Oooh! Ugh! There but for the grace..." Plenty of art mines the realm of the grotesque, freakish, the enlarged or miniaturized in service of shifting the frame of reference, the comfort zone. Halloween is this coming Monday!

But art is also the language of joy, hope, stillness. The human need for the pleasurable or interesting is quite broad and art and artists can create portals to subtler parts of human life. The Farm can be a rich and unique setting for this.

2. One characteristic some artists share with some farmers is an abiding interest, awe and love of the natural world. The Farm is a special, active, protected engagement with Nature. Perhaps an artist comes to the Farm as a guide, a teacher, a shepherd to ways to experience the forces of nature at work on the Farm.
A group of us have been experimenting with something like this for the last ten years, It's called the Woodlander Gatherings and it's a weekend a year where we get together in a natural setting to see what happens.

I can see this transposed into a Arts and Farm setting. At the right Farm, with the right Artist(s), there would be this set of activities that visitors would come to see or be a part of. What are they?
Well, they might be related to The Elements: Earth, Air, Water, Fire...
Off the top of my head, I remember the enchantment of Judd Weisberg first introducing us to an hour or so of building small boats and then sailing them in a nearby pond.
I remember flying kites that had been made or decorated. I remember many nature walks where the nature-of-the-moment: the animal tracks, the flowers, the rocks all came alive in the hands of the artist/guide.
These nature-art based activities make the day and the Farm more memorable. People feel excited, touched, stirred.

3. More Festivals were a very popular suggestion in the charrettes.
A festival is a very old form of community-building or placemaking. It marks ceratin times, certain places and certain natural events as "special". Actually, "sacred" is the word first associated with festivals. Festivals are organized ways of recognizing our ties to land and season; to see and feel that there is an order and bounty to the chaos around us. Festivals remind us of our place in nature and community.
Even Applefest, that 30,ooo+ person yearly event in the Village of Warwick has those earmarks; So too, The Sugarloaf Festival, The Onion Festival...

Suggstions were made about snow, ice, blossom, potato and animal birthing festivals.

Here's a longstanding one in Maine, Common Ground, which might help keep this idea going:

Continuing some thoughts.
Arts might be part of an activity, an experience or a souvenir--something to buy.
Another way to look at this is arts are something to watch get done, participate in or see the results of: sculpture, land art, painting exhibition.

Arts as an activity to watch happen.
This might be a painter at work, a theater performer. Pennings Farms has a resident chainsaw carver. This is art as a form of the exhibit, the sideshow.

Here's a plein air class at the Kiernan Farm:

Last summer dramatist Will McAdam both worked on the Bialas Farm in Goshen and presented a drama piece there he'd been developing about farms and farm work. It was an enchanting early summer evening... just a few weeks before Hurricane Irene. Both of these events were a chance to see an artist at work, and possibly, come to see the farm and The Land in a new way-- through the eyes of the artist. In this way, being part of an audience is the first, safe and known step to allowing arts to seep in.

Artist-in-Residence on the Farm
It's also possible for an artist to have a studio or workshop or jsut space on the Farm. Visitors to the Farm can check-in on what the artist is doing and how projects are developing. The unexpected quality of this makes both the experience of the farm visit and the discovery of the art more unusual and memorable.

Arts as an activity to particpate in
In this form, arts are enriching participatory activities. They may be scheduled workshops with the Farm as an inviting setting or ongoing activities which the casual visitor can participate in. Murals often offer these kinds of opporrtunities...with the artist planning the overall project and visitors invited to help finish parts of it.

Arts and Nature Encounters
What about artist-educators who can enchant and heighten people's awareness of the earth-air-water-light of the Farm. That's what Laurie Seeman has been doing for years.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Ag and Arts Develops

After several brainstorming meetings, a few things seem to be clearer.
First, saying "local farmers" is about as accurate as saying "local artists."
Every farm and farmer is quite unique. "Eccentric" was a word used in a few meetings to describe both artists and afrmers. Well, "in touch with passion" was another way it was put. Whatever-- It means that for an Arts and Ag project to root, there has to be a careful matching up of the right artist(s) with the right farmers.

I've started visiting some of the farms in this, the height of the Fall season. I watched families come up and ask the farmer what's there to do on the farm. "Are there animals? Hay rides? Petting Zoo? What's to buy." The families seem to see this as a great "stay-cation" One mother of six children said : "Animals. We don't ever see animals where we live." Another foursome from New York City had been to several of the area farms and the back end of the SUV was loaded with Orange County foods and drinks.
People seem to be looking for a combination of an activity, a souvenir and an experience. Each farm offers a different formula of that. Some are more markets, others are closer to a raw farm.

I'm visiting more area farms with an eye to how arts or arts-based activities might fit in. It's quite a interesting task. Some farms are tipped way towards the Amusement Park side of things. Oh, there might be a pumpkin patch and a corn maze and a hay ride but WHAM... there's the carousel and even the ferris wheel.

What's an artist to do??

How can arts meld with this?

Well, arts can certainly offer all three: activity, souvenir/object and experience. The question quickly becomes do people coming to the Farms really want some engagement with Arts. Can they learn to? A risk is that the "artist" might come to resemble the person leading kids around on the ponies, or driving the haywagon.

This is why the sorting and matching of farmers and artists will be important. Together they can develop, own and refine what the presence of art does on a farm. It will be a exciting experiment!

What might each get from this?