Blogs Field Guide Scott Artley

Scott Artley serves as the Open Field Field Coordinator for Minneapolis's Walker Art Center.

Citizen Journalists from Living Classroom – Natalie Clifford

Natalie Clifford is entering her senior year at University of Minnesota — Twin Cities, where her major field of study is gender, women, sexuality studies & her minor field of study is global studies. Since spring 2011, Natalie has been significantly involved in building the Whose University? campaign on her campus, which mobilizes around questions […]

Natalie Clifford is entering her senior year at University of Minnesota — Twin Cities, where her major field of study is gender, women, sexuality studies & her minor field of study is global studies. Since spring 2011, Natalie has been significantly involved in building the Whose University? campaign on her campus, which mobilizes around questions of access to higher education for students of color & low-income students. More recently, Natalie joined Rainbow Health Initiative’s campaign to work toward LGBTQ & allied communities free from corporate tobacco. Throughout her time as a political being, Natalie has been honored & humbled to work with & learn from inspiringly brave & passionate organizers for change. She enjoys sharing stories with people as a key step toward building political engagement.

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“What you know is good, but it’s how you listen [that matters] – so listen good.”

In his heartfelt, brilliant piece red, black, & GREEN: a blues (rbGb), Mark Bamuthi Joseph passionately implored us to recognize the key value which our own stories play in determining paths toward healthy social change. Appropriately entitled “Living Classroom” — as we all brought our own life experiences to the lovely outdoor green spaces — the Walker’s lively day-long event challenged us to consider how we can build ‘energetic reciprocity’ with our own communities and with others. Really, what we were asking was, “how do we collaborate toward sustaining ourselves through each other, on the ground, day to day?”

Dance X/Masego, photo by Amanda Spencer

“What the players in the room make”

I had the joy of participating in a story circle with Leah Cooper and Anton Jones, in which we all brought pieces of our lives to learn more about those folks in the room. We reminisced about favorite dishes, why we adore particular seasons (in Minnesota — where we don’t have much of a chance to appreciate warm weather), and what our dream day off would be. The time dedicated to story-telling created space for considering what drives us, what wakes us up in the morning — a consciousness of our own needs and what the needs of others might be. In addition to the story circle, the collective collage and the Bomba dancing reminded me of the ways that our needs, desires, pain, and joy are intertwined, as different as they might be and as separate and isolated as society might condition us to be.

Collective Collage, photo by Amanda Spencer

“We are interdependent through collaboration – the ritual is the work”

We have a responsibility to be honest with each other and with ourselves, to be humble in recognition that we do not know the experiences of others — and overall to sustain each other. Communities are deeply shaped by histories, stories, the people who live, breathe, work, cry, laugh, and die there with us — as well as the natural forces which may come across them. Whether it is through striving for education justice, health care access, or freedom to express one’s gender and openly love your lover, we must nurture each other through shared knowledge, skills, resources—to combat dominant forces which too often seek to keep us separate from each other, diminishing our collective strengths.

One of the young poets from Northeast spit, “put words past action, put action to word.” As Marc Bamuthi Joseph professed, “green is a really cool word, but life is an amazing value.” What we say has no meaning if ultimately we are unable to engage with others’ experiences — so we best pull up a chair, listen, and learn from each other.

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The Education & Community Programs department is asked a handful of talented writers and artistic interpreters from distinct perspectives to serve as Citizen Journalists and correspondents for the Living Classroom, with a focus on generating community-centric documentation of the event. We sought individuals from distinct perspectives — people interested and grounded in communities facing the issues at hand. Sonja Kuftinec, Associate Professor of Theatre at the University of Minnesota, and an organizer for the Imagining America conference happening in Minneapolis September 22-24, provided recommendations, with final selection by Associate Director of Public & Interpretive Programs Susy Bielak and Open Field Coordinator Scott Artley.

Citizen Journalists From Living Classroom- Andrea Jenkins

Andrea Jenkins is an Award winning poet and writer. In 2010, Andrea received the Verve Grant for Spoken Word Artists and The Naked Stages Grant for Emerging Performance Artists. She is a Givens Foundation Fellow, and worked with Amiri Baraka and J. Otis Powell! She has won the Loft Mentor Series in 2002 and the […]

Andrea Jenkins is an Award winning poet and writer. In 2010, Andrea received the Verve Grant for Spoken Word Artists and The Naked Stages Grant for Emerging Performance Artists. She is a Givens Foundation Fellow, and worked with Amiri Baraka and J. Otis Powell! She has won the Loft Mentor Series in 2002 and the Napa Valley Writers Conference scholarship in 2003. Andrea earned her Masters of Science, Community Economic Development –Southern New Hampshire University, Manchester, New Hampshire, a Certificate, University of St. Thomas, Community Leadership Institute, and Bachelors of Science, Human Services / Interpersonal Communications – Metropolitan State University and has a MFA in Creative Writing at Hamline University. Andrea has self-published a chapbook of poems called “tributaries: poems celebrating black history.” Her upcoming self-published collection will be called Pieces of a Scream: New and Selected Poems. She currently is co-curator of the Queer Voices Reading Series at Intermedia Arts. Andrea works as a Senior Policy Aide to City Councilmember Elizabeth Glidden and lives in Minneapolis.

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Just a Note

On a week that was enlivening, enticing and environmental. I’m talking about the Living Classroom- Artist-In- (more than just) Residence- with Marc Bamuthi Joseph who came to town to explore the question: “What Sustains Life in Your Community?” As my role as a citizen journalist I set out to answer this question by participating in a week of activities that were created and organized by the Walker Art Center, Juxtaposition Arts and Leah Nelson.

It was a week of artists teaching other artists (and non-artists) about their craft or in the case of most of the artists involved about the other crafts that they are equally as passionate about but much less known for.

At Juxtaposition Arts, photo by Bethanie Hines

The week started out for me at a dinner hosted by the Walker Art Center on Monday night, that brought together national and international artists with local artists, educators and arts administrators. We had a blast dining outdoors, soaking up the late evening sun, sharing our stories and getting to know everybody.

Leah Nelson, Movement Artist and community organizer put together an amazing workshop at Juxtaposition Arts that invited various artists to come together, share work on video and then workshop each piece in a loving, supportive and creative environment. Folks shared ideas, offered resources and insights on how each piece might become better. Bamuthi was there and he give insights on how to extend and expand the life of a singular performance through Facebook, You Tube and other social media. He said that writing into your budget for the next grant application, $500.00-$1,500 for a good videographer will yield invaluable dividends because you can now post your work on the web and who knows who might be moved? That little bit of information was worth the price of admission for me and it was only Tuesday; the week had just begun.

On Wednesday, I attended a workshop session at Kulture Klub which is a arts-based program for Queer and non-Queer identified youth that houses at YouthLink in Minneapolis. They invited nationally acclaimed place-based artist Rick Lowe, who developed the Row House Project based on the visual artist of Dr. John Biggers; in Houston’s Third Ward. He demonstrated for the youth how art – connected with community development can have a profound and dramatic impact on the health and well-being of a community. The young people were fascinated by his presentation and eager to share their own projects, which included a photographer that used his lens to juxtapose the sterile beauty of the Minneapolis skyline with the gritty route he takes from his home just outside of downtown. Another youth showed a video of the community garden she and her neighbors (tenants at Archdale Apartments for formerly homeless youth) created to grow flowers, vegetables and provide peace and serenity from the outside world. Deanna Cummings talked to the youth about Juxtaposition Arts and the job opportunities they provide and Shanai Mattson and Colin Kloecker of Works Progress talked about their Give and Take program they use to provide a platform for community members to learn, share, with and from each other. The most fascinating thing about this day was the connection with well established artists and community leaders with adults that looked like them! (Coda:Black)

Roger Cummings (Juxtaposition Arts) expertly paints a canvas bag with Kulture Klub, photo by Bethanie Hines

Thursday was the big day, however! A full day of activities at the Walker, I was a little concerned about my ability to hang for the whole time, but I showed up and they worked it in, (like Tony, Toni, Ton-e they did it again, “and it feels good, yeah, it feels good…) oops! sorry, got off on a little loop there. So, remember when I said at the beginning of the piece how some of these artist were working in genres that they are not normally known for? Well, the talented tongued, Spoken Word Artist, Hip Hop Activist Desdemona was putting on a Community Collage workshop- hold up let’s stop here for a minute. Check it, 4L’s, 3E’s you got 3C’s, and 2O’s…that’s a lot of consonants, right? The not so sexy part of the alphabet, the vowels get all the love but the consonants hold the language together. And that’s the whole idea of it all-

Collective:to come together, to make one out of many, a joint process.

Collage: the art of coming together to one out of many, a joint process.

Ping Pong with Wing Young Huie. Photo by Bethanie Hines.

Okay, lets move on for now, but we’ll come back to this in a minute. So you had Wing Young Huie, nationally renown photographer, took over Level 8 with Karaoke, Ping Pong and yeah he showed a few of his photos too, but what a concept, something that everybody can do and it makes you laugh and smile. Something about those activities just bring people together. Kinda like the Dominos session that Rick Lowe led under a tent in the broad light of day, where people just sat around discussing thoughts on healthy living and communities.

I checked out the video produced by Line Break Media and Spoken Word Artist Tish Jones, called Voices on Sustainability, the video featured youth from North Minneapolis speaking candidly about their community after the tornados in May, 2011 ripped their lives and community apart. It was a stirring display of resilience and courage in the face of adversity that highlighted the creativity and brilliance of the people who live on the margins of life.

Whew, getting tired yet? No?

Good, because we’re only half way through. I went to Story Circle with Theatre artists Leah Cooper and Anton Jones, and

The Story Circle with Anton Jones. Photo by Amanda Spencer.

was introduced to a part of the Open Field that I’d never discovered, the Pescher Sky Room; a little alcove tucked under a bream, with a skylight cut through the top. And we sat there and told stories:

Going ‘Round in Story Circles

Sticky is the rice in New Orleans

Sauteed onions & garlic

Goat cheese, cayenne pepper

Gumbo

and Pancakes w/ Chocolate Chips and Mickey Mouse

Ears – Shrimp and Pasta,

We had fried shrimp, boiled shrimp, broiled shrimp, and shrimp and grits

I like the not so crisp lettuce

goes right in the soup

What Sustains Community?

It’s like Billie Holiday

-thread this needle

-what do they mean

look out

come together

a better world

When it goes like so

You know you gotta

Go with the flow- (we love you Sekou)

How you would tap your

Chest two times with your fist

Before you Peace Out (Y)

We got needles!

Sticky needles

Strictly needles

need-the needle

So back to the Community Collage, right? So Desdemona displays all the collages created during the day as the set for the performance of Marc Bamuthi Joseph (he gave the audience a sneak peek of rbGb-Life is Living, a full-length multi-media performance piece that will open in San Francisco and tour the country, dropping in on Minneapolis (at the Walker, no doubt) in the Spring 2012; and it hit me, all of my artist peeps sustain me in this crazy, mixed up world we live in. Marlina Gonzalez, Tish Jones, Bill Cottman, Kenna Cottman, Deja Stowers, Zenzele Isoke, Deanna and Roger Cummings, Desdemona, Wing Young Huie,Seitu Jones, Ta-Coumba Aiken, Elenor Savage, James Williams, Nicole Smith, Kevin “Kaos” Moore, e.g. bailey and Sha Cage, T. Mychael Rambo, Harry Waters, Jr., Molly Van Avery, Christina Ham, Julie Bates, Theresa Sweetland, Lou Bellamy, Mankwe Ndosi, Mire Regulus, J. Otis Powell, Amiri Baraka, Wang Ping, Cornelius Eady, Natasha Tretheway, Quincy Troupe, Marcus Young, Nate Young, Roderic “Hernub” Southall, Camille Gage, Heidi Barton Stink, May Lee Yang, Sun Mee Chomet, Sun Yung Shin, Major Jackson, John Medeiros, Noel Raymond, Heather Doyle. Man, I could keep this going for all day long, but you get the picture. So at the end of my little 3-day stay-cation in my own city I came to this conclusion.

WE SUSTAIN LIFE IN OUR COMMUNITIES, IT IS OUR RELATIONSHIPS THAT MAKE IT WORTH OUR WHILE. Through our connections with large institutions and small grassroots organizations, we create the ecosystem that constantly replenishes us and keeps this planet safe to live on, cause if we don’t we’ll be left with this bleak admonitionfrom Bamuthi that goes like this.

excerpts from early writing red, black and GREEN: a blues

Let me tell you about Georgia red clay

Iron oxide based

Betrays centuries of blacktop in regress

A clear indication of the universe’s fetish for fingerpaint

Beneath your fingers it melts like warm of a woman in the heat of undress

Burnt dreams and soft yams red

Santana black magic sienna Hendrix hallucination red

So different from the gumbo dark delta soil

Georgia’s clay is the earth I first honored

Muddy water turned firm

And blushing…

I’m a city kid

In Atlanta I learned land

My sister calls them my shepherd years

Georgia red clay

Black people deep south

A young man, I was green…

. . .

In the end

The earth has her justice

What will we do when there’s nothing left to eat but money and regret

And the fungus and the stench of a bitter future black bagging us in the night for

The right to breathe clean air?

Maybe instead of rain they’re Begging the skies to release Mumia

Praying justice roll down like thunder

Apocalypse in the midst in the misting

In the hunger

Deliver us

Let faith settle under our feet secure in its foundation like red clay

Soft in its surrender like the earth under rain

Under god

Indivisible

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The Education & Community Programs department is asked a handful of talented writers and artistic interpreters from distinct perspectives to serve as Citizen Journalists and correspondents for the Living Classroom, with a focus on generating community-centric documentation of the event. We sought individuals from distinct perspectives — people interested and grounded in communities facing the issues at hand. Sonja Kuftinec, Associate Professor of Theatre at the University of Minnesota, and an organizer for the Imagining America conference happening in Minneapolis September 22-24, provided recommendations, with final selection by Associate Director of Public & Interpretive Programs Susy Bielak and Open Field Coordinator Scott Artley.

Citizen Journalists From Living Classroom- Johnathan Blaseg

Jonathan Blaseg is interested in the intersection of Landscape, Urban Planning, Architecture and Art and their role in creating spaces that have the ability to create change within our society. He received a Bachelor of Arts in Physics from St. John’s University and a Masters in Landscape Architecture from the University of Minnesota where he […]

Jonathan Blaseg

Jonathan Blaseg is interested in the intersection of Landscape, Urban Planning, Architecture and Art and their role in creating spaces that have the ability to create change within our society. He received a Bachelor of Arts in Physics from St. John’s University and a Masters in Landscape Architecture from the University of Minnesota where he investigated design methods – from the physical to digital – and means of representation. Currently he is involved with several design competitions, freelances as a rendering artist, practices at a Landscape Architecture firm, and is working with the Minneapolis Parks Foundation to organize a design conference in early 2012. The conference will focus on North Minneapolis in line with the Foundation’s mission to enhance the quality of life for the community by visioning, investing in, and advocating for the Minneapolis park system and other open green spaces.
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Click the image to see in full size.

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The Education & Community Programs department is asked a handful of talented writers and artistic interpreters from distinct perspectives to serve as Citizen Journalists and correspondents for the Living Classroom, with a focus on generating community-centric documentation of the event. We sought individuals from distinct perspectives — people interested and grounded in communities facing the issues at hand. Sonja Kuftinec, Associate Professor of Theatre at the University of Minnesota, and an organizer for the Imagining America conference happening in Minneapolis September 22-24, provided recommendations, with final selection by Associate Director of Public & Interpretive Programs Susy Bielak and Open Field Coordinator Scott Artley.

Citizen Journalists From Living Classroom- Kinh T. Vu

Kinh T. Vu is originally from Saigon, Vietnam. He is a doctoral student in music education at the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities. Vu earned a bachelor of music degree in music education from Westminster College, New Wilmington, Pennsylvania, and a master of music degree in wind conducting from Penn State University, University Park, […]

Kinh T. Vu is originally from Saigon, Vietnam. He is a doctoral student in music education at the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities. Vu earned a bachelor of music degree in music education from Westminster College, New Wilmington, Pennsylvania, and a master of music degree in wind conducting from Penn State University, University Park, Pennsylvania. As a 2011-12 Imagining America Publicly Active Graduate Education Fellow, his current research centers on Hmong hip-hop and youth arts culture in Saint Paul, Minnesota, and focuses on how youth arts culture, particularly hip-hop artists, are encouraged to share their voices with one another in their city to confront issues associated with social justice. Photo courtesy Los Angeles Times March 24, 2010.

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What sustains life in my community?
Kinh T. Vu
August 28, 2011

I come from multiple communities. They breathe in both disparate and unified ways that edify the person I am today and who I will be tomorrow. My utopian community is one in which all my pasts – places and people – are intricately intertwined, woven into a seamless spread of rich golden hues, deep purple pageants, and melt-in-your-mouth chocolate morsels. But this vision, this utopia has become my own dystopia, one in which I realize from the outside that things are not as they appear. Yet the tears and rips are always beautiful. My “multiple-communitied” past is threaded together with cantankerous soars, thorny vines, and realities manifested into all sorts of memories.
Throughout my adult life, I have come to love imperfection, even if seemingly orderly people, places, events, and items have to be arranged into some artistic-looking, asymmetrical vignette. Embracing imperfection was once a breathless proposition for me, literally taking my breath away to a point of hyperventilation. Today, that breathless proposition is exhilarating. My communities – my multiple, imperfect communities – sewn together in raggle-taggle patchwork tapestries, well, are absolutely perfect.
Perfect is a good word to describe the Walker’s Living Classroom and Open Field on August 18. There was a clear and present sense of community derived from the number and spirit of the participants. Amidst the contemporary art museum’s towers, the sculpture garden, and nearby park, an awareness of community boiled to the surface, drowning out 16 lanes of traffic that bisect the downtown sector and the parade. I had never considered this part of town particularly friendly to those people who wish to commune with one another in the Loring, Uptown, and Lowry Hill neighborhoods simply due to the innumerable autos trolling the roadways. My assumption, a less-than-complimentary tangle of metaphorical streets, is incorrect. There is a vibrant, invigorating, and rich community surrounding the Walker Art Center.

Community walkabout in Loring Park. Photo by Scott Artley.

Regardless of my preconceptions, I recently chose a new community: I chose to move to the Loring neighborhood. Hunkering down on the fringe of steel and glass canyons, Loring feels to me like my former Boston cityscape. With hip eateries, shops, and a sprawling, 32-acre green space, my new neighborhood is becoming a community. Whether seeing the same passersby on the street below from day to day or eating pho at Lotus Vietnamese restaurant, the newness is becoming familiar and maybe even sounding a bit like white noise, but a community is emerging nonetheless.
But what sustains life in my new community? I mentioned earlier that my communities are multiple. In fact, they dot the eastern seaboard and even Eastern Europe. How do I proceed to identify sustenance of any sort when I refuse to “hang” in any neighborhood for more than a few years? The answer is easy: I build meaningful relationships with people that transcend time, and particularly place. My affable personality enables me to construct support networks with a multitude of people wherever I live. There are probably a number of intervening variables that contribute to my personal sense of community (local or otherwise), but the most salient variable is the ways in which I connect to people.

Marc Bamuthi Joseph performs spoken word. Photo by Bethanie Hines.

Through my research connections, I have the honor of working with MCs, spoken word poets, and other youth artists in Saint Paul’s Hmong community. The kind of community to which I am contributing through academic endeavors is one where I must be intentional about loving, learning, engaging, and expanding arts opportunities that incite and “insight” public awareness about critical issues touching people in their homes, schools, places of worship, and community centers. Living Classroom performers like Marc Bamuthi Joseph and Tish Jones give me hope that there is an interconnectedness that bridges our personal experiences to our collective, justice-seeking ones.
One of my professors notes, “All research is me-search.” She is absolutely correct. Research projects often stem from a burning desire to know something more about one’s own interests. But “me-search” can only be part of the experience. I cannot merely learn about me; it is my bounden duty to discover how I contribute to humanity, how I actually make a clear and present impact with and on others. What does that impact look like? How does it sustain life in the researched community? I know from past experiences that I will receive more sustenance from my participants than they will receive from me. Sustaining life means giving back or “paying it forward.” It means living and researching symbiotically with others; everyone must benefit.

What sustains life in a community collage. Photo by Bethanie Hines.

Open Field brings to life a “world in the city” perspective. From an arts focus on the Northside Renga Community Poem and Voices on Sustainability to Puerto Rican Bomba, artists shared a microcosmic world that seemed to represent our globe; cultures seemed to sustain one another, a symbiosis. They were so close, so tangible, so full of life, so rich on that perfect August day. Our Minneapolis community is rich; however, I sense its interconnectedness is tenuous. Race, ethnicity, religion, and politics, to name only some, are complex characters dancing a multifaceted, un-choreographed dance with no rules save one: Coexist peaceably. Even that rule is broken from time to time, and that, friends, is beautiful.
Thanks to the Walker Art Center’s Living Classroom and Open Field for drawing together the Minneapolis community for a day of loving, learning, exploration, and creation. You’ve broadened my Minneapolis horizon and given me an opportunity to reflect on my past and project a future full of breathless, not lifeless, adventures.
I am breathless.

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The Education & Community Programs department is asked a handful of talented writers and artistic interpreters from distinct perspectives to serve as Citizen Journalists and correspondents for the Living Classroom, with a focus on generating community-centric documentation of the event. We sought individuals from distinct perspectives — people interested and grounded in communities facing the issues at hand. Sonja Kuftinec, Associate Professor of Theatre at the University of Minnesota, and an organizer for the Imagining America conference happening in Minneapolis September 22-24, provided recommendations, with final selection by Associate Director of Public & Interpretive Programs Susy Bielak and Open Field Coordinator Scott Artley.

Citizen Journalists from Living Classroom – Dr. Zenzele Isoke

Zenzele Isoke studies U.S. Black women’s political activism in urban spaces. She is specifically interested in how issues of space and identity influence how social capital is created and deployed by African American women in their efforts to challenge social marginality in U.S. cities. Using intersectionality as a central analytic tool and the stories that […]

Citizen Journalist Zenzele Isoke

Zenzele Isoke studies U.S. Black women’s political activism in urban spaces. She is specifically interested in how issues of space and identity influence how social capital is created and deployed by African American women in their efforts to challenge social marginality in U.S. cities. Using intersectionality as a central analytic tool and the stories that contemporary Black women activists tell about “politics” as her primary evidence, her research examines both the practical and discursive roles that black women activists play in hip hop politics, Black LGBTQ politics, and other contemporary social movements in the U.S.

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Approaching Art (Life) Peacefully

I was armed when I walked into the Walker Art Museum atrium from the parking lot of my car. As I walked into the cold yet colorfully pristine white space of the museum I questioned exactly why I agreed to be “citizen journalist” for this event. Why me? Because I’m black, female, a feminist professor? Because I could somehow “represent” my community. I was awash with insecurities, second guessing my ability to add anything worthwhile to a celebration of art in artsy Minneapolis. I must have come off as chilly as the Mark Manders exhibition in the Target Gallery. I was hard, scared, and armed with analysis. Then I saw Lolla Muhammud and her warm smile, and her friend who became mine, Julia Opoti. And I saw Andrea Smith and Tammy Owens and Natalie Clifford. And I felt better, a little softer, like even if I didn’t feel like I belonged, it was okay for me to act like I did.

I joined the orientation group for the citizen journalists and listened to two young curators explain the day’s events. When I heard how they along with a series of guest artists designed a creative eco-system that I began to seriously think about what my role in this social experiment could be. It was clear, as I noticed high school aged students of color—Native American, African American, Somali American, and Asian American that I saw what the organizers intent was: to make Walker accessible to more than just the privileged. Admirable, I thought, but ultimately a guilty colonial gesture. I had relaxed a little, but I was still armed.

I took my teal piece of 8.5 x 11 printer paper, and began to plot out my visit. My first Living Classroom “exhibit” was called Instructions for Peace. A lively woman sat me down to explain her station. She explained how she and her organization collected and distributed flip flops [sandals] to disparate parts of the world impacted by war—flip flops were used as art but were also used a practical gift to many who went without basic necessities. I silently wondered if they gave out flip flops in gang and drug ravished communities in the Southern United States. Then, she said this one word that caught my attention: disarmament. She wanted to use art to disarm. To disarm people, to disarm armies, to disarm communities. And then she showed me this colorful hardback children’s book with the title, “Instructions for Peace.” The Alphabetical list of instructions were funny, ordinary, practical, and effective. I smiled. It had me wondering about myself. About whether or not I understood what it means be peaceful. To be disarmed.

Well, if I didn’t I was about to try. I wasn’t allowed to be a journalist, the all observing eyewitness, instead I about was about be patted down, frisked and abruptly disarmed by a community artist. The academic had to play at being an artist. I had to use some colorful little sticky notes to describe peace on the side of the Walker Art Center. I had to give my own instructions for peace. And at that time my ego had not only softened, but was being swallowed up by an opening heart. So I wrote a poem, one that I shall share here—my instructions for peace. My self-critique.

Peace Wall, Instructions for Peace. Photo: Gene Pittman


Peace is being.
Not just an idea.
Are you disarmed?
Do you have to analyze?
Are you open to new allies?
Can you listen from the heart?

And from that moment onward, I viewed the Open Field of the Walker as an opportunity to learn, to grow, and to be and build with friends, old and new. I accepted the invitation to be with community art peacefully. Dominoes, karaoke, a walk in the park, and after party. Art to connect people—brilliant, welcomed, and completely unexpected!

Zenzele playing dominoes with Rick Lowe. Photo: Gene Pittman

So I learned how to play dominos with a photographer and artist from Alabama. I made a sober audience suffer through my karaoked rendition of “Heard it the Through the Grapevine” by Marvin Gaye in the Ping and Sing with Wing workshop. And I listened to two less than twenty-somethings belch out a Hall and Oaks classic. I smiled big, laughed and cheered them on. I cheered myself on. Sometimes it feels good to make a fool of yourself.

Afterward, I walked downstairs to the formal gallery the Exposed exhibit. I found my self in a pitch black room lounging on a huge faux leather bean bag. It was Nan Goldin’s The Ballad of Sexual Dependency. I found myself immersed in an achingly personal photo memoir of a complete stranger. Though the pictures were colorful in an early 1980’s grainy sense, the art itself seem cold and disembodied. The exhibit seemed to make fun of humanist experiment that the organizers of Living Classroom were trying to pull off right outside building. It made me question my own increasingly “disarmed” interpretation of the Living Classroom.

After sitting through a twenty-minute slide show of images of bodies, sex, youth and waning beauty, I was convinced that the only reason the organizers Walker brought people of color into this space was to liven it, to humanize, to provide warmth, touch, and communion to the heavy mass of post-structural, post-identity despair that animated the Walker’s egg shell white gallery spaces. I thought: we were brought there to make them feel. And at that moment, I felt sad. Resigned. Complicit. My life in Minnesota. I felt like I was part of the exhibit. Something being analyzed, commented upon, critiqued.

An object.

Community Walkabout, a walking tour of Loring Park. Photo: Scott Artley

After “Exposed,” my objectified self joined the six other young people on a tour of Loring Park led by local architect Marcy Schulte. I listened to her and a Loring Park community organizer offer competing narratives about the history, meaning, use and potential of Loring Park. I listened to them talk about how cattails had taken over the pond, crowding out hundreds of other native organisms that had once thrived. I listened to them discuss how the parks, confiscated from local band of the Ojibwe was designed for an early twentieth century white leisure class, has become a shared “liveable” space for young urban professionals and their small families. As we walked around the park both of our guides ignored and failed to comment on the court full of African American men laughing, running, playing, and openly enjoying the park space. Our guides happily commented on the pedestrians, the bikers, the young women pushing strollers, but the shirtless male black bodies were ignored. I wondered why. I wondered what stories they would tell about Loring Park, I wonder how they fit into the scripts that were being offered to us on the walking tour. I wondered how these unremarked upon pedestrians would map the social space and social history of the park.

Performance by Marc Bamuthi Joseph. Photo: Bethanie Hines

I made it the Open Field just in time for Bamuthi’s performance. I felt him dance. I heard him call out his pain, his joy, his confusion and his triumph through his body and voice. As I watched him give praise through movement and words, again I felt an opening, a softening of my heart. I remembered how the ancestors so boldly made themselves known in their Georgia landscape. I remembered how the clay earth warmed, and the trees quivered with their spirits when we danced to West African drumming during Nzinga and Ndugu crossing ceremonies. Bamuthi had stayed close to the spirits. He allowed them to inform his artisty on every level. We all felt it. We all felt him. I realized that this day, the “guilty colonial gesture” of Living Classroom was a blessing. It was opportunity to reconnect with an aspect of my spirit that is often neglected in Minnesota. I was humbled. Disarmed. And I gave thanks.

By the end of the evening, I was trying to pull together a spring event with two of the featured community artists Marc Bamuthi Joseph and Tish Jones. I wondered aloud how myself and my good friend John Thabiti Willis could build with Bamuthi and Tish to create a community event for young African American girls and boys that could enable them to creatively assess the richness of their own lives, map their own neighborhoods, on their own terms, and for them. It felt good to create more work for myself. And they are all waiting for me to follow up. I hope we can make it happen together.

The After Party
My last time to hug and kiss old friends and new. I danced to a Planet Rock. I finally loosened up. As I sipped a small cup of red wine and watched a slide show of a community concert in Oakland. I felt a little younger, a little stronger, a little more courage to follow my own path, my own art—disarmed.

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The Education & Community Programs department is asked a handful of talented writers and artistic interpreters from distinct perspectives to serve as Citizen Journalists and correspondents for the Living Classroom, with a focus on generating community-centric documentation of the event. We sought individuals from distinct perspectives — people interested and grounded in communities facing the issues at hand. Sonja Kuftinec, Associate Professor of Theatre at the University of Minnesota, and an organizer for the Imagining America conference happening in Minneapolis September 22-24, provided recommendations, with final selection by Associate Director of Public & Interpretive Programs Susy Bielak and Open Field Coordinator Scott Artley.

Citizen Journalists from Living Classroom – Amanda Spencer

  Amanda Spencer is a student photographer studying at Inver Hills Community College working on an Associate of Fine Arts. She plans to transfer to the U of M–Twin Cities in the fall of 2012 to receive a Bachelor of Fine Arts with emphasis on photography. Her current project is titled East Phillips and is […]

Citizen Journalist Amanda Spencer

 

Amanda Spencer is a student photographer studying at Inver Hills Community College working on an Associate of Fine Arts. She plans to transfer to the U of M–Twin Cities in the fall of 2012 to receive a Bachelor of Fine Arts with emphasis on photography. Her current project is titled East Phillips and is a collection of photographs and interviews from the inner city neighborhood. You can check out the project at her website and sign up to receive updates about the upcoming book and exhibition at the Phillips Garden.

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All photos by Amanda Spencer.
 

 

What I got from Open Field was a community. A community that shares the passions I have. A community that makes me feel like there may be a place for me —where people appreciate me & what I do, as much as I appreciate them & what they do. A community that inspires me.


There were people from everywhere. Black, White, Red, & Yellow. People that felt comfortable to be in their skin & show it.
And that made me want to act as me even more.

The question — What sustains your community?
Well, it’s this. It is dance. It is story telling. It is what one person may be passionate about.

…& it is when that passion is spread to everyone.

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The Walker Art Center’s Education & Community Programs department asked a handful of talented writers and artistic interpreters from distinct perspectives to serve as Citizen Journalists and correspondents for the Living Classroom, with a focus on generating community-centric documentation of the event. We sought individuals from distinct perspectives — people interested and grounded in communities facing the issues at hand. Sonja Kuftinec, Associate Professor of Theatre at the University of Minnesota, and an organizer for the Imagining America conference happening in Minneapolis September 22-24, provided recommendations, with final selection by Associate Director of Public & Interpretive Programs Susy Bielak and Open Field Coordinator Scott Artley.

Living Classroom Reflections: Ping and Sing

by Mac Galligan Last Thursday at the Walker, I participated in the ping pong tournament and karaoke with Wing Young Huie as part of the Living Classroom. I must admit, I was pretty skeptical about the amount of fun I would have. As a student fresh out of the public education system, I’ve grown suspicious […]

Fierce competition between artists Peter Haakon Thompson and Jenny Schmid

by Mac Galligan

Last Thursday at the Walker, I participated in the ping pong tournament and karaoke with Wing Young Huie as part of the Living Classroom. I must admit, I was pretty skeptical about the amount of fun I would have. As a student fresh out of the public education system, I’ve grown suspicious of any “fun” activities focused on things like “community building” or “exploration” because generally that means a lecture from someone I’ve never heard of that has been deemed an “expert” by someone else I’ve never heard of.

Fortunately, I was wrong. What actually happened was I met some pretty cool people. Some of them turned out to be prominent local artists like David Petersen and Peter Haakon Thompson, but that didn’t really matter here (ironically) because they were just David and Peter then and they just wanted to play some ping pong like everyone else. There were no “experts” in community present in that gallery full of music, laughter, and ping pong tables. There were only people, and maybe that’s better. The answers to Bamuthi’s question “What is it that sustains life in your community?” were all around that room; an audience’s support of a timid karaoke singer, the shared excitement of a favorite song about to be sung, the conversation spurred on by intense rallies at the ping pong tables, and the shared experience of a little competition when the game is all over.

I’m not sure if it is the amateur nature of ping pong, the collection of fun-loving participants, or the surprisingly talented karaoke singers that kept the atmosphere so warm after many spirited games of ping pong, but win or lose everyone seemed to have a really great time. I ended up staying and entering in one of the tournaments, where I was lucky enough to win a small photo from Wing’s collection and a wonderful memory to go with it. I have a feeling I wasn’t the only one.

TAKE 5: Five quick questions for Olive Bieringa (Ecosomatics Classroom)

TAKE 5: Five quick questions for activity organizers on Open Field this summer Name: Olive Bieringa Occupation: Artist City/Neighborhood: Powderhorn Open Field Activity: EcoSomatics Classroom Description: Come participate in the EcoSomatics Classroom, an experiment in transforming our understanding of the environment. The session will be lead by Olive Bieringa (dance artist and Body-Mind Centering Practitioner, […]

The Body Cartography Project, photo by Christian Glaus

TAKE 5: Five quick questions for activity organizers on Open Field this summer

Name: Olive Bieringa
Occupation: Artist
City/Neighborhood: Powderhorn

Open Field Activity:
EcoSomatics Classroom
Description:
Come participate in the EcoSomatics Classroom, an experiment in transforming our understanding of the environment.

The session will be lead by Olive Bieringa (dance artist and Body-Mind Centering Practitioner, BodyCartography Project) and John Schade (Ecosystem Ecologist, St Olaf College). Through simple movement practices and simple scientific explanations we will investigate the relationship between our own body systems and the earths systems. Our specific focus for the day will be water and global warming as John as been researching changing permafrost conditions in Russia for the past several years.

Some of the topics we may dive into : Russia and climate change, agriculture and the Mississippi River, metabolism, energy use by body linked to agriculture, pollution, fossil fuels, climate change, embryology, the fluids in the body, and the immune system.

Come ready to move and ask questions…
Date of Activity: August 25th, 2011 (2-7pm)

1) What’s your favorite public space, in the Twin Cities or beyond?

The St Croix river

2) How did you find out about Open Field and why did you decide to host your own activity on Open Field?

Having been involved in conversation about Open field since its inception it will be an honour to finally contribute something within the actual event.

3) If you could learn any skill on Open Field, what would it be?

I would love to attend a whole series of art science events on the commons of the open field. If I had the time I would love to sit and learn French once a week with a class of good red wine.

4) What is the ideal audience for your Open Field activity?

Anyone interested in learning more about the environment and their own body and the relationship between the two.

5) If Open Field had a mascot, who/what would it be?

As I a New Zealander I’m not so good with mascot ideas but maybe some kind of automated groundhog/gopher that lives in the parking garage?

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