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Can I Have an Idea



The new Mobile Cart is just right for summer in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. On weekends, the grounds are teeming with visitors from all over the world. We’ve seen wedding guests dressed to the nines, families picnicking in front of Spoonbridge and Cherry, and mini golfers waiting for tee-times. Like our visitors, the Mobile Cart has a purpose for being outside.


Designed for pop-up outdoor activities, the handsome and nimble cart reflects the genius of Museum Exhibit Designer Maria Mortati. It has a casual feel, like a food cart. In fact, someone tried to order ice cream from us! Seriously, people have approached us with practical questions concerning weddings, mini-golf, and the location of Garden Café, which contrary to its name, is inside the Walker Art Center.

The Mobile Cart is a magnet for visitors desiring more interaction with art and ideas.

A stop at the Mobile Cart outfits visitors with supplies for Can I Have an Idea, a hands-on drawing experience. This activity is loosely related to the exhibition Art Expanded currently on view at the Walker Art Center. Can I Have an Idea plays with decision-making and offers a simple direction for action. It resembles a musical score that comes alive when someone actually performs it.

Can I Have an Idea looks like this. There are 2 bins with instructions for drawing typed out on small paper cards. The first bin is labeled “Take an Idea and Make a Drawing.” It contains single directions, such as, “draw the nearest sculpture” and “spin around and draw a spiral.” The second bin, “Take 2 Ideas and Make 2 Drawings,” is for participants who appreciate experimentation.

The girl pictured below was eager to try as many ideas as possible.

Her grandma turned to me and said, “She’s from an arty family living in Winnipeg, Canada.”

This activity also intrigued two visitors from the Museo d’Arte Modernae Contemporanea di Trento e Rovereto in Italy. Full disclosure, these museum educators asked to replicate Can I Have an Idea in their museum, and I gave them what they needed.

Closer to home, we’ve engaged families from the Twin Cities who were visiting the Garden for the first time. The presence of the Mobile Cart generated conversation about Family Programs and encouraged a number of families to return to Walker’s Free First Saturday offered throughout the year.

This summer, Yaneth Quintero, a STEP-UP Intern, hosted the Mobile Cart with me. She wraps up her internship at the Walker this week so  it’s appropriate to record her impressions about the Mobile Cart. When asked, she quickly replied, “I realized how much I miss drawing. When I was a child, I drew all the time.”

Ilene: What did you notice about the crowd?

Yaneth: There were many curious on-lookers. Young and old people approached us and loved the cart. Some even asked me if they were too old to participate! But, as Ilene says, ‘There’s no age limit to creativity’. They were eager to try out the scores; just draw!

Ilene: What did they want to know?

Yaneth: I had a multitude of people ask me when we’d be out with the cart again. Others asked about the Walker and were curious about activities happening inside the building. We were a mini info hub. I also got questions about the master mind behind the Mobile Cart or directions to places.

Ilene: How did they interact with the drawing activity?

Yaneth: Some people came to try out one score while others got deeper into it. They made more personal drawings based on their interpretations of the scores. Some just kept coming back for more ideas.

Ilene: Thanks, Yaneth, for being so attentive, welcoming and creative. Keep drawing!


Negotiating Spaces

What does a welcoming entrance look like? How do people in wheelchairs maneuver around the Sculpture Garden or the galleries? Can other sensory elements like smell and touch be part of a space where art is viewed and experienced? These are some of the questions asked by 12 artists from Partnership Resources, Inc. (PRI). In […]

What does a welcoming entrance look like? How do people in wheelchairs maneuver around the Sculpture Garden or the galleries? Can other sensory elements like smell and touch be part of a space where art is viewed and experienced? These are some of the questions asked by 12 artists from Partnership Resources, Inc. (PRI). In September and October 2012, these artists and I probed the Walker’s public spaces, galleries, and art lab. Our quest was to experience, respond to, and design two unique spaces for art ── one outdoor and one indoor. After visiting the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, the PRI artists shared opinions about particular sculptures and the Garden’s overall design. Lara Hanson, artist-in-residence at PRI, collected the artists’ written feedback. Questions of accessibility were addressed and the artists had some comments. “the little ridges of metal around each of the four square plots were an issue ──chairs could probably get over them, but Andy and Richard didn’t want to try. Mud and deep edging along the sidewalks (was a concern).” This insightful critique aided artists in designing their projects. To articulate their preferences, the artists sketched out site plans and built models of their outdoor spaces.

Andy with her model September 2012

Notice the pathways/ramps for Andy’s wheelchair to climb the hill

Tammy's model has textures both rough and smooth.

Tammy’s model has textures both rough and smooth

Henry Moore’s Reclining Mother and Child inspired Tammy’s observation that motherhood has its smooth and rough times.

Zach’s model featured a hybrid outdoor and indoor design

An elevator from the parking garage would carry people, with or without wheelchairs, to Zach’s sculpture garden on the top level.

When it came to exploring the indoor spaces at the Walker, each artist documented their experience with a point-and-shoot camera and completed a feedback sheet. They responded to spaces including the Garden Cafe, Cargill Lounge, and a whirlwind tour of artworks in galleries 1, 3, 4, and 6. With our corps of volunteer tour guides and PRI staff, we had an exceptional experience. Everyone was able to flow at their own pace, and we had the galleries to ourselves. Merrie said, “Cargill was very open and light.” She also noted that the tight floor space in gallery 4 (Midnight Party) made her feel “kind of nervous” in her wheelchair. Richard took a picture of the terrazzo stairway outside the elevator of gallery 4 looking down to gallery 3. This made him uncomfortable, and he told us the story of someone in a wheelchair that had rolled down the stairs backwards.

Richard's photo of Barnes stairway with Lara's help October 2012

Richard’s photo of Barnes stairway with Lara’s help October 2012

The slower pace and individualized attention received on this tour afforded PRI artist an opportunity to scrutinize and enjoy the artworks more intensely. Everyone commented on the smoky scent and heat felt in the Haegue Yang installation titled Series of Vulnerable Arrangement – The Blind Room in The Living Years.

The design planning of the indoor spaces started with sketches again and resulted in models. Richard’s designed his space on one level and specifically said that the walls would be curved. This large gallery would display an array of his two dimensional artworks.

Large sliding doors opened into Richard's ideal indoor gallery space

Large sliding doors opened into Richard’s ideal indoor gallery space


2-D and 3-D artworks filled Andy's colorful gallery space

2-D and 3-D artworks filled Andy’s colorful gallery space

The PRI artists, based out of studios in Minneapolis and St. Louis Park are currently working on their final projects for Challenging Perspectives: Negotiating Spaces. Their projects will be celebrated and showcased in a PRI exhibition hosted by the Walker Art Center on March 21, 2013 in the Skyline Room.On a personal note, I’d say that PRI artists are direct and intuitive about art and they circumnavigate new spaces with determination and resilience. The artists’ spontaneous aesthetic choices delighted me, and I hope we’ll continue this partnership in the future.Richard and I worked together a number of times. On several occasions, I held his charcoal, and he held my wrist to direct my hand with the charcoal across the paper. The rhythm and pressure supplied to each gesture reminded me of a dance; I felt honored that he trusted me as his drawing partner.

Richard prefers working in 2-D as shown by the pathway and blue earthwork

Richard prefers working in 2-D as shown by the pathway and blue earthwork

A grant from MRAC (Metropolitan Regional Arts Council) has supported Partnership Resources artists’ collaboration with Walker Art Center for 2 years in a row. In 2011, the artists toured 50/50 and in 2012, they toured This Will Have Been: Art, Love & Politics in the 1980’s.

Field Office Fellowship: Reading Room MPLS, an Experiment In Intention

This Friday you’ll find Field Office Fellow Chris Fischbach in the FlatPak House reading a book. You’re welcome to join him if you like, in fact he’s highly encouraging it. For a couple of hours at a time between August 12th and 17th, Chris will be converting the FlatPak House into a public experiment in […]

Reader's Card, Reading Room MPLS

This Friday you’ll find Field Office Fellow Chris Fischbach in the FlatPak House reading a book. You’re welcome to join him if you like, in fact he’s highly encouraging it. For a couple of hours at a time between August 12th and 17th, Chris will be converting the FlatPak House into a public experiment in intentional reading.

When we first met Chris, Publisher at Coffee House Press, he told us that he was having trouble making time for personal, pleasurable, non-work related reading. In the same way that people are willing to pay for for an application that blocks their access to the internet for up to 8 hours at a time, Chris said that he’d actually pay to go somewhere, unplug, and just read. Remarkably, that place doesn’t exist. (And don’t say libraries! They’re full of computers, wifi signals, and people doing all kinds of things in addition to reading.) And with that, Reading Room MPLS was born.

Some questions that Chris hopes to answer through this experiment:

  • In our busy lives, will book lovers actually make time, intentionally, to go to a designated place solely to read a book, for an extended period of time, unplugged?
  • Does reading (a solitary act) somehow become more attractive, more meaningful when surrounded by others (a crowd) who also have taken time to intentionally read?
  • By putting a frame around the act of reading, will participants somehow gain a new appreciation for their time, and take Reading Room on the road?

As noted on the Reading Room MPLS bookmark (that you’ll receive if you attend), Kurt Vonnegut said that “Literature is the only art form in which the audience performs the score.” Starting this Friday, Chris Fischbach is setting out to see what will happen when a room full of people start performing, with intention, together.

Reading Room MPLS hours:

  • Friday, August 12th – 6 to 8 pm
  • Saturday, August 13th – 2 to 4 pm
  • Sunday, August 14th – 2 to 4 pm
  • Tuesday, August 16th – 12 to 2 pm
  • Wednesday, August 17th – 3 to 5 pm

Reading Room MPLS is taking place at the Walker Art Center’s FlatPak House in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden.

Some links to learn more: Reading Room MPLS blogReading Room MPLS on Facebook, and Reading Room MPLS on Twitter. Hope to see you and your book at the Reading Room!

Field Office Fellowship: Interview with Rachel Breen

This Monday we’ll hold the first of 6 public conversations with this summers Field Office Fellows, starting with Rachel Breen (see below for more details!). In anticipation of each discussion, we’ll be posting short interviews with the fellows. Here is what Rachel had to say: You’re an associate at On the Commons, can you tell us […]

Rachel Breen's The Bank of Our Common Wealth. Photo: Ashle Briggs Horton

This Monday we’ll hold the first of 6 public conversations with this summers Field Office Fellows, starting with Rachel Breen (see below for more details!). In anticipation of each discussion, we’ll be posting short interviews with the fellows. Here is what Rachel had to say:

You’re an associate at On the Commons, can you tell us about when and why you first started thinking about the commons very seriously? How did that lead to On the Commons? 

Julie Ristau, a friend I had done a lot of organizing work with, gave me the opportunity to get involved in On the Commons. It was appealing to me because it was political but in a very non-traditional way. I was attracted to the concept of the commons because its’ basic premise is a different way of understanding our economy and it steps outside the left/right political paradigm. It also gets outside the issue “silos” that progressive politics gets stuck in. So I see it as viable way of looking at the world that can contribute to progressive/sustainable social change.

How does your understanding of the commons play out in your art practice?

This project is giving me the chance to think about this more specifically. Social engagement has always been an underpinning of my artwork. But I’m also skeptical of artwork that is very literal or dogmatic. So – on the surface my work tends to look pretty abstract. The use of the sewing machine in the making of my work is one way that I convey the imperative to “repair” things that are broken – a metaphor for social change. Stitching makes connections visible and possible – so in a sense the work is always about the commons – but not in a very obvious way.

You’ve said that The Bank of Our Common Wealth is a new kind of creative project for you. Can you tell us how this is different?

The Bank of Our Common Wealth is huge departure for me in that it is a very public project – and also using money is pretty literal! I think it animates the idea of the commons in a fun and provocative way – which is also really new for me. I don’t think of myself as a very funny person and I greatly admire artists who use humor in their work – something I think is really difficult to do well.

Its interesting that so many people want to know what will happen with the train of dollar bills that is being amassed – for me the most important part of the project is the transaction that happens with people – the investment of the dollar bill in the bank and the act of sewing it together with the other dollar bills – not whether it is exhibited at some later date. The conversations that the project sparks and hopefully the thinking that might be jostled from public participation are “rich” (pardon the pun) and what the project is mainly about.

I’m asking people to make an investment – actually trust me by handing over something of value to them (a dollar bill) – that they won’t get back. For me, this is a huge request and I am truly humbled that so many people I have never met have been willing to participate in the project in this way.

I think people’s willingness – indeed – their great satisfaction in depositing a dollar bill into the bank signals their deep desire to change the debate about wealth in our society from being only about the individual to being about the community and the commons.

You’ve been setting up The Bank of Our Common Wealth at different public spaces around Minneapolis. Can you share some of the reactions you’ve received so far? How many people have contributed to the bank?

I’ve had about 125 dollars deposited into the bank so far. The biggest challenge is getting people to want to engage with me and find out what the project is about. When people take the time to hear about the project, it seems to really resonate and they almost always make an investment.

People also love seeing me work an old fashioned treadle sewing machine – it’s a beautiful old machine and many people, especially children have never seen one working before.

Last week at the Midtown Farmers Market some Somali women who did not speak English looked at me and burst into laughter when they realized I was sewing dollar bills together. A young girl who was with them asked me in English what I was doing and when she translated for the elder women they all nodded their heads in agreement. That was probably one of the nicest interactions I’ve had.

Some people have come up to me and given me dollar bills without hearing about the project – they just like that I am sewing dollar bills together. A lot of people want to know what I’m going to do with the dollars – and when I say I am hoping to exhibit them – they want to know what comes after that. I explain that the dollars will forever stay connected – that their “value” has been permanently altered to create something of a different kind of value and that sparks some really interesting conversations especially for people who don’t think about art very often. It raises questions about the value and importance of and role of art in society, about the value of money and about what the purpose of money is. I think it also raises some interesting questions about the art market as well. I could go one for a long time about this – if you want to talk more about this – come to the bank!

Is there another Field Office project that you’re especially excited about?

I’m excited about all of them. I’m excited about the project as a whole – I really like how diverse the projects are – we are approaching the question from such different vantage points. I’m most excited about the conversations we can have once we’ve tried our projects and can see what kind of collective knowledge emerges. I want to know what comes next?

Where can we find out more information about The Bank of Our Common Wealth and your other work? Where and when can we next find the bank to make a deposit?

The bank will be at the Midtown Farmers Market on Saturday, August 6th from 9-12. I’ve found that farmers markets are a great place to be – people are thinking about commerce since they are going to shop and also not usually in a huge hurry so tend to have a moment to stop and find out what I’m doing. I’m going to make a Facebook page today! I’ve been a little hesitant to dive full force into social media with this project – it seems like a lot of work to manage it but people who invest in the bank really want to follow it so I think I need to do it! So – look for The Bank of Our Common Wealth on Facebook!

Thank you Rachel!

Read more about The Bank of Our Common Wealth here. You’re invited to join Works Progress and Walker ECP staff for an open conversation with Rachel Breen on Monday, August 8th from 6 to 7PM at the FlakPak House in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. There will be refreshments!

Field Office: The Alzheimer’s Advocacy Session

When the Alzheimer’s Advocacy Field Office was mentioned to me, I wasn’t expecting to start it off with some gardening. And yet there I was on the patio of the FlatPak house on the 24th of June, shoving small cacti into pots as my hands steadily turned into Swiss cheeses. Well you know what? An […]

When the Alzheimer’s Advocacy Field Office was mentioned to me, I wasn’t expecting to start it off with some gardening. And yet there I was on the patio of the FlatPak house on the 24th of June, shoving small cacti into pots as my hands steadily turned into Swiss cheeses. Well you know what? An up-close encounter with some of the strongest plants alive may have been a pretty fitting prelude to the session of the day.

Just to clue you in on what Field Office is, a brief explanation: it’s a weekly opportunity for the Education and Community Programs staff to explore their interests together with the public and, 1 more importantly, to escape the freezing, fluorescent-lit confines of our cubicles. No one-way lectures, don’t worry. It’s all about connecting, sharing and learning in a relaxed environment – the FlatPak in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden.

This time, the ECP staff were happy to take a step back and have the members of the Early Stage Advisory group take over. Jim Engel, Ken Lehmann, Mike Tracy, Earl Reiland, Lucy Rice, Mary Margaret Lehmann, Jerilynn Hanson, Julie Allen and Dick Wagner were our esteemed guests, present to host a session on living with early-stage dementia. Also attending were Michelle Barclay, Vice President of Programs at the 2 Alzheimer’s Association, Carolyn Klaver of the Gathering with Lyngblomsten and Sara Tucker, an art therapist who spearheaded the Art Institute of Chicago’s program for memory loss and now works with Michelle at the Alzheimer’s Assocation.

Once everyone had settled themselves in, Sara broke the lull with a quote from Jim Engel, one of the members.

“ You have to understand. Life doesn’t stop at diagnosis. This group is a testament to how you can live with the disease. It’s the time of my life. I enjoy it.”

Jim’s words were strikingly spirited, summing up what seemed to be the motto of the group. These people are no shrinking violets. In addition to raising public awareness about Alzheimer’s and the lives of those affected by it, this intrepid team of heroes provides information and emotional support to the newly-diagnosed, most of whom have poor access to educational resources. They also attend conferences, participate in rallies, and serve as 3 mentors to those who need guidance in dealing with early-stage Alzheimer’s. The underlying idea? To empower through education and solidarity.

Phone calls may be one of the more unassuming ways to help, but never underestimate how much a well-timed one can do. More often than not, the Early-Stage Advisory group’s helpline becomes something of a lifeline as well. The terror of dealing with a disease swells tenfold when you are not only left to find your way in the dark, but are forced to do so alone. Earl understands this perfectly.

“ I start out by talking about myself a little, which gives us an opportunity to connect.” He said, describing how he prefers to open his phone conversations. “ Listen to them, because they really need a chance to talk to you and tell you how they feel. At the end of the day, that can be more important than what we have to say.”

Despite the prevalence of Alzheimer’s, misconceptions regarding its causes, symptoms and development run abound. The sad reality is that these mistaken assumptions often breed behavior that marginalizes despite its best intentions. Keeping this in mind, Sara asked the group:“ When coming into contact with the public, what would be something you’d want to say or ask? What would be the one thing you’d want them to take away from the encounter?”

“ We’re person-first. A person with Alzheimer’s. Not an ‘Alzheimer-ish’ person. Honor each one of us as an individual while remembering our challenges.” replied Mary in a sobering reminder that they are more than the disease. Remaining on that note, Ken mentioned that one of the risks of coming forward about one’s condition was facing the prospect of being reduced to a label.

The trouble is, keeping the disease a secret is like trying to hold a stream of water back with your bare hands. As Mike later explained: no matter what you do, the onset of the disease will begin redefining and restricting a lot of your daily activities. It will reveal itself in the long run even if you choose to not talk about it.

But hey, this inevitability doesn’t have to entail life without a little bit of zest. Once after attending Mass, Mike walked into a room full of crying friends who had just found out about his situation. To the horror of everyone present, he drooled.

Okay, so the drooling turned out to be a joke, much to the relief of his teary-eyed friends. But behind its playfulness lay a profound principle, one to which Mike holds with unfailing determination until this very day. “ Humor got me through this,” he said with eyes full of moxie. “ If I don’t laugh several times a day, something’s wrong.”

A solid sense of humor is one of the best ways to get through tough times, but there’s another great means to make one’s struggle a smoother ride. “ You know, the stigma’s going to be around for awhile. So let’s own it and redefine it.” Michelle suggested, referring to harmful preconceived notions about people with Alzheimer’s. “ When people are insensitive in interactions, take it as a chance to re-educate through counter-suggestions.”

It’s no picnic to grin and bear tactless remarks, no matter how well-meaning they are. But the group found that being patient and flexible with the way they express their needs helps more than aggressively trying to dictate how people should behave. As Jerrilyn astutely pointed out:“ We can’t control what people say to us and what they find meaningful, but we can change how we contribute to the conversation.”

There were quiet nods of agreement, and then the discussion shifted to the issue of early diagnosis. Within a few minutes, everyone had reached a consensus: it’s wiser to deal with a difficult truth as soon as possible than unknowingly fumble through the years.

“ It may feel better at first to dwell in ignorance, but later on, you might make a lot of choices that aren’t based in reality and end up being quite harmful in the long run,” warned Michelle. “ We see people just living from one crisis to another with no informed plans, husbands and wives treating each other poorly due to a lack of understanding.”

I looked at the faces around me, struck by how different the group members were from what Michelle had just described. Even though each day brings new struggles with a formidable neurological disease, these people don’t stumble around in a daze while waiting for life to get better. In them resides an unshakeable fortitude that springs not only from their love for life, but also their indomitable will to tackle every setback with wisdom and candor. In short, the word we’re looking for here is ‘bad-ass’.

After the discussion closed, some of us adjourned to a shady spot right outside the FlatPak house for a commemorative group photo. While getting the camera ready, strains of suspicious laughter trickled through the air.

And sure enough – the minute I counted to three, the members of the advisory group suddenly sprang forward with their arms outstretched. As I snapped the shot, Jim’s words echoed faintly in my ears. It’s truer than we think, that lives don’t have to end at diagnosis. In a lot of ways, theirs are just beginning.


1 Just kidding. Really.

2 Besides a website, they also have a twitter feed.

3 Getting a mentor is quite straightforward: just call their 24/7 helpline at 1.800.272.3900. Someone will pass you a recommendation and, with your approval, give you a date and time for meetings.

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