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Winter, we bid you farewell with a song

Track 1: Cabin Fever Winter is lingering on like a bad cold. While this will definitely go down as one of the worst subzero spells in recent history, there were some really fun moments in January and February that made the season more bearable. I’m referring to our series of Thursday night programs called Cabin […]

Lexa Walsh

Lexa Walsh and Jerry Brownrigg

Track 1: Cabin Fever

Winter is lingering on like a bad cold. While this will definitely go down as one of the worst subzero spells in recent history, there were some really fun moments in January and February that made the season more bearable. I’m referring to our series of Thursday night programs called Cabin Fever that invited artists to design and host events that were social, participatory, and slightly idiosyncratic—including a poetry and printmaking party, butter-making aerobics, B-movie bingo, and a collaborative song-writing session about the long northern winters called Fever Songs.

Oakland-based artist Lexa Walsh and local music hero John Munson (Trip Shakespeare, Semisonic, The New Standards) hosted Fever Songs, with support from artist Chris Larson who supplied the rustic cabin, musician Jerry Brownrigg, and sound recording engineer Richard Medek. It took a talented team to pull off a one-night-only recording studio and an engaged audience willing to put some time into composing a song. The lyrics people contributed were fantastic and covered a range of  emotion, from hostility to humor. Lexa, John, and Jerry were masterful composers as they instantaneously interpreted the texts into sound, choosing a punk flavor for one or a folky melody for another.  Enjoy the resulting tracks—proof that our creativity cannot be suppressed by a long Minnesota winter.

(Note: all songs were sung and performed by Lexa, John, and Jerry with help from some of the songwriters. Track 14, “Ukulele” was sung and strummed entirely by the songwriters, Anna Marie Vu and Dave Kaminski.)

Jerry on drums John Munson on vocals and guitar

Jerry Brownrigg on drums, John Munson on vocals and guitar

Track 2: Cold Outside

Baby it's Cold Outside

A group of students from Duluth surrounding Chris Larson's cabin

A group of students from Duluth surrounding Chris Larson’s cabin

Track 3: Days Are Getting Longer

Nights are Longer

Track 4: Dead Frog

Dead Frog

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Track 5: Die Right Here

Frostbite on my nose

Sound engineer Richard Medek busy recording tracks

Sound engineer Richard Medek recording tracks

Track 6: Fed on Potatoes

Potatoes

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Track 7: Frankie Boy

Frankie Boy

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Track 8: Hate Mix

HATE

Track 9: Minnesnowta Territory

The Cold Weather

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Track 10: Polar Vortex Polka

God Damn Polar Vortex

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Track 11: Sexy Long Underwear

Sexy Long Underwear

Track 12: South Pitch

South Pitch

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Track 13: Stinging Piggies

My Toe is Frozen

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Track 14: Ukulele

Tonight

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Track 15: Winter is My Favorite Season

I'm a Rebel

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Track 16: 24-Hour Nurse

Nurse

 

Making It: A Family Guide with Alyssa Baguss

For the third year in a row, the Walker’s Family Programs has commissioned a local artist to create an illustrated activity sheet for families. Traditionally unveiled at December’s Free First Saturday, these creations have taken the shape of a whimsical diagram of a playground-like museum (Andy Ducett, 2011); and a cleverly blended comic strip/map (Todd […]

For the third year in a row, the Walker’s Family Programs has commissioned a local artist to create an illustrated activity sheet for families. Traditionally unveiled at December’s Free First Saturday, these creations have taken the shape of a whimsical diagram of a playground-like museum (Andy Ducett, 2011); and a cleverly blended comic strip/map (Todd Balthazor, 2012). We’re delighted to continue this project and introduce the artist for this year’s activity sheet.

Alyssa Baguss put her own twist (and turns) on the idea of an interactive map to Walker galleries. To appreciate all that goes into her work, we asked the artist to share a bit about herself, her practice, and what she’s created.

Where did you grow up? 

Maquoketa, Iowa—you know where that is, right? I was always playing outside. If I wasn’t swimming I was up in a tree all day.

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What does your family do for fun?

When we are together (which isn’t as often as it used to be) we spend a lot of time outdoors. I’m really lucky to live with really easy-going funny people.

What was your first job?

I bused tables at a pancake house…..sticky maple syrupy tables.

When did you decide to commit to a career as an artist?

…..since I was 5? I didn’t pursue it as an actual career until I was in my early twenties when I realized that I would be living a horribly boring life if I couldn’t do my favorite thing every day.  I hate being bored.

What do you absolutely love to draw?

I love to draw technology and think about how it influences how we experience the world. I use drawing as a tool to problem solve and answer questions that I am thinking about.

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When you aren’t drawing you are…

Exploring nature, researching ideas, growing things, watching hot air balloons, playing an instrument or thinking about what I am going to draw next.

Who or what inspires you and your work?

For inspiration I visit galleries and museums, spend time in nature and do a lot of reading and research into things I’m curious about. I live by a pretty simple philosophy: be yourself, do what makes you happy and surround yourself with people who do the same. My family is exceptionally understanding of my…….intensity……and without that type of unconditional love the world wouldn’t be as shiny.

Tell us a little bit about your creative process for this gallery activity?

I spent a few years as an info guide at the Walker Art Center.  As an info guide, I was always giving directions to guests who were lost and complaining about the WAC being too much like a maze. A maze seemed like the perfect gallery activity where you may get confused, lost or take a wrong turn, and still see some incredible things along the way.

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I researched the artwork and architecture at the Walker and Minneapolis Sculpture Garden and found pieces that interested me for the maze. I literally cut and pasted the composition together into a maze design with paper images, then drew the images with graphite. I tried not to make the maze too difficult but there are a few challenging areas. Just like the Walker, I want you to occasionally exclaim, “What?  How did we end up here?” Besides, I tend to find the best things when I get lost. Just embrace it.

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Come to Free First Saturday on December 7 from 10 am–3 pm to pick up the final version of Alyssa’s interactive gallery activity.

Arty Pants: Yoga Moves

Despite the chill in the air outside, it was warm in the Walker on Tuesday.  Arty Pants tots and their grown-ups invaded Medtronic Gallery to gather on the rug.  Local dancer Ellie Ahmann from Minnesota Dance Theatre led a yoga workshop that would warm anyone’s heart.  Join us for the next yoga workshops on November 26 and December […]

Despite the chill in the air outside, it was warm in the Walker on Tuesday.  Arty Pants tots and their grown-ups invaded Medtronic Gallery to gather on the rug.  Local dancer Ellie Ahmann from Minnesota Dance Theatre led a yoga workshop that would warm anyone’s heart.

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 Join us for the next yoga workshops on November 26 and December 10.  

 Photos by Gene Pittman

Making Fritz Haeg’s Rug

While the plants were growing outside in Fritz Haeg’s Foraging Circle, his crocheted rug was accruing mass inside the Walker. Once the Domestic Integrities A05 rug—or simply “the rug”—arrived to the Walker two weeks ago, it amassed 5 additional feet thanks to a team of enthusiastic volunteers who grew the rug’s diameter from 22 to 27 […]

While the plants were growing outside in Fritz Haeg’s Foraging Circle, his crocheted rug was accruing mass inside the Walker. Once the Domestic Integrities A05 rug—or simply “the rug”—arrived to the Walker two weeks ago, it amassed 5 additional feet thanks to a team of enthusiastic volunteers who grew the rug’s diameter from 22 to 27 feet in a brief three and a half days. While positioned in the Cargill Lounge, a very public centralized space in the Walker, the rug and its laborers attracted the attention of visitors and staff alike who were encouraged to take their shoes off to sit and learn about the communally-made artwork.

Artist Fritz Haeg demonstrating the crocheting technique. All photos by Gene Pittman.

Artist Fritz Haeg demonstrating the crocheting technique. All photos by Gene Pittman.

The entire rug is made from donated fabrics and clothing. The process involves cutting or ripping the textiles into strips that can be tied into the rug and woven in using a hand-crochet technique that’s very simple and requires no needles. We collected and used 300 lbs. of fabric to create the Minneapolis portion of the rug.

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Beginning in Pennsylvania the rug first took form at Mildred’s Lane, a rural artist-run space led by J. Morgan Puett and Mark Dion. It was there that the epicenter was created with white and neutral-toned antique fabrics more than 100 years old. The next section is a colorful contrast representing clothing from Haeg’s Los Angelenos friends where you can find a few sequins and zippers in the mix. Then onto New York City where it grew further at the Museum of Modern Art, followed by another trip back to Los Angeles where it stayed at the Hammer Museum, and finally to the Walker Art Center. All of the five sections remain separate to make the transport of this heavy rug possible.

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This is one of two rugs by Haeg that’s traveling around the United States along with a third one in Europe, that’s currently making its home at Pollinari an organic farm and artist residency center in Abruzzo, Italy.

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The Domestic Integrities A05 rug now resides in the exhibition Fritz Haeg: At Home in the City where it will be on view in the Medtronic Gallery until November 24th. Haeg will be here throughout August inhabiting the rug, knitting, doing yoga, and sharing tea with visitors.

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At Home in the City Weekly Update: August 2

Pardon our silence. It hasn’t been for lack of action but rather due to far too many tasks to be accomplished out in the real world away from the computer. Foraging Circle: The July heat kicked everything into high gear and Foraging Circle is beginning to live up to its name. Raspberries have ripened, Calendula […]

Pardon our silence. It hasn’t been for lack of action but rather due to far too many tasks to be accomplished out in the real world away from the computer.

Foraging Circle:

The July heat kicked everything into high gear and Foraging Circle is beginning to live up to its name. Raspberries have ripened, Calendula seeds have been saved, Feverfew continues to bloom, and there is a Sunflower taller than Fritz. As plants fill in and grow up, hunting and gathering has become more of a challenge and, frankly, much more fun!

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At Home in the City Intern, Will Gobeli, going after the unwanted plants. Photo by Bridget Mendel.

 

Edible Estates:

Although I can personally confirm that the only thing used in the soil at Edible Estates was high quality compost, you might believe otherwise after walking around a bit. Everything is taller, lusher, and, quite possibly, happier in the Woodbury Edible Estate than in any other garden I have seen around town. As the wide variety of veggies we recieved as donations have matured, some fascinating discoveries have been made. Do you know how beautiful Purple Cauliflower is? How about Purple Brussels Sprouts? Have you ever thought of exchanging your chewing gum for a leaf of Lavendar Hyssop? Do you have juicy, ripe Fall Gold Raspberries to pick? You are not the only one drooling on your keyboard right now. Keep your eye out for a feature on KARE 11 and an update in next week’s Star Tribune.

Rest your back against the plush Brussel Sprout seating. Photo by Ashley Duffalo.

Rest your back against the plush Brussel Sprout seating. Photo by Ashley Duffalo.

 

Domestic Integrities:

Our domestic work reach full speed with Fritz’s arrival this past week. We were fully prepared: we gathered over 300 pounds of discarded fabric for the rug-making; we sourced baskets and jars and vessels galore to hold all of the goodies; and we organized a small army of volunteers to join us in Cargill Lounge to help Fritz crochet the Walker Art Center portion of the rug. Our planning and hording did not go to waste. After a week of traipsing around threads of fabric and eating our weight in bread and jam, the rug is complete and ready to be moved into the exhibition gallery. We couldn’t be more pleased with the process and with the product. Come on over, take your shoes off, and take a little stroll; you will never believe how plush this rug feels!

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Artist Fritz Haeg gives the first volunteers a training on how to crochet. Photo by Gene Pittman.

 

 

On Silence, Subjectivity, and Psychoacoustics: A Conversation with Composer and Educator Brian Heller

Now that World Listening Day has come and gone, what are we to do with the remaining 364 days? One suggestion is to take up a listening practice, a routine of setting aside a few minutes each day in which hearing can expand into listening. To enhance my practice, and as an endcap to my […]

Now that World Listening Day has come and gone, what are we to do with the remaining 364 days? One suggestion is to take up a listening practice, a routine of setting aside a few minutes each day in which hearing can expand into listening. To enhance my practice, and as an endcap to my “esteemed listener” interview series, I corresponded with composer and sound arts educator Brian Heller.

In planning the Walker’s recent observance of World Listening Day (WLD), I thought at great length about why listening matters and what we can learn from skilled listeners. From your perspective, what is it about listening—and about our relationship to listening—that merits attention?

More and more, I am of the belief that we need to acknowledge listening as a valid activity unto itself. And then we need to put that into practice. Having a day dedicated to listening encourages us to slow down and take time to experience the process of listening. No matter what you’re listening to (a natural environment, an artificial one, an artistic work, etc.), there is simply no shortcut for taking the time to experience it. WLD is a chance to consider closely our sense of hearing and our perception of sound (two different things). WLD also provides an exchange of ideas that helps us get more out of the listening process.

Speaking of the theoretical side of listening, I’ll mention R. Murray Schafer, a pioneer in the area of sound studies whose birthday is honored on WLD. In Schafer’s endeavor to understand our total sonic environment, he developed “ear cleaning” exercises which train the ears to listen more discriminatingly. Are there acoustic phenomena that for you serve as a baseline to hone your sense of hearing?

I had the pleasure of studying with Schafer for a short time and “ear cleaning” became absolutely essential. In everyday life, I try to be aware of my “noise floor,” to use a technical term from audio engineering, and I prefer it to be quite low. For example, my days of having music on while doing everything stopped some time ago. I gradually became more intentional and purposeful about listening and turned off the running soundtrack. We all know people who have the TV continuously running in the background, and I could never do that. There are many reasons why someone might choose to have the TV on, but I think it’s in part a consequence of the elevated noise-floor we’ve collectively acclimated to in modern life.

Yes, I recently heard someone use the term “hyperdrone” referring to background noise, meaning everything from humming refrigerators to roaring traffic. The value of escaping the hyperdrone and lowering our “noise floor” is beautifully articulated by Gordon Hempton, an acoustic ecologist who describes silence as an endangered species.

I definitely try to notice when I’m in a particularly quiet space. It’s not always a place you might expect, so you have to remain open wherever you are. Last winter, my lovely girlfriend and I spent some time in northern California’s Redwood forests. We were hiking amid huge trees and all the other things that live in and around them, appreciating a wonderful variety of noises. But on one particular day, in one particular place, I noticed an amazing silence. I felt like I couldn’t even hear the air! Aside from the few moments I’ve spent in an anechoic chamber, that was easily the deadest silence I’ve experienced. And it was in a place brimming with life.

Do you have a listening regimen that lets you hear with fresh ears?

As an audio engineer, dealing with the problem of a “listening regimen” is tremendous. The collection of habits and practices that address “fresh ears” are among the most important. We know that, for example, when working with recorded music our brains quickly adapt to and accept the sonic qualities of whatever we’re listening to. This means that if we spend about 20 minutes or so really getting into what we’re listening to, we’ll end up thinking it’s the best-sounding thing we’ve ever heard. (I’m talking sonically, not necessarily artistically.) This is just what the brain does. Although there are a few objective measuring tools, it gets very subjective very quickly. One way to stay objective and critical is to employ a set of recordings that are preselected “reality checks” and use these for comparison throughout the process.

One of the things I’ve most enjoyed learning from skilled listeners is how they talk about sound and the vocabulary used to describe sound’s qualities.

The old saying that “talking about music [sound] is like dancing about architecture” seems more and more true to me each day…it’s really tough!

But I’m sure you’ve got a handle on it, as I imagine terminology features prominently in your teaching. One thing I’m curious about: Are there differences between “aural,” “sonic,” and “acoustic”? It seems these words are used interchangeably but I’m sure they denote different things.

You’re correct, although sometimes the context determines meaning. Differentiating the terms (and others that might be used similarly) requires first understanding that there are (at least) 3 different things going on that get us to hear a sound:

  1. The physical fact of the way the air moves in the world (acoustics)

  2. The sensing of that air and its translation to mechanical energy in our ears (aural/sonic)

  3. And then the translation of that motion in our hearing to chemical energy for processing in the brain (psychological or psychoacoustic).

Just like anything else, any time there’s a translation or conversion from one state to another, it gets complicated.

From the standpoint of working with beginning students, I believe they need to re-imagine and then reconnect with sound as its own physical and psychological thing, and not only a carrier for music. This helps build an understanding of the technical vocabulary, which can be quite imposing. Eventually, we can go about connecting that technical language to an aesthetic one. I’ve found a key part of my role in this as a teacher is to show how vocabulary gives us better precision when talking about sound, and how essential that is. From the standpoint of being an audio engineer working with artists, however, subjectivity comes first. Just yesterday I recorded a concert where a very skilled and talented artist was having a problem with her stage monitor and asked for it to sound “more womanly.”  I’ve also been asked, among other things, to make something sound “more chocolate.” It sounds a little strange, but it’s not like there’s an obvious term for what they’re talking about, without having that technical vocabulary. Looking down at the equipment, there’s no “chocolate” knob, so you begin the process of understanding the intention and translating it into something sonic.

The more I continue to learn—especially about psychoacoustics—the more I think humbleness is in order for all of us. If there’s any doubt, question, or opposition, we like to respond definitively with the phrase “I know what I hear.” The truth is that we often don’t. This is innocent enough, because we don’t know that we don’t know. One of the core parts of my job is precisely “to know what I hear.” It’s such a rich area that there are always ways to know *better*, no matter how much you know now.

Language is one tool to describe sound, but there are also notation systems. Have you ever encountered a notation system so unusual or unconventional that it influenced your thoughts about musical performance or composition?

For some reason, I’ve always been attracted to the notational problems of composers. When I was in music school, I spent afternoons in the music library picking out random 20th century music scores that looked like they might be interesting. I wound up getting a great deal out of this, in part because it led me to see that all composers must not only have sounds in mind, but also must solve the grand problem of communicating physical instructions to let those sounds come into existence. When it comes to notation, some rather fearless models are out there which encouraged me to do whatever best gets the message across and to be open to whatever that solution looks like.

I also considered how composers use notation to get across (what I would call) different layers of meanings in their work. For example, I saw that in George Crumb, although sometimes the actual staff notation was not terribly unconventional, his layouts conveyed conceptual and symbolic aspects that might otherwise go unnoticed. I also saw smaller things Crumb did that improve clarity when one reads over a score to find relationships tying together disparate parts. In contrast to Crumb’s detailed work necessitating precise notation and complex techniques, you have Herbert Brun and John Cage using graphic devices that intentionally circumvent the ‘need’ for composer-determined precision. Some of the resulting notation systems look nothing like a conventional musical score, but get at the essence of what a score is: a practical tool to get the intended sound into the air.

World Listening Day 2013 at the Walker Art Center

World Listening Day 2013 at the Walker Art Center

Brian Heller is an artist and technician who approaches composition, recording, and education with a unique blend of skills. Since graduating from The Hartt School, he has been working as a freelance composer, recording engineer, and educator in both the public and private sectors. This has included work for Minnesota Public Radio, Antenna Audio Tours, Innova Records, Line 6, Zeitgeist, and numerous independent composers and performers. He has also published reviews and feature stories for Electronic Musician magazine, and held senior staff engineering positions at The Banff Centre, the Tanglewood Music Center, and the Aspen Music Festival and School. His compositional activities have included grants and commissions from several organizations, and performances and broadcasts across the United States, Canada, and the Czech Republic. He currently directs the Sound Arts program at Minneapolis Community and Technical College.

Reverberations of World Listening Day

Last Thursday was World Listening Day (WLD), an occasion to slow down and appreciate the complexity of listening. In the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, listeners withstood the heat and basked in refreshing sounds: fountain water, wind gusts, and conversations brimming with ideas being exchanged. Here are four of my take-aways from the Walker’s WLD2013: Tuning an […]

Last Thursday was World Listening Day (WLD), an occasion to slow down and appreciate the complexity of listening. In the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, listeners withstood the heat and basked in refreshing sounds: fountain water, wind gusts, and conversations brimming with ideas being exchanged. Here are four of my take-aways from the Walker’s WLD2013:

Tuning an instrument can be a metaphysical process.

Photo: Gene Pittman

Artist Philip Blackburn explains his Wind Harps to intern Katherine Lee. Photo: Gene Pittman

In beating sun and gusting winds, artist Philip Blackburn installed his Wind Harps. Throughout the evening, these five vertically oriented instruments provided subtle, eery sounds for the patient and attentive listener. In the process of assembling the instruments and tightening their fishing line harp strings, an intern asked exactly how they were tuned. Blackburn’s response was that it is more a metaphysical process than a strictly musical process. It involves adjusting the harps in response to the specific environment and conditions.

Listening is deeply personal.

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The Sculpture Garden on a summer evening, World Listening Day. Photo: Gene Pittman

As the sun neared the horizon and the heat relented, independent acts of listening were amplified by Soniferous Garden, a free leaflet created by artist Viv Corringham. Months earlier in the planning process, when I asked Corringham if she might prepare written instructions for listening, she replied that the instructions are really quite simple: resolve not to speak and open your ears to listening. From Corrinham’s perspective, what’s interesting about listening is not the “how to” but rather the “what then?” Corringhams’ contribution encouraged reflective listening and contemplation of sound’s role in memory, subjectivity, and experience.

Humans are not the only listeners.

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Participants at “The Ear of the Beholder” activity. Photo: Gene Pittman

What if you could try on another animal’s ears and listen to the world from that animal’s aural perspective? At World Listening Day, participants could do just that at “The Ear of the Beholder,” an activity led by biologists Mark Bee and Norman Lee. Using pop songs as a starting point, this activity led me to re-consider our sonic environment. Our soundscape is not inconsequential or purely incidental. Rather, embedded in the noise are abundant signals, many of which are inaudible or unintelligible to human ears. Imagine the diversity of organisms that, like humans, contribute to and depend on the soundscape for survival.

There are no limits to listening.

Participants at the “Mindful Soundwalk” activity. Photo: Gene Pittman

With gently closed eyes or a soft gaze, listeners opened themselves up to the full experience of receiving sonic information. Mark Nunberg, guiding teacher at the Common Ground Meditation Center, led listeners on a mindful soundwalk through the Sculpture Garden. Nunberg commented that there’s really no end to our capacity to explore and be receptive to our sonic environment. A listening practice is something one can return to again and again, at any point in time and in any setting.

Enjoy the listening.

A Parade of Flowers and a Football Stadium: Before the Sculpture Garden

Before the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden existed, the space was a formal garden, a playing field and, once upon a time, a swamp. As we celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, it is only fitting to comb through the archives and dust off some maps, memos and moments from the garden’s pre-history. On the […]

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Before the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden existed, the space was a formal garden, a playing field and, once upon a time, a swamp. As we celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, it is only fitting to comb through the archives and dust off some maps, memos and moments from the garden’s pre-history.

On the layout of the Lowry Hill Area in the late 1800s, Minnesota’s first ornithologist, Thomas Sadler Roberts, recalls a forest perfect for bird watching and fishing.

“The oak woods that is now Loring Park was in the country and the lake near by… had a considerable outlet—deep enough for bass and pickerel to come and go—which crossed Hennepin, the old territorial road, about where Harmon Place now joins that avenue. This stream ran into the weedy lake which with the surrounding meadow occupied most of the present Parade Ground. Ducks bred there and in 1877 it was still a meadow…” (Shotgun and Stethoscope, 1991)

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These first recollections of water and swamp would haunt the early history of the space. The Parade Ground, first called Hiyata Park, was an early name for the ten-acre plot that is now the Sculpture Garden. Minneapolitans constructed a magisterial Armory on the site with crenellated, stone walls for the Spanish-American War National Guard volunteers at the turn of the century. The area soon was to house athletic fields and demonstration gardens.

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The Armory would play host to many budding gardeners, eager to trade notes on floriculture in a hardy and challenging environment. A 1913 florist and horticulture convention would “demonstrate,” as park superintendant Theodore Wirth put it, “to the out-of-state visitors that the Minnesota climate is not so adverse to successful achievements in floriculture as some people from other parts of the country are inclined to believe.” Who knew the Minneapolis Florists’ Club Baseball team defeated the reigning All Star champs? Florists all over the country used to enjoy the bat-and-ball sport. By 1940, with field lights and bleachers installed, the Parade was “the place to play.”

A commercial plane landed in the Parade grounds from New York in 1920, setting a world record for freight transportation. In 1928, the year before the Armory was deemed unfit for usage, a public programming extravaganza was staged within its walls. This included an old time fiddlers’ contest, a “midnite frolic,” and a dance “Bearcat” marathon that lasted over 974 hours. Much like the Internet Cat Video Film Festival, “folks say it’s the silliest thing ever witnessed, BUT they all come back to watch the marathon.” (Journal advertisement,1928).  In 1933, the Armory was torn down after sinking nearly four and a half feet into the ground.

It was to change names many times. After the Armory sank, and the space was simply a garden, ideas were thrown around: the delicate “Parade of Flowers,” the formal “Cathedral Gardens,” and the rather academic-sounding “Park Board Demonstration Gardens.”

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The space that the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden inhabits has been of horticultural interest for over a century. While gardens were present for most of the first half of the 1900s, in 1967 the Parade’s flowerbeds were removed for construction of the highway. By 1973, there were only a “few fine elms” dotting the landscape.

In a memo from 1988, Martin Friedman announces, “It’s not everyday that we can grow a garden together—metaphorically, as well as actually.” It is hard to imagine that Minneapolis’s crowning jewel of horticulture and art was once a swampland frequented by ducks.

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All images courtesy of the Walker Art Center Archives.

Together at the Tree: An Interview with Jared Walhowe

I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Jared Walhowe, who works with two programs — The Garden Gleaning Project and Fruits of the City — housed within the Minnesota Project. If you had the opportunity to come to our most recent Free First Saturday you may have met one of the wonderful people representing […]

I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Jared Walhowe, who works with two programs — The Garden Gleaning Project and Fruits of the City — housed within the Minnesota Project. If you had the opportunity to come to our most recent Free First Saturday you may have met one of the wonderful people representing the Garden Gleaning Project and may even have taken home a lettuce or cabbage plant for your home garden. My conversation with Jared focused on his work in relation to some of the themes found in Fritz Haeg: At Home in the City.

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How did the Garden Gleaning Project come to be?

We started informally in 2010 or 2011. At the time I was working at a food shelf called Waite House, as well as Gardening Matters. Gardening Matters is a local gardening organization and emergency food shelf network that supports all of the local food shelves, as well as the food banks that these food shelves order from. At first it was just a couple food shelves and nonprofits that got together and talked about how to get more fresh foods and vegetables on the shelves and how to get gardeners to help. They hosted the meetings and it turned into the Garden Gleaning Project. That first year it was myself with Waite House and the Little Kitchen Food Shelf in our spare time.

The next year we received funding from Hennepin County which allowed us to hire community coordinators to serve as liaisons between the gardens and the food shelves. We’ve been able to do a lot more outreach than before; many people didn’t know you could donate fresh produce, or what foods the shelves were even looking for. We had neighbors that didn’t know about us. A really localized effort is our strategy: just that neighborhood around that food shelf. The coordinators make connections, advocate for the food shelves in the community, and build relationships with farmers and gardeners.

Food shelves are stretched; a lot of them are exclusively volunteer-run, some are open one or two days of the week, some are open every day but include one paid manager that works 24/7. Some have volunteer coordinators, but we’ve found that accountability increases with a stipend position. The little money we put toward that stipend position comes back many times over. It’s more than just the pounds of food; now our neighbors knows about the food shelf. Maybe they weren’t interested in giving money, but now that they know about other ways we need help they are more than willing to volunteer at home or at the community garden. But the program is really about building relationships.

We have another sister program that’s a little bit older called Fruits of the City. Fruits of the City has a class every month in relation to growing food, usually fruit trees, but smaller plants, too. The main thing that program does is to connect with fruit tree owners and get them to register their trees with us. Last year we harvested 40,000 lbs of apples – most of it was from backyards. There’s a lot of community building in that too, and that’s what I’m interest in. I have neighbors meet neighbors whom they had never met before, because they came out and volunteered at their neighbors’ house. There are different ways to engage in both the programs, and both of them are trying to explore getting more healthy food into food shelves and building those connections and relationships.

Part of your aim is to create a Toolkit to serve as a model to help other food shelves and gardeners connect on their own. Can you tell me a little about the resources you’ve compiled to help people build these gardener/food shelf relationships elsewhere?

Well, it’s a growing model. In addition to having a coordinator at each of these food shelves, a larger, much more long-term goal is to create resources to help food shelves do this work. Hennepin County funded this project, but they want our model to help food shelves everywhere. We were able to finish this last winter. The neighborhood coordinators contributed pieces, all of those nonprofits in the back contributed, and a lot of it is coming from the food shelves and what has worked for them.

What I think is really great about this is that we’ve gotten people to download it across the US and internationally as well. My hope is that our Garden Gleaning Project Toolkit changes so it can be useful in, say, the Southwest in the same way it’s useful here. It doesn’t have all the answers, but I think this can start the conversation and we want to extend the invitation to talk with us and help us build a stronger Tool Kit.

The role I want to play is in starting that conversation, and having done this project, we’ve had people reach out and share their own gleaning experiences. So my new question is how can we learn from and share information between all of these disparate organizations that are doing similar work and find out what’s working for them? I think soon there’ll be a conference or something, because it seems like people are starting to know about each other. I mean, Fruits of the City started doing it really autonomously; they basically just geocached the trees and let people do whatever they wanted. Garden Gleaning is a little more organized, because we want to bring people together at the tree. I want to see more of those gatherings.

Fritz Haeg said a great thing in an interview with Paul Schmelzer that I wanted to share with you, “The projects I’m most interested in are the ones that exist in this fantastic, ideal notion of what the city I want to live in looks like—creating some small piece of that and putting it into the least likely part of the city to see that contrast between the city we want and the city we have.” I was curious what your ideal city looks like and how your work with The Minnesota Project relates to that?

I guess ideally we wouldn’t need food shelves. Ideally everyone would have access to land. There would be public spaces where folks could harvest food for themselves and others.

We do have a little bit of that. There are some fruit trees on our greenways and public spaces, and that’s a beautiful thing. We really want to support this idea of a community orchard, that is, a public space that anyone is welcome to, where food is free. It’s accessible and there are no stigmas or barriers surrounding it.

We worked with the the Frogtown neighborhood to do a pop-up tree nursery where we took a vacant lot that used to be a liquor store and planted a bunch of tiny fruit trees and let them grow for a while. Seitu Jones headed up this project and distributed them to neighbors in the area. Anyone who wanted fruit trees could have them. Because of this project, we have lots of new fruit tree owners using land that wasn’t being utilized otherwise and making fresh fruit more accessible.

And these food/forest concepts of turning underutilized spots into very diverse, really open and accessible edible gardens, like Fritz Haeg’s Foraging Circle that are perennial, come back year after year, and don’t require a lot of maintenance are part of the city I want to live in.

The goal of parks is to serve everyone – you can’t have one person come and pick all the apples. My thought is that we don’t have enough apple trees. If there aren’t enough for everyone, we don’t have enough. We have laws that say foraging is illegal on park land and I think the Foraging Circle is going to help us break ground on that issue and raise questions about these regulations. It’s kind of a wavering line between an art piece and a park, and that helps show it’s possible. and I’m really excited that that happened. That the Foraging Circle is a permanent installment is incredible.

I mean, we aren’t an arts non-profit. I love that he [Fritz] is doing this work. It may help us make connections and maybe get more traditional art-goers to think about food in these realms and start conversations about food in terms of access and where it exists in those spaces.

The Garden Gleaning Project is relationship-based thing as well, and it doesn’t seem as tangible as the orchard, it’s more nebulous. We have constellations of gardeners growing a tiny bit here and a tiny bit there. But I think those are real things.

Going back to that quote, if we can incorporate more edibles and community orchards, community gardens, who’s to say it isn’t art? Who’s to say it is? And how do we bring the art outside? We think of art as in a museum, but how can we think of art as something that lives everywhere and is accessible? It’s not behind walls, there’s no admission. I’m very interested in that.

If you would like to donate your time or lovingly grown produce to your local food shelf, please register your garden at gardengleaning.org/register or your fruit trees by sending an email to fruits@mnproject.org .

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