Blogs Field Guide Open Field

Welcome Back, Open Field!

Sunshine, green grass, lazy lawn games, and community togetherness might be just the balm we need after a particularly daunting Minnesota winter. Open Field is back! Returning from a year-long construction-filled hiatus, what happens on the Field this summer is up to you and me, and a big group of strangers that will bring new […]

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Community Dance, Open Field 2012

Sunshine, green grass, lazy lawn games, and community togetherness might be just the balm we need after a particularly daunting Minnesota winter. Open Field is back! Returning from a year-long construction-filled hiatus, what happens on the Field this summer is up to you and me, and a big group of strangers that will bring new activities, projects, and ideas to life: Open Field is what we make together.

Since 2010 Open Field has hosted hundreds of public-created activities that exhibit a spirit of play, sharing, and social interaction. There have been bullwhipping demonstrations and financial education classes, baby picnics and conversational cafés, syncronized lawn mowings and art swaps. Beyond insisting on a few basic principles of Field etiquette, we ask just one question to prompt your activity brainstorming: what would you do with an Open Field?


Open Field Drawing Club, 2012


ROLU residency, 2012

2014 brings the return of many favorite aspects of Open Field, and the introduction of a few new elements. This summer’s 8-week festival kicks off with the all-night Northern Spark on June 14, and concludes August 14 with the ever-popular Internet Cat Video Festival. Thursday night collaborative Drawing Club returns weekly; Acoustic Campfire comes back as well from 8-10pm on select Thursay nights, with ten dynamic soloists and groups sharing sounds from hip-hop to Balkan party music (and a little of everything in-between); a variety of recreational equipment is available for on-the-Field enjoyment.


Maria Mortati and Chris Kallmyer. Photo: Gene Pittman

As in past Open Fields, the Walker is hosting two artists-in-residence that will present work on the Field for the public. Chris Kallmyer—who made his debut on Open Field as part of Machine Project’s Summer Jubilee in 2011—returns for  two weeks with a project called if all action were music.  Exploring actions and sound, Kallmyer will write, perform and collaborate with the public on a series of new works that position everyday activities as poetic experiences. In addition, Alison Knowles, a leading member of the Fluxus artist group, will be in residence with her collaborator, Joshua Selman, to re-stage her iconic event score Make a Salad on Open Field. While each performance is unique, the basic ingredients include Knowles preparing a massive salad by chopping the ingredients to live music, tossing it in the air, then serving the salad to the audience. Alison Knowles’ work is included in the Walker Art Center’s exhibition, Art Expanded: 1958-1978, which will be concurrently on view.


Angela Sprunger’s Art Swap, 2012


The Hummingbirds play Acoustic Campfire, 2012

Open Field remains a playful mix of planned and unplanned events, and the best parts to come are the still-unknown surprises. The invitation is open: “In the spirit of inclusivity, Open Field invites everyone and anyone to bring their best creative self forward as producer or participant.” –Open Field co-founder Sarah Schultz

All forms of participation are welcome—whether it’s relaxing at the picnic tables, joining a round of Drawing Club , or contributing to our community-led programming. Consider this the official call to share your skills, imagining, and experiments with your fellow Field-inhabitants and community members. Learn more about how to bring your programming to the Field over here (and read through tips and FAQs related to creating activities here). Scheduled summer programming is added to the Open Field calendar, and will largely take place on Thursday nights and during Saturday daytime hours. The Open Field team is committed to assisting you with program scheduling and idea clarification. Wondering if it’s realistic to plan on bringing a herd of goats to the Walker this summer? We can help: email

Open Field begins in 74 days! The outdoor greenspace is gradually making the transition from snow tundra to thriving lawn. While we wait for that to happen, you can check out more information on summer programming, dream up some ideas, and follow our twitter page for updates. See you in June!


Cat Call: Nominate Your Favorite Videos for #catvidfest 2014


It’s St. Patrick’s Day and we have an exciting announcement (in limerick form, obviously):

Since last year you’ve watched so many cats
We know, we’ve seen the YouTube stats
And now it’s your turn
To share faves or to spurn,
And we’ll post photos of kitties in green hats

Have a favorite cat video? Have a lot of favorite cat videos? Nominations are now open for the 2014 Internet Cat Video Festival, which takes place August 14 as a free community event at its original site, Open Field. Take some time to reflect on all the cat videos you’ve watched this year and select your favorites by May 1 to be considered for inclusion in this year’s event. Voting for the Golden Kitty (People’s Choice) Award begins on June 1, so we’ll be looking for your votes then as well!

You can find the nomination form right here.


Photos found searching for “cat shamrock” and “cat leprechaun” on Google


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 […]


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)


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.


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.”


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.


All images courtesy of the Walker Art Center Archives.

Living Classroom and Open Field: An Interview with Marc Bamuthi 

In the spirit of public exchange, the Walker presents Open Field: Conversations on the Commons, an online and print book examining our three-year experiment in participation and public space. This essay comprises a chapter of the publication, which will be released online in its entirety. On August 18, 2011, the Walker hosted Living Classroom, a […]

Marc Bamuthi Joseph’s Living Classroom, August 2011

In the spirit of public exchange, the Walker presents Open Field: Conversations on the Commons, an online and print book examining our three-year experiment in participation and public space. This essay comprises a chapter of the publication, which will be released online in its entirety.

On August 18, 2011, the Walker hosted Living Classroom, a daylong gathering exploring the question, “What sustains life in your community?” Activities ranged from games of dominoes with artist/activist Rick Lowe, founder of Project Row Houses, and a community walkabout — a tour and conversation about animating public space led by local architect Marcy Schulte — to a program of table tennis matches, karaoke, and a slide show with photographer Wing Young Huie.

The Living Classroom was born out of conversations around a monthlong project with Marc Bamuthi Joseph, a spoken word/theater artist and educator dedicated to building and supporting creative ecosystems. The residency was part of the Walker’s ongoing relationship with the artist that also resulted in the co-commission and debut of his interdisciplinary performance work red, black & GREEN: a blues at the Walker in March 2012.

On an early site visit, Joseph and collaborator Brett Cook introduced his ongoing project Life Is Living — a series of eco and art festivals launched in urban parks nationwide that bring performance, intergenerational health, and environmental action to a number of artists and community organizations. Their visit left a residue of excitement and questions: Why would community-based artists and organizations want to produce an event at the Walker? Why would a project focusing on under-resourced communities be situated there?

The partners decided that the majority of the residency should take place off-site, and that projects about specific communities should be sited in partnership with local grassroots organizations. Workshops, professional development sessions, and a block party took place in several neighborhoods.

Marc Bamuthi Joseph performs in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, August 18, 2011

For the component at the museum, the framework of Life Is Living met the values of Open Field. The collaborating partners created a day that emphasized dialogue and mutual learning. Joseph talks about this process with Susannah Bielak.

Susannah Bielak: Your catalytic question for Living Classroom is, “What sustains life in your community?” Will you answer that question for yourself? What does sustainability mean to you?

Marc Bamuthi Joseph: What sustains life in my community? Well, always the people, and the animal instinct to survive. “Sustain” is an interesting word because the fact is, my community, which for the purpose of this conversation I’ll characterize as the African American community in Oakland, California, is actually leaving. That city is a place where death, education, and the level of incarceration are functioning at an unsustainable rate. So, you would think that what sustains life are the people who are doing their very best to turn those factors around — soulful, artistic, creative healers and creative problem-solvers sustain life in Oakland. The means of creative problem-solving keep changing. Some of the problem-solvers are farmers and food activists. Some are artists and athletes. Some are just good dads or good moms. But the creative healers sustain life in Oakland. They sustain life in my community.

Bielak: We’re at a juncture where institutions are asking themselves about their relevance to the cities and communities in which they live. How do you see Open Field and the Living Classroom as related to the question of community sustainability and relevance?

Marc Bamuthi Joseph’s Living Classroom, Augsut 2011

Joseph:I think that the Living Classroom is populist and popular education at its best, but located at a specific site. What I love about the Living Classroom is that it invites a curated sample of organizations and artists  to reveal and inquire about the best practices toward provoking thought around sustainability. So much of our discourse is about saying, “I have an idea. I’m going to communicate this idea to you.” This discourse instead is about creatively finding ways to ask, to provoke, and to invite people into the conversation. To me, that’s a reflection of our Freirean pedagogy and it’s also a reflection of good politics and city management, where policy development is predicated on this invitation into the conversation. That’s what’s great about Living Classroom.

Bielak: Something we’ve learned from Open Field is that a platform for the public’s participation and collaboration requires structure and maintenance in order to flourish. As a self-described catalyst, what armatures do you build around participation, particularly for a project about sustainability?

Joseph: I am one of a class of what I call empathic intellectuals, which means that my discourse, my way of being in the world is based on energetic reciprocity. The word “armature” implies brick and mortar, steel and glass. But the primary structure that I build is energetic and emotional — finding a way not only in my own practice, but implicit and integrated inside my artistic fields of inquiry to generate safe space.

Whether we’re talking about the formal or informal classroom or the performance space, growth happens inside a safe space. This might be indicated through iconography, through fields of play, or through certain kinds of music. But I really think it’s the energy we ourselves carry that plays a role in this safe space. There are rigorous intellectuals who are lousy teachers because they don’t know how to orchestrate an environment for the interchange of information. Part of the whole strategy is to be intentional about safe space.

Bielak: It’s interesting that you called out the word “armature.” When I think of armatures in the context of this discussion, I think of soft architecture—the social structures, human work, and relationship-building at play in organizing. I see this integrally at play in projects such as Living Classroom and Life Is Living. What kinds of networks have you been part of, inquired into, and engaged with catalytically through this work?

Spoken word artist Tish Jones performs as part of Marc Bamuthi Joseph’s Open Field residency

Joseph:I think this goes back to the thesis of the work that we’re doing — the ecosystem — which hopefully mirrors the grand design of nature, in that the more diverse we are, the greater chance we all have for survival. We are interdependent.

Part of what I strive to do inside of the performance space, and also inside of an organizing model, is to 
prioritize a sense of interdependence. Sometimes 
that looks like the Living Classroom, with all the activities and participants. Sometimes it looks like a poetry slam for youth, where there’s a scaffolded development process for the young people, community participation on the audience level, and the integration of an institution such as the San Francisco Opera House or the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, for example.

Again, I think it’s my performance background and belief that as curators we’re not just responsible for locating objects in space, but we’re also responsible for communal experience. And that’s something I derived from my friend Ken Foster, who talks about communal experience being fundamental to the success of arts practice. Similarly, such experience defines the success of an organization. There are going to be some bumps in the road, emotional and logistical, but at the end of the day, if we have provided safe space for as many participants as possible, I think we’re doing our job right.

Bielak: A phrase that we’ve been using in relationship to Open Field is that of a “cultural commons.” While we don’t explicitly use the term safe, a driving principle of the project is to create a space where people want to be, and might really want to share. I’m wondering how you interpret the cultural commons, and what you might see as its value?

Marc Bamuthi Joseph’s Living Classroom, August 2011

Joseph:I love the phrase “cultural commons” because part of its value is both physical and nonphysical in terms of its occupancy of site. I think it’s fantastic, and also speaks to democracy. The idea of common ground or middle ground is different from compromise, which implies that there have been concessions made, whereas commons, or the common ground, implies a space where everyone’s ideas are welcome and preferred, if not prioritized. So I think that it’s a great phrase, politically, socially, and artistically, and might be something that I adopt to talk about what we do, because that’s really what it is.

Bielak:Life Is Living is a truly ambitious and multidimensional project that maintains a high degree of performance, including graffiti battles, youth spoken word, dance, and music. Here in the Twin Cities and at the Walker, the Living Classroom was far more about process and conversation than performance. Will Open Field and the process of the Living Classroom influence your artistic practice? Specifically, do you think the emphasis on the dialogical will influence you?

Joseph: Part of my arts manifestation is to reveal the process. There have been times at Life Is Living festivals when folks have asked me if I was going to perform. I would tell them that I am performing, that I don’t have to be rhyming or doing choreography to be inside of my artistic manifestation. The piece that’s going to come here to the Walker next year is evidence of that ideology — that we can reveal the  arts process as the object of a performance, or the object to be viewed. All that being said, the Living Classroom is also performative. It’s performance of culture; it’s performance of process. It’s also aesthetically beautiful.

Kite-flying on Open Field as part of the Living Classroom, 2011

The past few days, let alone my almost four-year relationship with the Walker, have introduced me to a certain vocabulary and to characters on the street that have placed me inside a context that will very much find its way into the finished product of red, black & GREEN: a blues. When we were in development with the break/s here about three years ago, there was something about the relationship between the education and community programs department, the performing arts department, and the visual arts program that made me want to create a work to fit in the middle of all of them. That’s what red, black & GREENis, and what I think the Living Classroom is.

Bielak: When you came in April, you sparked our citizenry with the question, “What sustains life in our community?” It seems like the way you worked on this residency was to plant a powerful seed, leave it alone, and return to encounter the flowers growing out of the residents. Is this a typical practice?

Joseph: No, it’s not a typical practice either for me or for the field. I would hope that it becomes more commonplace — this kind of active listening, quick turnaround, administrative dedication, and sacrifice. I think the current practice is for institutions to relate to an artist’s ideas in the codified form of object, and to present a platform for those objects to live. But I love the way that the Walker has absorbed, at least for a time, an artist’s process and integrated it into its own practices and processes.

Marc Bamuthi Joseph and Rick Lowe play dominoes on Open Field, August 2011

Open Field: When Bad Things Don’t Happen

In the spirit of public exchange, the Walker presents Open Field: Conversations on the Commons, an online and print book examining our three-year experiment in participation and public space. This essay comprises a chapter of the publication, which will be released online in its entirety. When Open Field launched as an expanse of grass, a […]

Ping pong on the terrace as part of Marc Bamuthi Joseph’s Living Classroom, August 18, 2011

In the spirit of public exchange, the Walker presents Open Field: Conversations on the Commons, an online and print book examining our three-year experiment in participation and public space. This essay comprises a chapter of the publication, which will be released online in its entirety.

When Open Field launched as an expanse of grass, a set of wishful ideals, dozens of museum-organized programs, and an explicit invitation for people to come and use the space for their own creative endeavors, it also began with a set of carefully constructed parameters. Four “guidelines” and twelve “rules” governed what a person could do (share skills, be creative) and couldn’t do (set up a grill, camp out, express hate speech) on the field.

These “Rules of the Commons” were a heavily debated subject within the museum. Questions of how to set up and maintain a privately owned, publicly available place played out in conversations that mirrored those you’d hear in a philosophy class. In staff meetings, we discussed issues such as: What are the central moral and ethical tenets of free speech and assembly? Who should be able to gather, to speak, to be here? What exactly do we mean by “the public good”? How do we construct written guidelines to communicate all of this?

The first version of the rules was intentionally minimal as a way of better communicating a spirit of openness. These most basic behavioral directives were later expanded and made more concrete after staff imagined several nightmare scenarios that could occur in an open, public space. We posted the rules on the Open Field website, but by the end of the project’s first summer, none of our fears about public misbehavior had come to pass. Political extremists did not evangelize, no one set anything on fire, and there were no trumpets played at midnight, which might have angered the neighbors. At the close of Open Field’s second season, we found that the situation remained much the same. Tai chi practitioners, guerrilla knitters, and Swedish chess players took turns sharing their skills on the museum’s lawn, and all did so in a friendly manner. The only ideological commotion I witnessed occurred midsummer, when a Christian flash mob cheerfully invited people to pray with them one busy Thursday night—hardly a disturbance; most people just ignored them.

Qi-qong practitioners demonstrate harmonizing movement on the field, 2010

Troublemakers or not, the participants who shared their creative activities on the field made good our experiment in crowdsourced content. Yet, this is not all that Open Field hopes to be. From the beginning, we set out to create a cultural commons using the outdoor space—a physical commons—of the museum. Out of respect for the concept of commons, and because that word is adopted so readily to describe its antithesis (shopping plazas or the grassy sections of private college campuses, for example), I think it is important to acknowledge the root concepts of commons and to articulate the differences between them and an institutionally driven, audience-participation project such as Open Field.

Generally speaking, a commons is a resource shared by a group of people. A vast literature outlines the history and contemporary practice of these systems, primarily in the realm of natural resource management and digital culture. In a commons, a set of resources—ranging from forests to scientific ideas—is regulated and shared by groups of people, all of whom contribute to regulatory systems that sustain the stuff that everyone uses. Without going into the long history and present complexity of these models, suffice it to say that Open Field was inspired by both the oldest and newest forms of such collective resource-sharing, from rights of pasturage for grazing sheep to Wikipedia.

In the case of Open Field, the available resources may not be as self-evident as a grazing meadow is for animals, but we found that several tangible assets help facilitate staging an activity on the field. The most obvious of these include amenities that take advantage of the open space, such as double-wide picnic tables and shade umbrellas, an expanse of grass-covered land, and a roomy soft-surfaced plaza that served as a stage. We also provided platforms for advertisement (analog and digital), some staff support, and social resources in the form of an audience. To that end, the museum is able to attract more substantial crowds to Open Field, which individuals working alone may not be able to gather.

An average day on Open Field

The drive to make rules governing the use and availability of these resources came out of an apprehension around the very notion of “open.” We were nervous about the idea of the museum’s backyard being overrun by conflicting cultural, political, spatial, and aural agendas that could lead to arguments between participants, or worse, clashes between visitors and the institution concerning the messy territories of free speech. Additionally, the Walker is located in a residential area; we had neighbors to keep in mind, too.

Establishing a set of basic guidelines allowed us to venture forward into possible conflict with greater ease, primarily by determining a clear authority for the grass-as-commons.In addition to some fundamental rules, we also set up a system by which people could submit their events to a vetted online calendar. This functioned as a way both to promote the public’s activities and to filter out suggestions that didn’t comply with the field rules (such as events that would cause sound violations) or proposals that didn’t mesh with the spirit of the field (overt attempts to advertise goods or services, for example). We viewed the rules and staff-managed online calendar as tools that would allow us to live up to the “open” in the project’s name, while maintaining the authority to stop activity we deemed potentially dangerous or damaging to either person or property.

At first, the notion of reserving such institutional authority was uncomfortable given the stated aim of the project, for isn’t everyone supposed to have equal power in the commons? Not necessarily. As scholars from the fields of economics, history, politics, and culture have stated, all commons have rules and managers. Economist Elinor Ostrom discusses them extensively in her work; in fact, she adapts commons-based regulations of natural resources to serve intellectual production in her work with Charlotte Hess, which are referenced in our interview with Lewis Hyde. Ostrom’s eight “design principles” shared by successful common-pool resource management systems include: rules adaptable to local conditions, ways for most resource users to participate in decision-making, monitors accountable to users, and self-determination of the community of users that is recognized by authorities. It isn’t that rules are unwelcome in the commons, but it is central to the notion that users will be able to participate in the process of decision-making about those regulatory principles. Architectural theorist Stavros Stavrides offers a similar view of the importance of user influence on governance. He posits that commons are not merely what people share, but also how they create and sustain these resources: “You have to be able to produce places where different kinds of lives can coexist in terms of mutual respect. Therefore any such space cannot simply belong to a certain community that defines the rules; there has to be an ongoing open process of rulemaking.”

Anda Flamenco demonstrates and teaches Flamenco dancing to Open Lounge participants, 2010

These ideas about shared resources and rules are helpful in thinking about the way Open Field’s participatory goals fall short. The project aims to offer a commons of culture, but it deviates from the basic principle of users’ rights to participate in shaping the framework of that shared space. We didn’t set up open systems for field programmers or attendees to weigh in on the structure of the overall program, nor did we build a mechanism by which they might adapt the rules in a way that better suited their projects. In fact, it’s difficult to know how many people actually read our “Rules of the Commons.” They were only available on the website, not in the physical space, so it’s unclear to what extent any of the field’s casual users knew about the governing structure of Open Field at all, or that a theory of the commons was at play in the project as a whole.

We initially put the guidelines in place in an attempt to prevent the bad things that we imagined could happen, but as the project continued, we realized the rules we established also played an important role in imparting a set of values that both reflected and helped shape the sociality of Open Field. The social operations of commons are in need of considerable attention. Ostrom and Hess’ very definition of commons is “a resource shared by a group of people that is subject to social dilemmas.”As people negotiate using a shared space potentially for wildly divergent ends, a stated set of values functions as a solid foundation upon which to navigate users’ differing desires.

The ethics of Open Field were more clearly articulated in the iteration of guidelines that ushered the project into its second summer. Written by Open Field coordinator Scott Artley and dubbed “Field Etiquette,” this text uses the language of preservation—“Protect the Spirit, Protect the Space, Protect the People”—to communicate many of the same rules but by emphasizing values of respect, trust, and responsibility. These principles, while not foreign to the institution, are less explicitly stated or modeled inside the museum walls.

In this sense, these rules of etiquette can be read as a mission statement for Open Field. With its emphasis on creativity and community, the project’s aim is similar to the Walker’s core mission to be “a catalyst for the creative expression of artists and the active engagement of audiences,” but it is important to note that the inside and the outside of the museum don’t operate on the same principles of openness. I’m not talking about gallery admission and theater tickets (though this is a distinct and obvious difference), but about the wild territory of non-curated programming accepted outside the gallery walls. Mark Allen of Machine Project once referred to this kind of experimental programming as a “shadow institution” that operates using a different set of rules than its parent. These two mission statements—inside and outside—can and should be part of the same institution.

The Swatch Team meets in the Garden Cafe, July 14, 2011

One lesson we’ve learned from Open Field is not to make the galleries more like the lawn, or vice versa, because each mode creates an interesting context for the other. The fact is that the inside and the outside don’t hold equal power. The gallery show and the collecting of art is part of a market-oriented system of money and power set apart from the experiments playing out on the plaza, which may or may not possess the same measure of quality. However, the juxtaposition of these two spheres inevitably raises interesting questions about how and why we value culture.

In my earlier list of Open Field’s resources, I neglected to mention an important one: cultural capital. This is a complicated term; I prefer the old-fashioned word for it, prestige. Open Field invites people to conduct creative activities in a communal space with other artists, including those chosen by the institution. Sharing a resource such as institutional prestige doesn’t happen easily for museums that have traditionally played the roll of gatekeepers of culture. This proved, in fact, much harder than making rules to outlaw infrastructure damage and hate speech. It’s not unreasonable that the museum asks people not to do bad things such as pounding stakes into the sprinkler system or throwing cruel epithets at each another. But what do we do if they come to the field and make bad art? Or, what if the activities they present aren’t art at all?

Herein lies a challenge for institutions that employ criticality as a necessary function of their program. At Open Field, the judgment of “bad” is reserved only for actions that damage the environment, either literally or by violating the trust of its community of users; this is much the same way that other commons operate. On the field, people share picnic tables and join each other’s programs. Crafters who might not otherwise find an open invitation at the museum come every Thursday for knitting club. A wide variety of forms of expression are welcomed and presented. There is enough room for everyone, so long as they respect the space and their fellow inhabitants. In this sense, the Open Field commons illustrates what David Bollier calls “a flexible template for talking about the rich productivity of social communities” as much as it is about sharing the physical resources of the site.

This way of operating effectively debunks the mindset of false scarcity informing the way many institutions dole out, or protect, their cultural capital. Open Field posits that there is plenty of prestige to go around, if we simply shift the way we view the ownership of ideas. Ostrom and Hess strike this nail directly on the head when they describe knowledge as a “‘flow resource’ that must be passed from one individual to another to have any public value.”8 Perhaps the best thing that could emerge from this project would be for the Walker to give up the notion of its cultural capital as a finite resource to be controlled in favor of looking upon its institutional prestige as an infinitely available resource, continuously renewed by all of the people who come to share it.

The author, at right, on Open Field for Futurefarmers: Auctions Speak Louder than Words residency activity, 2010

Open Field, as a structured program of the Walker, is slated for its third and final summer in 2012. After that point, some significant questions will come into play. The museum expends a considerable amount of money and time to activate the field through staffing, assistance with public activities, communications, and programming. When the sun sets on this support, what will happen to the commons we’ve created? Will people continue to hold dance concerts on the plaza? Will Open Field’s most active users return in the absence of the social infrastructure provided by the museum and develop their own methods of organization? And crucially, would the Walker welcome them once the direct invitation for participation is no longer extended?

It is clear, in hindsight, that the urgency we felt to make rules to protect Open Field and the museum from trouble were not really necessary for the reasons that first impelled us to create them; people have not disrespected the space. The real concern turns out to be the question of whether members of Open Field’s commons will continue to use the space once the institutionally sanctioned program is concluded. Each September, after the official programming ends, the public-organized activities also cease, even though the field remains open—the picnic tables sit there, and the sun still shines on the grass, even as summer transitions into fall. Does this lack of continued public engagement constitute a failed project?

Poet and historian Dolores Hayden draws an inspiring conclusion about failure in her study of American utopian societies: “But failure, I think, is attributable only to the most unimaginative experiments, and I am willing to define as a success any group whose practices remain provocative even after the group itself has disbanded.”

In that light, I suppose the success of Open Field remains to be seen. It was begun as a way to change the public’s view of their agency in an outdoor, culturally imbued place. The challenge now for the Walker is to transition this creative usage of space from a museum-centered program to a genuinely public practice. This can only happen when the project is over, whatever “over” means for an experiment such as Open Field. My wish for its future is that this could be a space governed by a common law of creativity and an ethic of trust, and that it be tended lightly by its institution and ruled by its users.


Summer Jubilee: An Interview with Mark Allen of 
Machine Project

In the spirit of public exchange, the Walker presents Open Field: Conversations on the Commons, an online and print book examining our three-year experiment in participation and public space. This essay comprises a chapter of the publication, which will be released online in its entirety. A confederacy of artists called Machine Project, which makes its […]

In the spirit of public exchange, the Walker presents Open Field: Conversations on the Commons, an online and print book examining our three-year experiment in participation and public space. This essay comprises a chapter of the publication, which will be released online in its entirety.

A confederacy of artists called Machine Project, which makes its home in a storefront space in the Echo Park neighborhood of Los Angeles, descended on Open Field for the last two weeks of July 2011. In a mere eleven days, an assembly of fourteen artists and musicians entertained and educated Minnesotans through seventeen different happenings. To list the workshops, performances, and surprising delights that the group brought to the Walker — an operetta for dogs, polygraph tests for museum visitors, a car theft workshop for kids, a choreographed performance showcasing amplified riding mowers, to name a few — only begins to capture their wildly imaginative residency project called Summer Jubilee.

Both visitors and staff came to expect the unexpected when Machine Project became a kind of institution embedded within an institution, occupying the Walker’s indoor and outdoor spaces in a curious, symbiotic way. Turn down a forgotten corridor nestled behind a gallery and you might be invited to bear your soul to a crew of opera-singing therapists. Exit your car in the underground parking ramp and you might stumble into a concert of experimental live music. The question of how artists work within and alongside the public — whether it’s inside the highly sanctioned sphere of the museum or its less controlled backyard — is something Machine Project founder and director Mark Allen discusses with Sarah Schultz.

Sarah Schultz: Here we are!

Mark Allen: Here we are!

Schultz: I thought it might ground the conversation if you could talk about your broad take on Open Field.

Allen: What I think works really well about Open Field is that it’s a space to do projects that are not under a lot of editorial pressure from the institution. Often when I’ve worked in museums, I’ve found that you can have a theoretical conversation about the value of experimentation, but you can still feel the institution’s almost psychic pain when projects go embarrassingly wrong, which itself is one of the most fruitful and exciting parts of an experimental practice. Open Field is a complex enough public container that it allows for things to fizzle without people necessarily feeling embarrassed.

Fruitful experiments

Often with projects in museums, there are a lot of clear signifiers — whether architectural or economic or introduced with signage — that tell you what the important things are and what the unimportant things are. My experience of doing projects with the Walker — not just for Open Field, but in general — is a feeling of benevolent neglect in terms of the curatorial ambitions of the museum. So, as an artist, it is a much easier way to work; it allows you to feel more like it’s just a space or that it’s your space, not one defined exclusively by the museum’s directive.

When thinking about how cultural institutions 
function in society, I often think in terms of metaphors of permeable membranes. After working 
here, I think about Open Field like an air lock: there’s the outside world, which isn’t necessarily an art context, and there’s inside the museum, which is clearly an art context. Open Field is this transitional space that the visitor passes through to go into the museum, so projects can propose different ways of looking at things using a very informal approach, which has a lot more flexible potential.

Schultz: Some of the criticism or confusion about Open Field concerns the idea of the space as an alternative to the gallery experience. Some people have questioned whether its activities provide a “real” museum experience. Does the field have the appropriate air of criticality that a museum should have?

Allen: The answer really depends on your philosophy of the purpose of the museum, and that’s a complicated question. There is a core traditional function that art museums do very well, which is to protect, preserve, and historicize objects, and to provide a focusing lens for the viewer to access those objects. The museum space is no more intrinsically critical than a telescope is; it’s just a way of focusing. What you choose to focus on, and how you choose to articulate the relationships between things is where the curatorial criticality emerges in the institution. And that’s not intrinsic to the fact the museum exists; it’s dependent on how the particular curatorial process works.
What is interesting about Open Field is that it does something I believe is important for the museum’s function, which is to construct a more discursive kind of space. The limitations of the museum purely as a focusing lens are such that it declares a priori what is valuable to look at, so the audience is not part of a discursive space so much as in the position of an observer.

I think in a very broad sense what is important about art in our culture is that it is a space for thinking about and proposing ideas that are not functionalized. It makes a space where we can look at an idea without saying, “OK, but does it make money?” Or saying, “OK, but does it cure cancer?” Or, “OK, but does it save on gas mileage?” We can look at ideas as potentially just interesting in themselves. I would like museums to more explicitly invite the public to be part of that process.

Schultz: Along those lines, Open Field is an experiment and there has been interest in adapting aspects of the project inside the museum. How important is it that the messy experimental space, whether it’s an artist project or an area outside the museum, is physically and conceptually bounded and contextualized? Does it become too chaotic if the whole museum is somehow a perpetual experiment?

Allen: In Machine’s past projects for museums, they can sometimes feel more like a direct critique of the function of the museum, because they suggest an alternative reality or another way of doing business in the space. When we did the one-day project at LACMA, even though it was not a sustainable way for a museum to operate, it allowed us to imagine the museum as a sort of carnivalesque performance space full of continual activity.

I’m currently trying to think about how to embrace projects that are exploratory and contingent, while at the same time maintaining the museum’s traditional functions. How do you do both things without saying that one is better than the other or that one should replace the other? And how do you sustain the tension between the two? There’s a real value in sustaining that tension, because it allows you to take what is often invisible about the particular mode of looking that museums facilitate and make it visible. It’s not about one replacing the other so much as it is about emphasizing what is special about each.

It’s kind of like ice cream and hot fudge. I don’t want to have just a giant bowl of hot fudge; it’s a little bit gross. And just ice cream is a bit boring. Having the contrast makes both things seem better.

Embracing the experimental within the museum is complicated for contemporary art museums be-cause, traditionally, they present experiments that worked out really great. This is quite different from presenting experiments at their institutions that are happening in real time and may be embarrassing for everybody involved. Museums are accustomed to presenting the thing that just happened, not the thing that is happening at that moment.

Schultz: It’s really critical that you find a way to let the audience know that we’re all in the middle of an experiment together, to be sure that we’re being inclusive in this discursive space.

Allen: I think you gain so much leverage by making that extremely simple-minded. And this is what I said to you before we started. We do a lot of things that suck, that are bad, that are, by all accounts, not good.

And you could say this to the audience, that a large percentage of the things we do will not be good — and it’s not because you didn’t get it, or you’re dumb, or you don’t understand contemporary art. But it gives you the opportunity to be there when something exciting happens. And actually, if you can move your embarrassment outside of yourself, it’s really pleasurable to be at those events that kind of fizzle, right?

Schultz: Right. But there’s a difference between doing that for two or twenty or thirty or forty people, or two people in an environment that’s free, as opposed to a 350-seat auditorium where you just paid $35 for the ticket.

Allen: Yeah, that becomes more complicated. The question is, how does the contemporary art museum expand into being an experimental space as well? This is how I’ve started to think about Machine Project. The storefront, in particular, is like the R&D lab, where the things get tried out. And then when we go to other museums, sometimes we enter a scenario like with you guys at the Walker, where we could bring the R&D, actually, to a large institution and have it supported.

Schultz: It’s interesting to think about the difference between attending an event that has been rehearsed versus one that is being figured out in real time. I suppose that’s the difference between work that is experimental and work that is an actual experiment. The latter seems to have more potential for creating what I think of as a kind of liminal, “you-had-to-be-there” moment. In previous conversations, you’ve talked about how people experience Machine experiments not only in real time, but also through the stories told about them after the fact. I think you referred to this as a kind of “folklore.” This strikes me as an important part of how you work, the community that forms around Machine, and how your collective ideas circulate in the public imagination.

Allen: There is something in particular about contingent and unreliable projects that connects to how events and stories happen in our lives. In life, there’s no guarantee what the outcome of an event or experience will be. There’s always the possibility that something will turn out to be not very good. You don’t necessarily know which party you go to that will give you an epic story you’re going to talk about for ten years. I think that uncertainty generates a sense of possibility. This doesn’t happen very much in museums because the quality has already been vetted. Work does not enter a museum until a bunch of people have decided it’s really good. But in Open Field, things enter without anyone knowing if they’ll be good or not and sometimes without anybody knowing they’re entering at all. So as an audience member, your presence becomes more important — not that you make the work, but because you might be witnessing a tiny historical moment. If it is already guaranteed to be important beforehand, the public doesn’t get to be an active part of that micro-history-making. So whether or not you attend the project, you can participate in perpetuating it as news or something significant.

Out in the Open: Six Threads

Open Field may have been heralded in with soft, intellectual discussion, but it wrapped up the first weekend of September with a bang: the purrs of cats and the Farmer’s Market flair of local jug bands. Open Field has eschewed definition, and yet its curious nature begs to be explained, debated, and defended. Here are […]

Open Field may have been heralded in with soft, intellectual discussion, but it wrapped up the first weekend of September with a bang: the purrs of cats and the Farmer’s Market flair of local jug bands. Open Field has eschewed definition, and yet its curious nature begs to be explained, debated, and defended. Here are six themes that defined Open Field for me and piqued my curiosity this summer:

Virtual knowledge/Shared spectacle

Artists-in-residence ROLU brought together artist-collaborators known to each other only through the internet into the space of the Walker; The Conversationalist’s Café drew passersby and strangers together in an attempt to bring people offline and face-to-face; and the Internet Cat Video Film Festival summoned 10,000 spectators to experience the beloved virtual in a tangible space.

Alternative means of trade

Like a tinker of yesteryear, Trading Tortoise set up camp on Open Field to barter goods from its travels across the country; artist Amanda Lovelee’s It’s Always Someone’s Birthday, So Let’s Celebrate! cheerfully enticed passersby to make birthday cards for an elderly home in exchange for birthday cake; Art Swap, once an ice shanty, mobilized art makers to trade artworks.

Shared creation

In its third year, Drawing Club did not cease to foster creations between unlikely parties and media; The Poet Is In opened the door for local poets to consult and collaborate; Doctor Sam asked us to think about and draw what makes things become “Better Together;”and The Big String Thing turned humans into fingers for life-size string figure formation.

 Shared consumption

Artists-in-residence Kitchen Lab designed a space of constant gastronomical exploration; Field of Reads made the local literary community pause and enjoy the written word for a Mass Read-In; The Swatch Team united fiber artists and the food community to ring in the autumn harvest.

Lost forms of communication

Post Office Love Letter encouraged people to think back to a time of social delicacies and epistolary exchange; Into the Blue – Cyanotype Photography took us back to the 19th century and the origins of photography; and Analog Tweet forced us to handwrite a telegram rather than post to Twitter.

The Absurd

Baby Picnic functioned as a business meet-up for the very, very young; Adrian Freeman’s Acoustic Campfire staged karaoke within the makeshift context of a fort; and Jonathan Zorn invited the public to clap with wooden boards with every synchronized step into the night.

Open Field has created countless ephemeral moments– and to use Amy Franceschini’s idea, a temporary commons– in which these six threads thrive. The Tool Shed’s hours may now be limited, but Open Field will continue to inspire curious moments of communal clarity and creation. It is, afterall, what we make together.

Red76 Interview: If We Had a 

In the spirit of public exchange, the Walker presents Open Field: Conversations on the Commons, an online and print book examining our three-year experiment in participation and public space. This essay comprises a chapter of the publication, which will be released online in its entirety. In midsummer of Open Field’s first year, museum visitors encountered scrap […]

Red76′s Floating Academy sets sail, August 8, 2010.

In the spirit of public exchange, the Walker presents Open Field: Conversations on the Commons, an online and print book examining our three-year experiment in participation and public space. This essay comprises a chapter of the publication, which will be released online in its entirety.

In midsummer of Open Field’s first year, museum visitors encountered scrap wood, hammers, drills, and saws on the lawn for their use. These tools were a part of Surplus Seminar, a project organized by artist collective Red76 to explore ways that we repurpose knowledge and materials by giving people an opportunity to activate their dual roles as consumers and creators of ideas and things.

Red76’s three-week Open Field residency included several components: Anywhere/Anyplace Academy (A/AA), the improvised construction of multiple schoolhouses on the field built from scrap materials at the museum; Pop-Up Book Academy (P.B.A.), a discussion series with seven guest speakers; House Show as School House (H.S.a.S.H.), a set of weekly concerts at underground venues in Minneapolis that were followed by conversations on the pedagogical nature of DIY music; and YouTube School for Social Politics (YTSSP), an ongoing platform that invites people to construct video essays using material found only on YouTube. Surplus Seminar concluded with the Floating Academy, a conversation about commons that took place aboard a flotilla of handmade rafts.

This residency involved numerous people as participants and organizers. Here, the project’s primary
architects — Courtney Dailey, Dylan Gauthier, Sam 
Gould, Gabriel Mindel Saloman, and Mike Wolf — 
answer questions about each component of the residency in an e-mail exchange with Sarah Peters.

In keeping with the concept of a seminar, this interview includes bibliographic references for further investigation of ideas explored throughout the group’s project. (more…)

Futurefarmers Interview: A People Without a Voice Cannot 
Be Heard

In the spirit of public exchange, the Walker presents Open Field: Conversations on the Commons, an online and print book examining our three-year experiment in participation and public space. This essay comprises a chapter of the publication, which will be released online in its entirety. A gramophone, two giant chalkboards, a colossal megaphone, custom-printed money, a […]

Futurefarmers in the Cowles Conservatory, 2010

In the spirit of public exchange, the Walker presents Open Field: Conversations on the Commons, an online and print book examining our three-year experiment in participation and public space. This essay comprises a chapter of the publication, which will be released online in its entirety.

A gramophone, two giant chalkboards, a colossal megaphone, custom-printed money, a forty-eight-hour newspaper, a pirate radio station, an ethnomusicologist, a choir conductor, an auctioneer, a film 
archivist, and fifteen college students. For three weeks in late summer of 2010, the animate and inanimate came together to tell the story A People Without a Voice Cannot Be Heard, a project by Amy Franceschini and Michael Swaine of the San Francisco–based artist collective Futurefarmers and co-commissioned by Northern Working alongside a core group of local art and design college students and guest practitioners from various fields, the artists established a temporary classroom investigating how voice is used as a tool for exchange and liberation.

The collective designed a series of objects and public events to raise the expression of the people, including a large, mobile, multiple-person voice box and an auction that invited young and old to share stories and assign value to personal objects through a system of bartering and exchange. Sarah Schultz talks with Franceschini and Swaine about the relationship between their work and the commons.

Sarah Schultz: What about the idea of the commons interests you?

Amy Franceschini: I am interested in the idea of a common language formed through a collective practice that works toward a shared, open knowledge base: an open field. Think of the use of Latin in naming plants. This universal language is shared by botanists worldwide. Also referred to as binomial nomenclature, it situates a plant within a family and its relatives — a sort of belonging — “a dictionary of the sciences of the eye.”
While Latin plant language is primarily used by “professional” botanists as a basis for communication and building knowledge about the plant world, there is also a “common” naming system that usually describes a plant in terms of its visual appearance, smell, or habits within its environment. This common language, nuanced and specific to various cultures, is also referred to as “folksonomy.”

What interests me about these naming systems is the attempt to create a shared language in the pursuit of shared knowledge: a human desire to communicate what we know and to share this knowledge for a “common good.” But what is good in one scenario (time and place and people) may not be good in another. I think these variances are what interest me about the commons — the uncommonness.

Futurefarmers collaborators Anthony Tran and Annie Wang build a radio as part of the workshop Unregulated Radio: The Promise of the Democratization of Media, 2010.

Schultz: Does any of this influence the way you think about your work?

Franceschini: Joseph Beuys, during his Energy Plan for the Western Man tour, talked about how creativity is central to change or evolution and that it should not be limited to “a narrow group of specialists called artists.” His ideas have resonated with me for years, and Futurefarmers as a project embodies this concept. We are interested in forming groups with people from different fields and ideologies who come together to make new work. Oftentimes, a disparity of backgrounds and approaches is present in the group, which prompts everyone to see through new eyes. In Vera John-Steiner’s book Creative Collaboration, she speaks of a “co-creation of knowledge.” She writes, “Generative ideas emerge from joint thinking, from significant conversations, and from sustained, shared struggles to achieve new insights from partners in thought.”

Our work is very process-oriented and hands-on. We find that connecting the mind and hand is imperative. We often create open spaces for production that welcome improvisation and the idiosyncrasies of collaborators. The “making” with other people creates a space for exchange and the experience of entering into something that does not have a known outcome.

Michael Swaine: I think my influences have grown out of the streets; this place where people bump into each other is always full of potential. Often I think of air conditioners as a symbol of what technology and architecture bring us. A small box that attaches to our window, partially blocking our view to the outside world, softening the effect our environment has on us. If we walk outside, we are hit by the sun and the smell of the city. I think it is this shared experience without air conditioners. An open space needs the potential of being unpleasant for being un-conditioned.

Schultz: Amy, several times during your project you mentioned the notion of the temporary commons. What did you mean by that? What is the power or impact of the commons (or community) that is momentary?

Franceschini: I think we have been conditioned through logics of tradition, national heritage, and so on, to hold onto ideas and fight to protect and continue things. We have a tendency to want to replicate moments of wonder, so we now spend so much time documenting and pushing those moments to other publics that the very moment is no longer experienced in real time.

For example, I live in the oldest artists’ community in the United States. It began as a squat in the 1970s. Word was out on the streets that artists could live for free in an old warehouse. Slowly the vacant building became active and occupied by radical artists and thinkers. The floors were all open and people just camped out wherever they pleased. As more people came to the building, they began to draw lines with chalk on the ground to demarcate personal spaces. Slowly those lines became walls and then rooms with doors and then doors with locks, etc.

Futurefarmers and team discuss their giant megaphone inside James Turrell’s Sky Pesher.

For a moment, there was utopia; truly shared space without notions of ownership or definition. But as soon as the chalk went down on the ground, so did pages of bylaws, legal issues, and broken friendships. Through years of negotiations, the building still lives, but the spirit of those days is only portrayed in historic photos in the hallways and on the occasional work day when ten or so of the one hundred twenty residents come out to contribute sweat to the common areas of the building. These days are the most inspired, communal, and democratic. On these days, we are mostly dealing with a broken utility that would normally be expensive to fix, but those who show up work together to come up with ingenious, ad-hoc methods to fix the problem. This shared moment of physical labor coupled with ingenuity creates a bond. Maybe this is another form of a temporary commons — the moment, not the preconception or the product, but the moment of shared production.

Schultz: Your project was rooted in the notion of voice. I was particularly taken by the role of stories and storytelling throughout the project. What are your thoughts about the role of storytelling in creating a commons?

Franceschini: Again, this comes back to language. The idea of a shared language was connected to our interest in the Jonathan Swift story “On the Difficulty of Talking with Objects.” In this story, three professors are in conversation about how to improve their country. They propose to shorten discourse by cutting Polysyllables into one and leaving out Verbs and Participles, “because in reality all things imaginable are but Nouns.” The other scheme was for entirely abolishing all Words.

What I think Swift might be getting at in this text is that things are not only nouns. In fact, nouns might just be a quick way of incorporating a whole lot of meaning into one thing. A building is a noun, but a building is so much more than the word. And if you are to use only objects to express the meaning of a building, you would need many. So in one way, language can replace the physicality of things and express nuances and misunderstandings that make life so interesting.

Futurefarmers deep in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, 2010

Swaine: Stories are a wonderful example of the advantages of creating with a material that is cheap. For the Open Field project, we started with the voice as an idea and a way to pick up a material that everyone could in some way feel connected to. We had another idea about using gold. Let’s say we took $40,000 worth of gold and put it in a big pile on the lawn of the Walker. Then if we traded the gold for lead, we would lose some of its value, as some of it would be transferred to the people involved in the trade: truckers, guards, commodity traders, etc. So then we’d have $33,650, and we’d turn the lead into silver, and then into diamonds, and then into saffron, and so on. Then we’d be down to $27,121, and it would have all happened within a week of moving and melting. As the show progressed, the pile would change shape and material, but it would also slowly shrink until it would have vanished. We’d have nothing left except the story in words — and not the printed word, as that would still be a material cost — but the spoken word. This is the material left when all else is gone: the voice. We have the words in the air that remember the gold turning into lead.

Schultz: In our conversation with author Lewis Hyde [to be published online soon], Amy brought up the notion that the commons must be practiced. Michael called this an act of citizenship. Can you expand on these ideas? Do you think that participating in projects such as A People Without a Voice or Open Field is an act of citizenship?

Residency participants prepare to assemble a giant megaphone on the field, 2010

Franceschini: I think it has to do with presence and participation, not just in an art project but in life; your city, your friends, your family. In the wake of the Occupy movement, this idea becomes even more relevant. People are coming together in public spaces, speaking with their bodies. Right now their presence is the most important aspect of the movement. It is a call to action. Their “lack of direction” (as described by the media) and openness in the General Assembly meetings allows for a large cross section of ideas, struggles, and concerns to be heard. It is a space to share and understand each other’s varying perspectives. I am not sure this is an act of citizenship. “Citizenship” implies a certain exclusivity. Maybe we need a new word.

I think there is something here about the importance of dialogue in a democracy — perhaps as a form of citizenry? The idea of practice implies an embodied experience or action with intention. It is one thing to practice alone, but as Jim Melchert once said, “Conversation allows you to hear for the first time a thought you had.”5 I think this exchange is where form and meaning emerge — where disagreement can occur, assumptions can dissipate, and true change can happen. But to take the dialogical exchange a bit further into a material articulation of ideas — from mind to hand in collaborations with others — ideas can be seen, inscribed, and openly interpreted. “To see an idea is to forget its name, thus a new or shared meaning can emerge.”

Swaine: I think A People Without a Voice Cannot Be Heard was more on the side of teaching than politics, but teaching is a great example of a place that has such an important role in both citizenship and politics. If we are not taught to speak, then we will not know how to yell our protests. School should be a place where we learn how to speak freely.

Balls, the Futurefarmers’ marionette show, 2010


Acoustic Campfire: Brian Laidlaw & the Family Trade

Tomorrow night we have the special pleasure of dancing alongside the ever-jolly Brian Laidlaw & the Family Trade preceding the highly anticipated Internet Cat Video Festival. To that end, we have heard rumors circulating of a Cat Power/Cat Stevens mash-up by said band which is sure to act like crowd cat nip. Brian Laidlaw & […]

Tomorrow night we have the special pleasure of dancing alongside the ever-jolly Brian Laidlaw & the Family Trade preceding the highly anticipated Internet Cat Video Festival. To that end, we have heard rumors circulating of a Cat Power/Cat Stevens mash-up by said band which is sure to act like crowd cat nip.

Brian Laidlaw & the Family Trade rollicked onto Open Field earlier this summer for an intimate Northern Spark fireside concert. Old-timey, fresh-faced, and family-friendly, Brian Laidlaw & the Family Trade marry the sound of Appalachian folk music with light-spirited poetics and bright harmonies. Brian Laidlaw, a San Francisco transplant, crafts instantly infectious tunes that –much like cat videos– are too addictive be ignored. Come early for the 7pm Acoustic Campfire finale!