I haven’t been writing here much lately because I have been deep in the flow of a new project in the tangible space outside of the computer. I spent most of the winter in planning mode, but now that the weather is warming up, it is finally starting to come together which is so rewarding. This a project with roots (literally and figuratively) in my work as an art educator, if not obvious from the outside.
Over the Fence Urban Farm is an urban agriculture experiment I’m working on with my family and some friends. It combines my interests in community-based and collaborative art education with environmental art. The project is providing me a space to be a leader, to organize tasks and delegate responsibilities in the interest of a large scale project. When I look out at our work at the end of a long day or shoveling, carrying, bending, and seeding, I feel a sense of accomplishment. At 2,000 square feet, this is the largest canvas I have ever painted. A living, ever-changing mural.
In college, I took an experimental course called “Sacred Space,” co-taught by professors of studio art and philosophy, in the name of cultural geography. I have thought about this course over and over for nearly two decades. The content and experiences we had around what we were learning was so rich. I didn’t fully appreciate it at the time, but I know it now. Together we scrubbed our classroom which no other students would have access to for the semester. We left our shoes outside the threshold, which we adorned in various ways over the course of the term. We altered the room each week to reflect mountains, labyrinths, caves, and trees among other natural and manmade forms that shape the worlds we inhabit, and which in turn, as Winston Churchill aptly noted, shape us.
Sacred Space helped me connect my interests in environmental appreciation and conservation with my interests in art. It primed me to fall in love with artists like Mierle Laderman Ukeles, Andy Goldworthy, Lynn Hull, and Aurora Robson. And it set me up for what I’m doing in my backyard today.
I like to think we’re creating a sacred space, “special” space if we appropriate Dissanyake’s definition of art, on the small plot of land we’re transforming. We’ve only begun the process, but in some ways that is the most amazing part. Clearing the sod was like priming a wall. Turning the soil like establishing the underpainting. All the rest will be details.
[Note: An extension of the ideas begun in this post can be found in “Art education in my backyard: Creative placemaking on an urban farm“) which was published in Artizein: Arts and Teaching Journal, Fall 2015).