Art & Ag ProjectYolo County, CA
To preserve its unique identity, Yolo County, California made a decision to remain primarily a county whose major economic driver is agriculture. To ensure continued public support for this balance between urban areas and open farmland, the Yolo community is undertaking a variety of innovative programs. One of these is the first-of-its-kind Art and Ag Project, combining two of Yolo County’s prime resources: a high concentration of artists and its rich heritage of farming and beautiful working landscapes. The program invites artists to paint, draw, sculpt and photograph Yolo County’s farms with the full participation of local farmers. Bringing together artists and farmers in this program has already created a ‘buzz’ — and is helping raise awareness about the importance of preserving working landscapes through the visual arts.
The funding from ArtPlace now plays a central role in supporting the success of this effort. It has enabled YoloArts to expand the project by funding artist and farmer stipends, master artist workshops, social networking and video documentation, as well as commissioning a major work of public art.
Janice Purnell, the Art and Ag Project Manager talks about the happy surprises and challenges she has seen in the course of running this innovative program:
ARTPLACE: Have you had any happy surprises in your work to date?
PURNELL: Our 2012 Monthly Artist to Farm Visits start up next week and we have received the most RSVPs we’ve ever had for a single farm visit. A third of these RSVPs are from artists new to the program. It is very exciting to see the momentum of the program accelerating. I believe this increased artist participation and interest in the program is the result of our newly redesigned website. www.yoloarts.org It’s easier to find information on it, and it’s becoming a central resource for artists in the region. Another happy surprise is how much larger farms are now willing to host the artists. This helps fulfills our goal of engaging all types of Yolo farms in our program. Finally, we were delighted to receive a request for a meeting with the Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, Rocco Landesman! He is visiting us in Yolo County next week to learn more about our program. Of course, we are looking forward to his visit and sharing with him what we do.
ARTPLACE: As you reflect on your work to date, what unexpected challenges have you encountered?
PURNELL: One of the activities funded by ArtPlace is the creation of a public art piece. We had an unexpected setback when we were originally unable to secure a permanent location for the piece in a timely manner. That changed recently and we are now back on track and ready to move forward with the commission. Also, telling the story of the Art and Ag Project is a challenge, since it is really the first of its kind, so we can’t take anything for granted when we describe it. Related to this, is how we measure and describe the benefits of this program in economic terms. Again, it’s a new program, but we’re quickly learning to develop the metrics to show the kind of economic vibrancy it’s having.
ARTPLACE: Are there things you’ve learned in your work that others in the creative placemaking field can learn from?
PURNELL: Be pleasantly persistent when pursuing your goals. Never lose sight of the creative aspect of the project. And, of course, partner, partner, partner…two, or three heads are better than one, and it’s always exciting to see the synergy that develops among different groups with a shared goal.