Art & Ag ProjectYolo County, CA
For decades, Yolo County has been a leader in farmland preservation in California. This culture of agriculture resonates from the county’s land grant university, University of California, Davis, and throughout the farms and fields of the region. 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.
ArtPlace asked Janice Purnell, Project Manager of the Art and Ag Project, what she thinks are the three keys to creative placemaking. Here are her thoughts:
The first key to creative placemaking is to identify the culture and character of the community – and to build a program which highlights these attributes. Yolo County has been a long-time leader in farmland preservation and preventing urban sprawl between cities, as evidenced by the farmland that surrounds each community. Yolo County is also a leader in organic farming, is home to the nationally recognized Davis Farmers Market, numerous seed research facilities, rice processors, a tomato cannery, and thousands of backyard gardeners and hundreds of artists. The thread that connects these groups is the desire to preserve the land for agricultural uses. The Art and Ag Project complements this overriding desire and is becoming an important part of an overall county-wide vision of economic development rooted in agriculture. It is igniting a new understanding of the arts’ role in the local economy –and is being seen as a viable contributor attracting and retaining human capital and creating a vibrant community. The agricultural land around us defines our sense of place in Yolo County; our palates are inspired by the local food we eat; and a growing art scene throughout the county feeds our souls. The Art and Ag Project strives to unite all three.
The second key is to build strong partnerships with like-minded individuals working together for a common goal. Our partnership with the Yolo Land Trust, which advocates for land preservation and the Davis Farmers Market Foundation, which spreads awareness of local food and healthy eating has been integral to the success of the program. In addition, it is important to have the vision to engage the creative energy of a wide range of individuals – even those who might not otherwise be engaged with the arts. The Agricultural Commissioner of Yolo County is an example of another recent collaborator. Our work with the Ag Commission has brought significant recognition of the arts to farmers, food producers and vendors as it facilitates a strong sense of the value and pride of going local. Our anticipated work with his agency to create a new website will integrate a groundbreaking new art component as a direct result of his connection and familiarity with the Art and Ag Project. There is discussion on an educational piece reflecting the USDA’s food plate, America’s visual nutrition guide that can be developed. It is these indirect impacts which make it imperative that a placemaking project reach out to a variety of partners and be open to the possibilities of future collaboration even if it is not immediately apparent how that might unfold.
The third key to creative placemaking for the Art and Ag Project is the implementation of public art. Public art serves an important role in this small community. It provides a permanent symbol which celebrates what connects us – our heritage, our diversity, our environment. It creates a focal point which helps to revitalize civic life through pedestrian activity and social events. The currently proposed site for a public art piece which was recently approved by the Yolo county Board of Supervisors is at the entrance to the County Administration Building which also houses Gallery 625 one of a handful of galleries in this small town of 50,000. This work of art will improve the surroundings and encourage foot traffic into the gallery and stimulate downtown cultural and related business activity.
Currently, this work is a signature product of YoloArts…but there is no reason this concept cannot expand to other galleries and businesses in our county. Why not turn Ag Week (currently a series of breakfasts, lunches and dinners honoring agricultural heritage) into ART & Ag Week. This dual cultural celebration would bring fresh faces to understand the county’s commitment to agriculture and local art and artists. There is more we can do with this concept, stronger deeper connections. We can and should move to bridge the awareness of indigenous art forms in our county – by our Native American tribal nation – Yocha Dehe wintun Nation. Creative placemaking can and should include indigenous cultures….who by the way were the first farmers of our region. Creating a stronger link to all of our residents will take the creative placemaking to a richer more inclusive end….or should I say beginning.