The Farm/Art Dtour is one of the more unique ArtPlace grantees due to its pastoral setting. “Farm-based ephemeral art installations”  and artist-made “Roadside Culture Stands” join gustatory experiences like tastings, demonstrations, and farm tours. Wormfarm Institute, the group leading the project with support from the county economic development organization and state tourism office, calls their approach “economic gardening.”

Executive Director of Wormfarm Donna Neuwirth reflects on a successful pilot Farm/Art DTour through 50 miles of rural farmland punctuated with art installations, farm stands and more:

ARTPLACE: What are the biggest challenges you have encountered?

NEUWIRTH: With a complex project and a range of partnerships comes a range of competencies and priorities that require repeated communication of broader, long-term vision to partners and larger community. Coordinating a complex new event with hundreds of working parts requires sharing responsibility often with untested relationships. Although we have received notable demonstrations of local support, we continue to experience “community skepticism”.

ARTPLACE: What have you learned to date that you can apply to your work and that other ArtPlace grantees can learn from?

NEUWIRTH: Change happens very slowly, and our past explorations pave the way for the next ones. This ambitious project could not have happened without the experiments that came before, creating a more fertile environment for positive change. Each project we undertake, even if it ultimately fails, demonstrates commitment, fortitude and resilience – strengthening our organization for the next challenge while attracting future collaborators.
Another thing we are learning is not to let short-term economic results subsume the long-term vision. This may be especially important in rural areas where we are so spread out: It’s important to have regular meetings with a close circle of enthusiastic supporters / fellow visionaries and, of course, the artists – the folks who really get what the work is about on a macro level. It fortifies you for the less imaginative folks. That being said it’s very important to befriend the bean counters; they need you as much as you need them. Though arts are at the core of our work, we are collaborators with commerce, farming, education, tourism and civic life.

Ultimately, the verbs of art are more important than the nouns of art; process and engagement are everything. Others will note entrepreneurial opportunities and build on our event, creating a multilayered, vibrant swarm of activity that translates to a thriving place.

ARTPLACE: Have you had any unexpected surprises — good or bad?  If so, tell us about them.

NEUWIRTH:  Some great surprises- we have had unprecedented local support. The Sauk County Board of Supervisors made a public declaration honoring us for this event. There was an immediate, beneficial economic impact on many local businesses. You can’t underestimate the power of that fact.

We truly attracted a diverse audience – (farmers, business owners, urban visitors, elected officials, school kids) who “got it.” We have strong buy-in from landowners who are looking forward to next year.

There are certainly partnership challenges: with so many elements and multiple partners some work better than others. It’s worth the time and effort to rise to that challenge. We don’t have all the answers but we have a clear direction forward.

This one snuck up on us: Investment in the community (large grants) can be misperceived as a windfall for organizers.

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