Farm/Art DtourSauk County
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.”
ArtPlace asked Wormfarm co-founder Donna Neuwirth: “What have been your most effective strategies for attracting the attention of people who matter?” Here’s her reply:
Effective strategy #1: Luck. -To quote Woody Allen’s Crimes and Misdemeanors- “sometimes to have a little luck is the most brilliant plan”.
Strategy implies thoughtful planning and sometimes you just stumble into a good position that nurtures creative work and attention eventually follows. As we look back we can see how certain decisions we made somewhat impulsively have paid off. Most of it is luck, timing and persistence. Our late in life discovery of farming and the whole complicated elemental world of growing food just happened to coincide with the growth of the local food movement. There is certain vibrancy there, a widespread spirit of discovery that we never could have foreseen when we were making our own discoveries.
Effective Strategy #2:-Investment – have some skin in the game
Several years before the DTour project, we bought an old storefront on Main St now housing our office and gallery. It was an eyesore – with boarded up windows and aluminum siding but underneath was a lovely historic building built in 1891 and on the National Register of Historic Places. So we began the restoration process. This attracted the attention of Monica – a local history buff who was born and raised in town and as it turned out was an accomplished painter. To Monica what we were doing mattered and she helped us. This led to more local engagement.
Effective Strategy #3: Build on existing assets
We are fortunate to live in the only rural Wisconsin county that provides grant support for the arts. Through the hard work of those who came before us and a relatively hospitable environment, the regions cultural infrastructure and related economy has grown. At this fertile time, we were able to realize several increasingly ambitious projects exploring the parallels and synergies between farming and art making.
Effective Strategy #4: -Do and do some more.
In the wake of a stream of talented resident artists, came projects, experiments, exhibits, festivals. The doing, the failing, the learning and the doing again all seem to have, over time attracted key individuals, collaborators and important local funding.
Effective Strategy #5: Tell your story.
I wouldn’t be writing this blog today if our story had not been well received. A thrilling year with unexpected attention from people who matter along the urban rural continuum so important to our work, has us on the horns of a dilemma. Thanks to ArtPlace, NEA and the digital universe, our story has escaped flyover country and found kindred souls across the nation. But we remain a small founder-led rural organization tied to a very particular place with unique definable features and complex challenges – a place that needs and deserves sustained attention. Sharing our story – to attract new people who matter - people who may be able to see the bigger picture and whose attention and resources could amplify the work we do, may come at the expense of the doing. This is our struggle – to balance local action and global connection, a new variation on a familiar American conundrum – how to have our cake and eat it too.
Effective Strategy #6 – Meet Christo and have him like us.
That would be a most effective strategy.