Food ChainSauk County, WI
Food Chain and Farm Art DTour are two linked projects that grew out of the annual event Fermentation Fest- A Live Culture Convergence. ArtPlace spoke with Wormfarm co –founders Donna Neuwirth and Jay Salinas about their process.
ARTPLACE: What has been the thorniest issue you’ve faced to date? How have you dealt with it?
NEUWIRTH AND SALINAS: Prior to ArtPlace support we had been realizing creative projects in our rural community for over a decade. Most were representative of our personal passions and proclivities but always with an eye towards engaging with those who were not already disposed to share our interests. (And, frankly, there is no way we would be in this position if it were not for this self-serving aspect of the work.)
Whether it was developing an exhibit based upon discovered private erotic drawings of a seemingly typical 1930’s Wisconsin farm wife or convening a panel discussion on adaptive re-use as it relates to art, architecture and agriculture, Wormfarm programming reflected a unique sensibility rooted in the passions of its founders and the undervalued wealth of the place we called home. And though there were obligations to funders and the board of directors, we were under no obligation to make these projects accessible to a broader community. Our audience was small, but devoted and growing steadily. We – the founders, were amused, engaged and inspired.
Now the scope of work is much larger and this is in all ways a good thing. However, it does require a different set of skills and an expanded language to communicate ideas. Using “community economic development” as an overt framework for our endeavors is new to us. It is a welcome adaptation since working at the intersection of art and farming- and being farmers ourselves- we understand the possibilities inherent in linking across disciplines and to a broader audience.
Engaging community partners requires balancing multiple interests. The question then becomes how to build an ongoing event addressing the needs of the partners and the goals of Creative Placemaking but also remain true to the idiosyncratic vision that got us here in the first place. To maximize the opportunities and satisfy multiple stakeholders we may have to surrender certain elements of the vision so that others can take ownership. The vision may blur for a while as we work through the challenges – ‘til we get the right mix, then, if all goes well – snap back into focus.
We are confident that we can continue to build culturally dense events that are compelling, thought provoking yet accessible. As a small organization with limited staff, engaged partners are vital to ongoing success. There is no question that our project has ignited a world of possibilities, however if it is to last and the energy generated is captured and converted to the enduring economic advantage of the community, there will need to be greater investment by others with a stake in the future of this special place.