Exploring Arts & Culture in Community Food

March 26, 2019

By: Maria Elena Rodriguez, DAISA

As part of ArtPlace’s ongoing research to better understand and advance how art and culture play an intentional and integrated role in place-based community planning and development, ArtPlace recently commissioned a field scan and working group meeting about the food and agriculture sector. The field scan aims to inform current knowledge and practice around how arts and cultural approaches can be better leveraged to create equitable and place-based food systems change across the country

ArtPlace selected DAISA Enterprises as its partner for research, facilitation, and thought-partnership to lead this work.  DAISA’s deep food systems knowledge and consulting experience, including role as National Program Office for the Kresge Foundations’ Fresh, Local and Equitable initiative, which fuses artistic and cultural expression with equitable food-oriented neighborhood change efforts, made them a natural fit. DAISA Enterprises is thrilled to soon publish fresh, new research on this intersection of arts & culture and food & agriculture.

In what types of community-based efforts is artistic and cultural expression contributing to food and agricultural outcomes? Research included examining databases of ten federal agencies and foundations and identifying 180 projects integrating arts and culture with food and agriculture. Projects included efforts in tourism, culinary arts, food markets and more. Interviews of thirty-one food systems practitioners, artists, and field thought leaders hailed from communities across the country spanning the rural-urban continuum. The conversations illuminated powerful community wisdom and lived experience:


“We want people to be able to formalize and operate food businesses - that’s all very important. But at the end of the day what we are really going for is community cohesion and I don’t think that you get that without the art and culture piece. The art and culture piece reminds us and emphasizes - or maybe accelerates - food’s ability to bring us together.” - Olivia Haslop, Kaleidoscope Kitchen Coordinator, Binghampton Community Development Corporation


The discussions defined several themes such as the ability of arts & culture and food & agriculture to drive equitable economic development, open dialogue and heal community traumas, foster identity creation, facilitate creative and explorative engagement processes, and reanimate dormant cultural traditions. Artist-led food systems change enables a creative and inclusive visioning and planning process and ensures community members see their identities, histories, and interests reflected in the work.

In early March 2019, DAISA and ArtPlace - along with co-conveners Rural Coalition and Farm Credit Council - held a working group meeting to discuss initial research findings and to craft potential steps forward. A total of forty-one participants convened in Albany, Georgia, hailing from twenty-two different states, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia. Among the group were farmers, community practitioners, artists, community organizers, funders & financers, chefs, government and policy representatives, media, and academic leaders. Participants came from both rural and urban geographies, as well as a numerous racial and ethnic communities from across the country.

The Arts, Culture & Food/Agriculture Working Group Meeting was held at Resora on Cypress Pond, a 1638-acre former plantation in southwest Georgia currently owned by black-led grassroots organization New Communities and operated as a retreat and conference center and a working farm. The space was chosen to host the Working Group meeting in order to honor the history of black farmer-led civil rights activism and to support New Communities’ mission of providing a restorative space for environmental and economic justice and racial healing.

Meeting participants heard inspiring work from three community practitioners - representatives from La Mujer Obrera, Wormfarm Institute, and Inner-City Muslim Action Network - presenting “Stories of Change” that brought to life the vibrancy of arts and culture-infused food and agricultural efforts. Other activity included discussions on funding, barriers, and potential audiences to engage. Participants met in small groups, posing recommendations to position artists and food systems practitioners as allies.

During the closing reflection, Working Group participants remarked on the unique opportunity to convene such a diverse group into one space, the excitement of the possibilities ahead and valuable new connections they made. Grounded in the power and beauty of the Resora farm, the group identified critical needs that exist to continue uplifting equity, social justice, and community healing through arts & culture-infused food systems transformation.

The field scan, Cultivating Creativity: Exploring Arts & Culture in Community Food Systems Transformation, is being revised based on this working group input and will be released at the upcoming ArtPlace Summit starting on May 20, 2019 in Jackson, Mississippi.