Sarah Lutman, formerly of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra and currently of the consulting world, shares an essential and compelling treatise on art and place, and the interplay between the two. She focuses on Minnesota Orchestra’s possible future, given its recent stormy past. But her framing is important for any arts organization.
Best for you to just read it. But essentially she’s wondering whether arts organizations can/should strive to be of their place rather than just in it. Says she:
I am not referring to “creative placemaking” as it is now defined. I am talking about place, about terroir — finding resonant ways to live and thrive in a very specific place, in its geology, climate, and landscapes, in its history, culture and social organization. Terroir means the unique qualities imparted to, for example, wine, that can be evoked only because of the specific place (soil, climate, culture) where it is grown.
The intriguing connection to wine continues with the French distinction between ‘wine of effort’ (defined by the craft and vision of the winemaker) and ‘wine of place’ (defined by the qualities and nuances of its specific location). She suggests that the Minnesota Orchestra, like most professional, large orchestras, has been a ‘wine of effort’ — defined by the professional and artistic standards of other major orchestras. And she wonders what it might look and act like if it strived to be a ‘wine of place.’
Obviously, effort and place are deeply intertwined; any human endeavor is a vexing combination of nature and nurture. But our approach and our intent can tilt one way or the other. And it’s fair to say that our professional culture system has often favored making excellent work by the standards of each discipline, rather than finding essential interplay between a discipline and a place.
And, of course, a cultural leader is steward to both the art process/discipline they engage and the place in which they work. Lutman’s inspiration for her post, winemaker Randall Grahm, captures this tension and task rather well:
As a winemaker in the Old World, if you are fortunate enough to be entrusted to care for one of these great vineyards, your job is really two-fold. First and foremost, you are not to screw it up. Secondly, if you have the wit to manage the first part of your imperative, your secondary task is to explore as deeply as you can, discover, as the French would say, your particular terroir, i.e. the individual distinctiveness of your site.