One of the coolest things about the book I’m working on is the way I’ve been able to finagle really smart people into contributing. Then I get to read what they write and (up to a point) steal their ideas. Today’s victim is Diane Ragsdale. (Yes, I’ve already cited Diane–see ArtsJournal’s Jumper blog–as a source once here. Now that she is back from her honeymoon and can defend herself, in the future I’ll need to steal from others for a while.)
In December, Diane published a post reflecting on the lessons of the slow food movement for the arts. She expanded upon that in an essay for the book and has developed some fascinating insights about the things we in the arts might learn. The critical lessons are first in what the movement has accomplished and second in how. Re: what, the slow food movement has
- made (and to a large extent sold) the case for quality. Local, natural products, in spite of sometimes being more expensive, are sought out by consumers; and
- transformed the food industry. Happy Meals now come with apples rather than fries for Pete’s sake! Chain supermarkets now include local and organic produce as a matter of course.
And regarding the how, it
- nurtures direct relationships between producers and consumers,
- provides educational opportunities that do not assume someone is somehow lacking if they can’t identify arugula, and
- encourages participation–both in food production and food preparation.
Many in the arts seem unsure whether it is actually possible to educate people to quality. The slow food movement has. I suspect the real secret is the amount of energy (and creativity) that has been invested in the process and the fact that the public has been treated with respect in spite of the fact that they are not knowledgeable at the beginning.
Probably what most excites me about this analysis is the way it challenges my despair about the capacity for change in any industry. Here we have an example where in about 25 years, a movement has transformed an entire industry, one of the biggest in the world. The day after I received the draft of Diane’s essay I was shopping at a local supermarket and could not resist getting out my phone and snapping this picture:
Photo by Doug Borwick
At moments when I am despondent about the potential for change, I will try to remember this picture.
Since we’re talking about food, let me cite a sublimely relevant example of engagement. The NEA recently announced its Our Town grantees. One of the recipients is the Wormfarm Institute, “a 40-acre organic vegetable farm and creative hub in Reedsburg, Wisconsin.” Here is a link to an NEA podcast about their work. The Institute supports artist residencies, a gallery, and, as a highly visible flagship program, artist-designed Roadside Culture Stands. The stands are used in both rural and urban areas, have the practical role of selling both fresh produce and works of art, and provide information about area cultural events. That’s way up on the list of “high concept” ideas. Memorable. And what ideas do you have for making the arts more meaningful in your communities?