Thursday, June 4, 2015

Starving artists?

Have you ever thought about the purpose of art? Do you think art has a purpose? Art, and artists, have been shown to have a notable role in community development. As evidenced by the Minnesota Potters of the Upper St. Croix River Tour, community development can play a reciprocal role in the economic life of local artists. These are topics at the center of the conversations here in Morris at the University of Minnesota's Student Center.

Student Center building at UMN, Morris
Student Center building at UMN, Morris
Photo by J. Harrington

Those conversations are also talking about the relationship between art, artists, local food and artisanal values and building healthy communities. Healthy communities full of diverse inhabitants are usually shown to be more resilient and sustainable than a monoculture of individuals. The Morris community and the University community seem to be well on their way to demonstrating the mutual benefits of collaboration and cooperation than were evident the last time I attended an event here. That's another encouraging sign for the future. If "town and gown" and artists and farmers and professors and students and poets and potters can learn from each other and benefit from their interdependence, perhaps there's also hope for Minnesota's politicians.

Last night's dinner, held at a local restaurant in Morris rather than catered on campus, was preceded by visits to the grand opening of Pomme de Terre Foods' new location, combined with the Morris Local Flavors event, which was based across the street at the library. Building a sustainable community's life is based more on process and values than products, buildings and consumerism. Some communities in Minnesota have grasped that the process is the product. Inclusion, cooperation, diversity, local resources, properly blended, create distinct flavors that attract visitors tired of the same old, same old. I wouldn't travel to Morris to buy something at a national big box chain, but I would go there to see an exhibition of art celebrating a prairie Spring. In Morris, I could even eat good, healthy, local food while visiting.

Morris' healthy eating vision
Morris' healthy eating vision
Photo by J. Harrington

I was pleased to meet several folks here from the Iron Range. In the long run, I believe that supporting local artists and food producers will do more for The Range than opening any realistic number of mines. Ore can run out. Imagination and hunger never do.

Fruit Cocktail in Light Syrup

Amy Gerstler

Rocket-shaped popsicles that dyed your lips blue
were popular when I was a kid. That era got labeled
“the space age” in honor of some longed-for,
supersonic, utopian future. Another food of my
youth was candy corn, mostly seen on Halloween.
With its striped triangular “kernels” made
of sugar, wax and corn syrup, candy corn
was a nostalgic treat, harkening back to days
when humans grew, rather than manufactured,
food. But what was fruit cocktail’s secret
meaning? It glistened as though varnished.
Faint of taste and watery, it contained anemic
grapes, wrinkled and pale. Also deflated
maraschino cherries. Fan-shaped pineapple
chunks, and squares of bleached peach
and pear completed the scene. Fruit cocktail’s
colorlessness, its lack of connection to anything
living, (like tree, seed or leaf) seemed
cautionary, sad. A bowl of soupy, faded, funeral
fruit. No more nourishing than a child’s
finger painting, masquerading as happy
appetizer, fruit cocktail insisted on pretending
everything was ok. Eating it meant you embraced
tastelessness. It meant you were easily fooled.
It meant you’d pretend semblances,
no matter how pathetic, were real, and that
when things got dicey, you’d spurn the truth.
Eating fruit cocktail meant you might deny
that ghosts whirled throughout the house
and got sucked up the chimney on nights
Dad wadded old newspapers, warned you
away from the hearth, and finally lit a fire.


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