Real farm life, at the intersection of arts and agriculture

by Amy Mayer, Harvest Public Media

“Art is to stop and make you think,” she said. “That’s the goal of what we do, right? Is to put something out there to change an image or to update a perception.”

Artists use their work to understand the human experience. So here in America’s breadbasket, many artists turn their eyes on Midwestern farming. The intersection of agriculture and art features a lot more than amber waves of grain.

In a living room converted to a theater for the evening, Ethan Peterson and Madeleine Russell portray the characters from Mary Swander’s play, “VANG.” In it, the actors share the emotional stories of four immigrant couples who farm in Iowa. Swander used transcriptions of conversations with Hmong, Mexican, Sudanese and Dutch farmers to create the play.

“I’d written another play called ‘Farmscape,’” said Swander, who is Iowa’s poet laureate and an English professor at Iowa State University, “that was a verbatim play, a sample based on interviews of people in all sorts of different areas in the changing farm landscape. And I worked on that with my students and it toured extensively in Iowa and the Midwest, out to New York, Colorado.”

The success of “Farmscape” helped propel “VANG” into more communities. And the reception the plays have received, especially in rural locales, has led Swander and Fred Kirschenmann, of Iowa State University’s Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, to consider how the messages of the arts might help bridge the chasm between farmers and consumers.  Read more…




Artists Discuss Actions After Week of Protests in Ferguson

Artists Gather at RAC to Discuss Possible Actions. Credit Willis Arnold/St. Louis Public Radio

Artists Gather at RAC to Discuss Possible Actions.
Credit Willis Arnold/St. Louis Public Radio

Racial divides — in St. Louis, the arts community and the nation — were the focus Wednesday night as   artists gathered at the St. Louis Regional Arts Commission (RAC) to talk about Michael Brown’s death.

RAC held the gathering for artists to process the week’s events in Ferguson and discuss how artists can address their role in the public dialogue about it.

 “…even as tensions remained high, an unidentified poet reiterated a feeling prevalent in the room that ‘above all, artists can do something.’ “

Read more…

The Arts CAN Heal:


What suggestions  can you offer to the St. Louis Regional Arts Commission  to testify how the arts can  heal the racial divides in the Ferguson community?

Mayor De Blasio Gives $23 Million Boost to Arts Education in NYC


Mayor Bill de Blasio at arts education press announcement at the Bronx Museum of the Arts (July 1, 2014). Photo: Ed Reed, courtesy the Office of Mayor Bill de Blasio.

Sarah Cascone, Thursday, July 3, 2014


Mayor Bill de Blasio is responding to charges that New York city’s public schools are neglecting student’s arts education in a big way, funneling an additional $23 million into the program’s budget for 2015 and pledging to hire 120 new art teachers for the fall, reports the New York Daily News.



According to a report released by city comptroller Scott Stringer in April, there are currently no art teachers at 20 percent of New York’s public schools. This is a violation of state law, which requires middle school and high school students be provided with arts instruction. Of the schools without art teachers, over 42 percent are in the low-income neighborhoods of the South Bronx and Central Brooklyn.

Stringer’s report found that the cost of hiring a full-time, state-certified art teacher in every school that lacked one would have been roughly $26 million (about a tenth of the city’s total education spending), so the new budget will hit fairy close to the mark.

“For too long, we had under-invested in arts education and cultural education in our schools. And it was time to right that wrong and do something aggressive about it,” De Blasio said in an announcement made at the Bronx Museum of Arts, during which Stringer was present.

There was an 84 percent drop in spending on supplies and equipment for arts programs between 2006 and 2013 in the New York City public school system, thanks in part to the recession (arts budgets are generally among the first to be slashed during times of economic hardship) and a renewed focus on meeting accountability standards in subjects such as math and English.

“We’ve spent so much time over the last 10 years teaching to the test, and lost in the shuffle was arts teachers, arts curriculum and arts space,” Stringer told the New York Times in April.

Clearly, De Blasio is now doing his best to address the issue. The new influx of funds was approved last week as part of a new spending plan. The money will help pay for improving studio facilities, auditoriums, and dance floors, and will also be spent on art supplies for teachers.

P.S. Art 2014: Student Artworks at The Met

PSArt01[1] As a teacher I have witnessed firsthand the transformative powers of The Arts.  Students learn to express themselves in ways that could never be accomplished through an algorithm or literary analysis.  The Metropolitan Museum of Art offers P.S. Art, an annual exhibition of work by talented young artists from New York City’s public schools, showcases the creativity of prekindergarten through grade 12 students from all five boroughs. The seventy-seven artworks include paintings, prints, sculptures, photographs, mixed-media works, collages, drawings, and video. Read more…