Lebenskünstler

Addendum as manifesto: “All we have to do is look around: toward a local social practice syllabus” Part II

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 04/11/2016

Robert L. Thayer’s LifePlace: Bioregional Thought and Practice should get all the credit (or blame) for this, especially his chapter “Learning” where many of the following quotes and paraphrases are lifted from.

In a a post from several years ago, I lamented the state of social practice education – a placeless, homogeneous, view from nowhere. In short, social practice education is like most so-called education in the United States an empty embrace of the values of abstraction and global capitalism.

All we have to do is look around: toward a local social practice syllabus – Or, an idiosyncratic “arty party” field guide to Vermont.

In the ensuing years, things have continued to devolve with students mostly being trained to join not a specific community rooted in a specific bioregion, but rather to join a global capitalist network – “the art world.” Ironically, the overwhelming emphasis in graduate art education is the inculcation of a fetish for criticality. Of course, it is a highly selective form of criticality, one that does not turn its gaze on the notion of criticality itself, but more importantly, does not turn its attention to the abstracted space and values of the educational apparatus. Well, it certainly does in terms of a liberal concern for identity politics and student debt, but does not seem to connect the dots to understand how debt is as disembodied as the structure of education – a purely fungible relationship of data points where course credit equals monetary credit…

So universities, banks and art schools continue to act as centripetal forces – pulling resources into vast global flows while the animate earth on which the entire edifice is built, continues to be ignored, or is itself only considered through the lens of a global climate crisis. And despite the congratulatory backslapping of an activist class that brings all of its intellectual and critical faculties to bear on the matter, they are blind to the fact that they have been trained by institutions mired in a fundamental category mistake which they themselves emulate.

To paraphrase David Orr, there are some debilitating myths at play – that ignorance is a solvable problem rather than a fundamental feature of being human; that knowledge (and technology) are, alone, enough to solve problems; that the increase in knowledge (rather than wisdom) is an inherent good; and that the education of students is primarily concerned with knowledge (or in the arts, with learning to be critical consumers of knowledge). But maybe it would be better to quote Orr:

All education is environmental education. By what is included or excluded, students are taught they are part or apart from the natural world. To teach economics [or social practice], for example, without reference to the laws of thermodynamics or ecology is to teach a fundamentally important ecological lesson: that physics and ecology have nothing to do with the economy. It just happens to be dead wrong.

So, in the intellectual parlor games of e-flux and other smarty pants organs of the academic-art-financial nexus we don’t find the cultivation of (via Thayer) spiritual sensitivity, gentleness, caring, compassion, or generosity. Some may bristle at the suggestion of a spiritual role in the crisis we face equating it with some sort of magical thinking, but in the downward spiral of an accelerationist embrace of an intellectual homeopathy, we find a truly absurd form of wizardry. As Orr notes, the earth has been degraded on a massive scale by the educated, by the products of a system of displacement that trains even its supposed avant garde to search for solutions in the very intellectual tools that are the cause of the problem.

An education must be rooted to be radical. As Wes Jackson has said, there is only one serious major on offer at colleges – upward mobility (be it in terms of financial, social, or cultural capital). But as generations leave their homes to become citizens of a discipline rather than citizens of a watershed, or biotic community, fundamental questions are cast aside – “who am I?” and “what should I do?” often remain, but the answer to those end up being distortions in which membership in a professional class becomes the enduring identity – I am an artist. I should make art (build a vitae).

But another question, one that provides an interlocking context for the other two – “where am I?” gets cast aside. In today’s refugee crisis we see the heartbreak of an uprooted people. Academics decry this, all the while being seemingly oblivious to their own displacement, having no home (that truly deserves such a name) of their own. They are adrift in the gig economy, in the cosmopolitan nomadism of academia, replicating “monocultures of the mind” as Vandana Shiva would put it. And like technological approaches to agriculture that apply a specialized, highly trained, expert perspective to solving an urgent issue, we are left with an illusion, not only of mastery, but of plenty. Meanwhile more and more communities are being poisoned or starved. We must abandon the rootless sky, settle upon the earth and build practices of permanence, regeneration, and love – or, you can’t have social practice without soil practice.

See also: Toward a #soilpractice + #socialpractice manifesto: ending the art system and restoring aesthetic ecology

“I really despise the strip mall/corporate chain mentality that says – in every city a Project Row Houses, in every syllabus a Grant Kester, in every program a critique…” – Even more stuff I said on facebook with the really challenging, thoughtful, responses removed

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 12/11/2013

The material below stemmed from this (January 2013):

Morning rant:

So, yesterday I saw a status update soliciting ideas for a social practice syllabus and it continues to blow my mind how unbelievably predictable the suggestions were. Foucault, Bishop, de Certeau, Nancy, Mouffe, Jackson, Habermas, Rosler, yadda yadda yadda…

What does it say about the state of education that there is such homogeneity? Sure, we can agree on some common/core texts,but isn’t *anyone* else suspicious about this? Can we really believe that the same laundry list of thinkers passed around from grad school syllabus to grad school syllabus enriches our understanding of social practice? Is everyone so (ahem) lazy? And how can academics otherwise inclined to be critical of universal narratives so readily agree on one for social practice? The global sameness of suburbanization is problematic, but reading (always *reading*) name brand theorists from school to school is essential?

I meet person after person in the field that have a really narrow point of reference clearly gleaned from “syllabus syndrome.” And why is it almost always readings? Or activist and art projects? Why not parents, neighbors, bakers, mechanics, baristas, programmers, bar tenders, clergy, restaurateurs? Do non-academics (that are not activists) have *anything* to offer social practice (other than as a grist mill for “collaboration”)? Should we tell folks to just read through AAAARG.org, check out the Creative Time Summit videos and call it a day?

And ultimately resulted in this: All we have to do is look around: toward a local social practice syllabus – Or, an idiosyncratic “arty party” field guide to Vermont.

…being versed *academics* is part of the problem I’m trying to describe and I’m not sure I buy that social practice is not a “medium”, or conceived as such, or at least desired to be so by said academics.

“A pragmatist turns his back resolutely and once for all upon a lot of inveterate habits dear to professional philosophers. He turns away from abstraction and insufficiency, from verbal solutions, from bad a priori reasons, from fixed principles, closed systems, and pretended absolutes and origins. He turns towards concreteness and adequacy, towards facts, towards action, and towards power. That means the empiricist temper regnant, and the rationalist temper sincerely given up. It means the open air and possibilities of nature, as against dogma, artificiality and the pretence of finality in truth.” – William James on philosophy

Kaprow and Dewey (but Jane Addams would be even more instructive than Dewey)are near and dear to me (I’ve written about them incessantly), but mostly for the orientation they offer – Dewey pointing away from *school* and toward education as a way of life and away from *government* and toward democracy as a way of life. Kaprow for constantly pointing away from art and also for saying don’t look at my pointing finger!

not suggesting either/or…I very much believe in the value of theory, but only inasmuch as it *actually* clarifies practice. Too often it is regarded as an end in itself, and always threatens this when it becomes “essential” reading. And amen to looking at other cultures – I might offer that a visit to two week visit to Thailand would be as (and yes I admit my bias, I really think *more*) valuable as 15 weeks of readings and critique.

AMEN sister. Discourse is *one* thing, but often presented as the *only* thing. Starting with texts muddies those waters immediately and, I think, sends another message – the (extremely narrow) verbal-intellectual slice of human experience is all that is acceptable in the arts these days. Mystical experience? Nonsense. Emotions? Well, we can sneak those in by calling them “affect.” Love? Compassion? Humor? Cloak them in irony or make them “revolutionary” and we will abide.

Sticking with my James (I’m re-reading), social practice needs to widen the search for God [pardon in advance his gendered language] :

“In short, she widens the field of search for God. Rationalism sticks to logic and the empyrean. Empiricism sticks to the external senses. Pragmatism is willing to take anything, to follow either logic or the senses, and to count the humblest and most personal experiences. She will count mystical experiences if they have practical consequences. She will take a God who lives in the very dirt of private fact – if that should seem a likely place to find him.”

I have no idea whether anything has “backfired” or not. On one hand I want say there is nothing wrong with being “comfortable” and that tying growth to discomfort is an old saw of the avant garde, but then again students *can* be outright lazy, and worse, completely ungenerous with their attention…never talking about the term social practice is probably a wise choice (and one I wish I was better at)…

I might agree ***** if I knew how to tell ahead of time whether such uncertainty was exquisite or not. Sometimes students find only fear/alienation…I have been thinking about social practice (the field) today as a building without an architect, vernacular architecture…and I see academia resisting that, wanting to bring in the professionals and make sure everything is built to code, properly licensed. I’d like to stick closer to the approaches of Freire’s and Horton’s “We Make the Road by Walking” or “Mercogliano’s Making It Up As We Go Along”…

And yes let’s not get stuck with the same old examples either. Being a hardcore localist (and anti-globalist), I am puzzled by people that appear to understand the value of such a perspective when it comes to food or retail/small business, but abandon it in the name of “cosmopolitan” education. This isn’t to say we can’t or shouldn’t learn from outside perspectives – but shouldn’t a San Francisco (social practice) education be distinct from a Chicago one or a NYC one? Not just in terms of faculty, but in terms of who is read and what projects are considered? I really despise the strip mall/corporate chain mentality that says – in every city a Project Row Houses, in every syllabus a Grant Kester, in every program a critique…I thought people took diversity seriously!

*Some* rural areas are conservative, and what exactly is wrong about being conservative? You seem to equate conservative with “racist, bigoted, sexist and homophobic” and that, of course is a highly contentious characterization. And if homogeneity is a problem, one would think my criticism would resonate. Obviously, we disagree about how heterogeneous the suggestions were. This would stem from my academic “privilege,” I suppose, given that there was almost nothing suggested I hadn’t seen dozens of time before. The funny thing about “privilege” though is that almost *anyone* is privileged from one perspective or another. And I find it as a rather lazy (ahem) way to try to negate someone’s point of view. You are “privileged” to have internet access so, let’s just ignore? Funnily though, my rant was directed not so much at privilege, but at a variant – exclusivity. I am in the middle of putting together a “syllabus” called “All we have to do is look around: toward a local social practice” and the first part of that title sums things up nicely. The idea that we need academic gatekeepers, curators, artists, academics, activists, etc. to understand social practice is troubling. Or rather what your criticism (thank you) and some comments above remind me of is that I need to be clearer about my “either/or” tone – I am not proposing an end to those suggestions that you find value in, but want very much to supplement it with the stuff right in front of us, beneath our feet, right where we are, by non-academics and non-artists. I want a broad, messy social practice, not just the tidy intellectual/political baubles of academe (oops fell back into that tone again – I’m working on it. I swear.).

“Not all are called to be artists in the specific sense of the term. Yet, as Genesis has it, all men and women are entrusted with the task of crafting their own life: in a certain sense, they are to make of it a work of art, a masterpiece.”

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 10/09/2013

Beauty will Save the World – Jeffrey Bilbro

I want to reflect today on the title chosen for this gathering, “Beauty will Save the World.” That’s quite the assertion, and I don’t know if I can convincingly support it, but I’ll give it a shot. My tentative thesis today is that the best way to cultivate healthy local cultures is to celebrate their beauty. It’s not to pass laws, it’s not to develop rational or economic arguments for their benefits, it’s not to start some new program. All these might be needed subsequently, but if we don’t first bear witness to the beauty of a healthy culture, then other approaches are doomed. It’s in this way, by enabling us to see the truth and goodness of healthy way of life, that beauty will save the world. So I want to think with you about the beauty of local culture, why that beauty is important, and how to cultivate it. I’ll begin by describing a beautiful, and I think saving, activity that I’ve had the privilege of participating in this past year.

Rather, our hope is that the students and staff and faculty who participate will see and experience how beautiful it can be to grow and eat our own food. This rich, practical connection with our food is what Wendell Berry calls the pleasures of eating. These pleasures are complex, and they are nearly impossible to quantify, but if you’ve ever eaten a sandwich with tomato slices still warm from your garden, you know something of these pleasures. When you plant a seed, water it, weed around the delicate seedling, try to protect it from deer and bugs, watch it blossom and set fruit, and wait for that fruit to ripen, the act of eating the fruit is not merely an input of calories and nutrients. Rather, eating is just one part, perhaps the climax, in a whole narrative that we’ve embodied and lived out, a narrative that connects us to our fellow gardeners and to the place in which we live.

To call something beautiful in this sense is to speak about its material shape or form, and also about the meaning or splendor that emerges from the form and makes it desirable. And as von Balthasar goes on to argue, when we see a vision of the beautiful, when we see the contours of its form, we are enraptured by its splendor, caught up in a desire to participate in the radiance that beauty grants us to see as love-worthy. So to call this narrative of our community garden beautiful means that the whole way of living that the garden enables us to glimpse, in which we work together and share the fruits of this work, is desirable and love-worthy.

And yet oversimplification leading to disease marks nearly every aspect of our fragmented, modern lives. Our corporate medical system does not aim for health, but rather isolates various parts of the body and treats particular abnormalities. Hence our medical establishment has been particularly unhelpful at offering preventive care and treating complex problems such as obesity. Our monoculture agriculture is merely another instance of our propensity to isolate and specialize, and I’m not sure that our biculture of corn and soybeans here in Michigan is much of an improvement. We still don’t have complex polycultures that include animals and a true variety of plants. Such simplification works itself all the way down to our lawns, which we spray with toxic chemicals just to have “beautiful” grass.

In their false simplification, such specialized visions and the ways of life toward which they lead inevitably contribute to disease. These narrowly-focused ways of life become insipid, losing the splendor of beauty, and yet they define much of our lives as we search for quick and easy solutions. Wendell Berry notes the irony in our culture’s stereotypical view of country life as “simple,” noting that in actuality, it is urban, specialized living that is simple:

When I am called, as to my astonishment I sometimes am, a devotee of “simplicity” (since I live supposedly as a “simple farmer”), I am obliged to reply that I gave up the simple life when I left New York City in 1964 and came here. In New York, I lived as a passive consumer, supplying nearly all my needs by purchase, whereas here I supply many of my needs from this place by my work (and pleasure) and am responsible besides for the care of the place. (The Way of Ignorance, “Imagination in Place” 47-48).

My point, then, is that our culture’s tendency toward reductive specialization is intrinsically un-beautiful, that beauty arises only from complex, harmonious forms, that health is beautiful. Currently, our cultural aesthetic is, in Solzhenitsyn’s terms, sickly and pale: we too often confuse the pretty, the mere appearance, for true beauty, hence our acceptance of lush green lawns that cause water pollution. But perhaps beauty can save, or at least salve, our world by giving us a richer imagination of health and thus causing us to desire ways of life that, as von Balthasar might say, carry the splendor of truth and goodness.

How do we actually see such forms whose beauty might inspire us to find more healthy ways of living? I think there are at least two conditions for perceiving such visions of beauty. The first is that we see beauty on a local scale.

We have to be able to see the whole to perceive beauty (again, note the connection between beauty and health). Analysis of the beautiful, if it does not begin with a vision of the whole and keep this vision constantly in mind, quickly devolves into an abstract rummaging through dead parts. It becomes what von Balthasar calls “anatomy,” which “can be practiced only on a dead body, since it is opposed to the movement of life and seeks to pass from the whole to its parts and elements” (Seeing the Form 31). This is the way the “industrial mind,” a term that Berry derives from the Southern Agrarians, sees the world. Such a vision, precisely because it is too narrow and specialized, inevitably leads to disease and deformation. In his essay “Solving for Pattern,” Berry argues that solutions based on this sort of specialized vision always worsen the problem—he gives the example of addressing soil compaction by using bigger tractors, which only compact the soil further, leading to the need for even larger tractors (The Gift of Good Land 136). So while a bad solution “acts destructively upon the larger patterns in which it is contained,” “a good solution is good because it is in harmony with those larger patterns” (137). In order to see the beauty of these larger patterns, and thus perceive what modes of life would harmonize with these patterns, we need to be able to see the whole form. When we try to imagine a beautiful whole on a global or even national scale, the difficulty, if not impossibility, of this task makes the temptation to perform a quantitative analysis of isolated parts almost irresistible. And yet such a fragmented gaze can’t see the living, beautiful whole, which is precisely the form that can give us the vision of health and beauty our imagination needs.

The second condition for perceiving this vision of healing beauty is a personal experience or encounter. We don’t see the whole form of beauty when someone describes it abstractly.
I can tell you about the Sistine Chapel and describe its scheme and what the various parts depict, but you won’t really see its beauty unless you stand in it yourself. The same holds true for a Bach fugue. This is so because of the complexity and richness of beauty; there is a qualitative difference between an experience of the beautiful and an abstract description of that experience.

…Every morning the local bakery draws a group of men who drink coffee, eat pastries, and talk about the work that awaits them in the day ahead. Their conversation is punctuated by oblique references to stories they all know and by the habitual phrases of friends absent or dead. The community’s memory lives in such conversation. But it’s hard to quantify and analyze what makes this community a healthy one; merely listing its attributes does not convey the beauty of its form. We perceive its beauty as a whole, when we experience life in such a community.

…So we all need to practice creating beauty. It’s remarkable how counter-cultural this participation might be, since we now live in a society that thinks “beauty” is meant to be produced by professionals from big cities and consumed by the rest of us.

We may not all be gifted artists like Kathleen, but we can still all be involved in creating beauty. As Pope John Paul II wrote in his “Letter to Artists,” “Not all are called to be artists in the specific sense of the term. Yet, as Genesis has it, all men and women are entrusted with the task of crafting their own life: in a certain sense, they are to make of it a work of art, a masterpiece.” We all have an opportunity and a responsibility to participate in this task of culture, and our “sub-creation,” as Tolkien calls it, should be guided by the contours of the beauty we’ve perceived.

I am afraid that what often keeps us from embracing the quotidian work of sustaining the “little platoons” of which we are a part is the sense that this local work can’t affect the national and international problems over which the news media continually obsesses. But while such local work may seem futile in our current political and economic environment, it may actually be the most consistent and effective way to cultivate health, given the farce that national politics has become. This is why Berry believes that our “Our environmental problems [as well as our other diseases that afflict our society] are not, at root, political; they are cultural” (What Are People For, “A Few Words in Favor of Edward Abbey” 37). Dreher echoes this sentiment in an essay on Wendell Berry in which he considers him to be “a latter-day Saint Benedict”: “I am convinced that conservatives have placed far too much stock in political action and far too little in the work of culture” (The Humane Vision of Wendell Berry 281). Dreher hopes that Berry has begun a sort of monastic cultural movement, where instead of pouring their energy into national politics or the culture wars, individuals work to form healthy, beautiful communities in their homes. These communities might then preserve and sustain culture, providing beacons of hope that stand in stark contrast to sick society around them.

I do want to qualify this politics/culture distinction. Politics is indeed part of culture and a shaper of culture, but my point is that it shouldn’t be the primary arena in which we try to affect cultural change. Rather, fostering healthy and beautiful cultures will inspire others to participate and cultivate the communities of which they are a part. Representative democracy too often relies on the slim majority forcing everyone else to do the majority’s will, whereas culture relies on beauty to foster a robust conversation about the common good, and then to persuade others that this common good, that health, is desirable.

This distinction provides, perhaps, the clearest insight into the unique power of beauty: whereas political power ultimately relies on force, beauty simply invites others to perceive the splendor within its form. Beauty is an invitation, a gift, and thus it is always vulnerable to rejection. This is its weakness, and this is why beauty is often overlooked as a salve for our contemporary problems. But its weakness is also its strength. In our cynical world, where people are jaded by political posturing over truth and strident demands that some particular way is the only right way to live, beauty simply puts itself on offer. And if its form reveals truth and goodness, then those who behold beauty may find it love-worthy. Once our affections are moved, right action and truthful speech will follow.

On localization in the arts – Scott E. Walters

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 08/02/2013

Speak Your Piece: The Extractive Arts – Scott E. Walters

The problem with Kaiser’s argument is that none of the artists he mentions stayed in their community or even in the states or regions where they were from. They all left and went to the “big coastal city” of New York, just as the anti-arts politicians said, where they entertained the elite, also like the anti-arts politicians said. Kaiser hasn’t, in fact, refuted their beliefs in the least. More importantly, while the artists he mentioned achieved renown, many, many others from similar small towns followed the same path and saw their talents go unappreciated and their gifts unnoticed, talents and gifts that would have added so much to their home towns.

This is the extractive creativity economy in action.

Like clear-cutting a forest or blasting the top off of a mountain in order to send wood and coal to urban dwellers, the American arts system extracts artistic resources in the form of talented young people and tells them that the only place they can make a living in the arts is New York City. Not to put too fine a point on it, but this is a major lie. Let me use a statistic from my area of expertise, the theater, to make my point.

My point isn’t that theater (or dance or painting or music or…) is a lousy way to make a living – why should the readers of Daily Yonder care about that? My point is that, given those dismal facts, shouldn’t we be teaching our talented young people the skills needed to practice their art in places other than New York and Los Angeles, in places that are starving for the arts, maybe even places like their own home towns? After all, the bar is pretty low – if you sold tickets to your friends and family you would make more money than did 58% of the so-called professional actors.

How would interest in the arts improve across the country, and even in the legislature, if performers put down roots in a place they loved, built a life there and created art that reflected the stories, the songs, the dances, the colors, the shapes of their chosen town? What if the arts world was more like a local farmer’s market, filled with products that grew organically from the dirt, rain and sun of a particular place? What if, like local farmers, local artists found a way to make a living within the context of their specific place, rather than within some generic model created for somewhere else that wastes 58% of what it grows? And why can’t those places include rural areas, where people are just as interested in being entertained and enriched?

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The real question is: How good does art have to be to qualify as karaoke?

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 01/20/2013

How Good Does Karaoke Have to Be to Qualify as Art? – Dan Kois

“Karaoke makes regular people rock stars, and rock stars regular people,” explained Caryn Brooks, the communications director for Portland’s mayor. Sometimes the singers are actual rock stars. Brooks has a vivid memory of the time in the late ’90s when, at the original Chopsticks, she saw Elliott Smith sing Billy Joel’s “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me.”

…We looked at Brophy, who shrugged. A tall young man in a puffy jacket swayed up onto the stage, then kicked into the lyrics — but instead of imitating Jack White’s rock ’n’ roll keen, he sang in a rhythm-and-blues croon. The song was instantly transformed from dirty garage rock to bedroom soul. It sounded incredible, as if the song were written that way in the first place. When it was over, Justin bowed, accepting our applause, then replaced the microphone in its stand and walked out the door, never to return.

“Here’s the important thing to remember about Portland,” she said. “No one’s here to get rich. Unlike everywhere else in America. There’s a critical mass here of people here following their passions. Oh, it’s my turn, hold on.” She polished off her beer, jogged up to the stage and began what was, by a wide measure, the most amazing song I heard in my Portland karaoke odyssey: “Prisencolinensinainciusol,” a 1972 epic written in gibberish by the Italian performer Adriano Celentano, supposedly to mimic how English sounds to the Italian ear. It is like four minutes of “Jabberwocky” with a Continental accent and a mod beat. The karaoke version is a Baby Ketten original, of course. Addie nailed every syllable, then high-fived her fellow Kettens all the way back to our table. “So, yeah,” she said. “People from Portland do stuff like that.”

Portland isn’t just the capital of karaoke, I was realizing. The Japanese influence, the small-business climate and the abundance of bands don’t really matter. Portland is the capital of America’s small ponds. It’s a city devoted to chasing that feeling — the feeling of doing something you love, just for a moment, and being recognized for it, no matter how obscure or unnecessary or ludicrous it might seem to the straight world. It is the capital of taking frivolity seriously, of being silly as if it’s your job.

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All we have to do is look around: toward a local social practice syllabus – Or, an idiosyncratic “arty party” field guide to Vermont.

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 01/18/2013

[What follows below is my sketch of a syllabus I felt obligated to offer after ranting on facebook about the state of social practice education. But first, the rant…]

Morning rant:

So, yesterday I saw a status update soliciting ideas for a social practice syllabus and it continues to blow my mind how unbelievably predictable the suggestions were. Foucault, Bishop, de Certeau, Nancy, Mouffe, Jackson, Habermas, Rosler, yadda yadda yadda…

What does it say about the state of education that there is such homogeneity? Sure, we can agree on some common/core texts,but isn’t *anyone* else suspicious about this? Can we really believe that the same laundry list of thinkers passed around from grad school syllabus to grad school syllabus enriches our understanding of social practice? Is everyone so (ahem) lazy? And how can academics otherwise inclined to be critical of universal narratives so readily agree on one for social practice? The global sameness of suburbanization is problematic, but reading (always *reading*) name brand theorists from school to school is essential?

I meet person after person in the field that have a really narrow point of reference clearly gleaned from “syllabus syndrome.” And why is it almost always readings? Or activist and art projects? Why not parents, neighbors, bakers, mechanics, baristas, programmers, bar tenders, clergy, restaurateurs? Do non-academics (that are not activists) have *anything* to offer social practice (other than as a grist mill for “collaboration”)? Should we tell folks to just read through AAAARG.org, check out the Creative Time Summit videos and call it a day?

All we have to do is look around: toward a local social practice syllabus. 

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Let us begin, ironically enough, with quotes from three non-Vermonters:

“The concepts and insights of the ecologists are of great usefulness in our predicament, and we can hardly escape the need to speak of “ecology” and “ecosystems.” But the terms themselves are culturally sterile. They come from the juiceless, abstract intellectuality of the universities which was invented to disconnect, displace, and disembody the mind. The real names of the environment are the names of rivers and river valleys; creeks, ridges, and mountains; towns and cities; lakes, woodlands, lanes roads, creatures, and people.” – Wendell Berry

“Our task is to build cultural fortresses to protect our emerging nativeness. They must be strong enough to hold at bay the powers of consumerism, the powers of greed and envy and pride. One of the most effective ways for this to come about would be for our universities to assume the awesome responsibility to both validate and educate those who want to be homecomers — not necessarily to go home but to go someplace and dig in and begin the long search and experiment to become native.”  – Wes Jackson

“The word ‘topophilia’ is a neologism, useful in that it can be defined broadly to include all of the human being’s affective ties with the material environment. These differ greatly in intensity, subtlety, and mode of expression. The response to environment may be primarily aesthetic: it may vary from the fleeting pleasure one gets from a view to the equally fleeting but far more intense sense of beauty that is suddenly revealed. The response may be tactile, a delight in the feel of air, water, earth. More permanent and less easy to express are the feelings that one has toward a place because it is home, the locus of memories, and the means of gaining a livelihood.” – Yi-Fu Tuan

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What is social practice? An immediate answer might be “who cares?” A nicer way to put that might be “why start with a definition?” Perhaps, we should just start looking around at what people are doing here, right next to us. What threads connect these actions? What connects them to each other and to this place? Is social practice something that happens elsewhere? In art school? In big cities? By people with degrees? In some abstract, placeless, uprooted, cosmopolitan “everywhere?”

Another answer to that first question might be “haven’t we got it all wrong?” Or why start with social practice in the first place? Might the term be just a “juiceless” invention akin to how Wendell Berry characterizes “ecology?” What if we started with a homecoming? What if we began by building “cultural fortresses” as Wes Jackson suggests here in the Green Mountain State? What if we walked The Long Trail and sailed Lake Champlain to begin the “long search and experiment to become native?”

Contemporary art sometimes deals with the idea of site-specificity (sometimes art is made for a specific location and not for display in a relatively generic gallery space) and this course intends to be site-specific itself. Or to borrow a term of winemaking, this course hopes to explore social practice through the “terroir” of Vermont (The Viticulture FAQ & Glossary defines terroir as “The total, inter-related environment wherein a grapevine is cultivated for the purpose of making wine. Key factors include, but are not limited to, cultivar type, soil, climate, vineyard location, planting density, training system, pruning philosophy & the cultural and social milieu wherein the whole enterprise takes place.”). Through this we might cultivate our own “topophilia” as Yi-Fu Tuan describes above.

But let’s circle back to that first question. Here is how a friend (Ted Purves) of mine defines it for the institutional needs of his art school:

“The field focuses on topics such as aesthetics, ethics, collaboration, persona, media strategies, and social activism, issues that are central to artworks and projects that cross into public and social spheres.

These varied forms of public strategy are linked critically through theories of relational art, social formation, pluralism, and democracy. Artists working within these modalities either choose to co-create their work with a specific audience or propose critical interventions within existing social systems that inspire debate or catalyze social exchange.”

As it stands now social practice is mostly a variation on that theme, although sometimes it is called by other names (socially engaged art, relational aesthetics, new genre art). And it also is institutionally confined to art schools, departments, and programs. Another important approach this course takes is to break social practice free from art and academia. This means finding issues of community, collaboration, democracy, ethics, and aesthetics (to name a very few of its themes) at play in the lives of a wide range of people beyond the customary triumvirate of artists, activists, and academics. We will look at parents, neighbors, bakers, baristas, bartenders, clergy, restaurateurs and all sorts of other folks to see what, if anything the idea of social practice might do to connect, or understand, their activities.

This course takes several books as “spirit guides” for its structural sensibility.  Of course reading them would help contextualize things, but the titles themselves might be enough: Making It Up as We Go Along by Chris Mercogliano and We Make the Road by Walking by Myles Horton and Paulo Freire

What follows below then is a set of suggestions as to where we might begin “making it up” and where to begin to “make the road by walking.” It will be left to students to find the blind spots, dead ends, outright stupidities, and to co-create our experience together in the classroom and beyond. There is some stuff specifically envisioned as “art,” but not much. There is some “theory,” but really just a few links to thinkers associated with Vermont (ex. Dewey, Miller, and Bookchin). There is still a huge gap to be filled – everyday people (of which many of the people highlighted are, but in some ways they are still exceptional in that they are not working stiffs, or stay at home moms. So a constant focus would be to look at home and next door, not just on the web, at a museum or nonprofit, or in the library.

vermont-state-seal

Stuff to read, listen to, or watch

A Citizen’s Guide To Vermont Town Meeting

Weekly Standard: Our Town Meetings

The Vermont Papers: Recreating Democracy on a Human Scale
by Frank Bryan, John McClaughry

Whiteness in Vermont

Vermont and the Imaginative Geographies of American Whiteness – Robert M. Vanderbeck

Decentralizing Educational Authority [one of many essays found at Paths of Learning – a repository of work by Ron Miller]

Tal Birdsey, Head Teacher, North Branch School – Ripton, VT

A ROOM FOR LEARNING: The Making of a School in Vermont

Art, community and agriculture are one at Fable Farm where workers read and tell stories as they plant and dig, is a community-supported vegetable farm near Silver Lake in Barnard [see Fable Farm link below also]

Gov. Shumlin Sends Chick-fil-A a Message for Eat More Kale 

Chicken Chain Says Stop, but T-Shirt Maker Balks

The Bread Bike

Hippie Havens: It was 40 years ago today…the “forever young” generation reflects on life in Vermont’s first communes

Vermont’s epicurean evolution: How 1960s hippies took Vermont farmhouse cooking to today’s artisanal heights

Back to the Land: Communes in Vermont

Author Traces History Of The Back-To-The-Land Movement

Life on a Vermont commune: Poet Verandah Porche remembers back-to-the land living

Learn how Helen and Scott Nearing became completely self-sufficient while homesteading in Vermont.

Living The Good Life with Helen and Scott Nearing [Bullfrog Films clip]

At The End Of A Good Life: Scott Nearing’s dignified death, like his life, sets an inspiring example for all of us – Helen Nearing

The (written) philosophy of George Schenk [the embodied is below – see American Flatbread]

Murray Bookchin:  social anarchism, ecology and education

Murray Bookchin, GRUMPY OLD MAN – Bob Black

John Dewey and informal education

Interview with the Luddite – Kirkpatrick Sale is a leader of the Neo-Luddites.

The Frog Run: Words and Wildness in the Vermont Woods – John Elder

Architecture 101: No permits, no parents, no clients, plenty of plywood for architect Sellers and friends

The Prickly Mountain gang

The Revolution That Never Quite Was: The Vermont enclave Prickly Mountain was built as an antiestablishment utopia—and that’s what it still is.

Of paleontology and excellence in Vermont architecture

Stuck in Vermont 87: Warren 4th of July Parade

kale

Stuff to visit, look at, and discuss

ReSOURCE:
ReSOURCE retail shops provide job and life-skills training, essential household items to families and individuals in crisis, and prevent tons of material from ending up in our landfills each year. These stores also find new homes for major appliances, computers, electronics, furniture, and industrial surplus materials, which are used by the community as arts, crafts, and educational supplies

The Clothes Exchange:
The Clothes Exchange is a mission driven social enterprise dedicated to turning clothing into cash for community benefit…For every event, The Burlington Clothes Exchange selects a new nonprofit to partner with who receives event proceeds; in 2011 our May event raised $70,000 for Spectrum and 9 other local nonprofits. In total, The Exchange has raised more than a quarter of a million dollars for nonprofits in Chittenden County.

Outright Vermont:
Outright Vermont (Outright) was founded in 1989 following the release of a 1988 national youth risk survey showing that gay and lesbian youth in particular had very high rates of depression and suicide. A group of community activists gathered to form Outright, which began as a “once a week” support group. Our Friday Night support group has continued ever since, every Friday over the past 20 years. Today, Outright is a lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning (LGBTQQ) ‘queer’ youth center and statewide advocacy organization.

The Mission of Outright is to build safe, healthy, and supportive environments for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning youth (ages 13-22). Our goal is to make Vermont the safest, most supportive and empowering state for queer youth in the United States of America.

RU12?:
RU12? was founded in 1999 by two students at the University of Vermont who believed that Vermont needed a multi-generational queer space open to people of all ages, races and genders.

RU12? is now the largest LGBTQ organization in Vermont, and the only LGBTQ community center in the state. RU12? is located in the Champlain Mill (20 Winooski Falls Way) in Winooski.

RU12? has many programs and services including the SafeSpace Anti-Violence Support Line, a HIV Prevention program that includes HIV testing, social/support groups, programming for LGBTQA Families, LGBT Elders, and the Transgender Community Wellness Program, a drop-in center and meeting space, lending library, David Bohnett CyberCenter, and more.

The Vermont Youth Conservation Corps:
The Vermont Youth Conservation Corps is a nonprofit youth, leadership, service, conservation, and education organization that instills in individuals the values of personal responsibility, hard work, education, and respect for the environment. This is accomplished by using conservation projects as the vehicle for learning in an intense environment.
Each year, the VYCC hires young people ages 16-24 who work and study together under adult leadership to complete high-priority conservation projects such as state park management, trail maintenance, and backcountry construction. Through the performance of this important work, young people expand their job and leadership skills and develop personal values, ethics, and an awareness of social, political, and environmental issues. All VYCC jobs are characterized by comprehensive and intensive training, close supervision, and extensive opportunities for individual learning and personal growth.

Center for Whole Communities:
Few places in America regularly bring together leaders of different race, class, profession and ideology to find shared purpose and renew their collective strength. Center for Whole Communities is a land-based leadership development organization. We foster the innovative and collaborative responses from different sectors of the environmental and social movements that are necessary to address the complexity of today’s challenges. While nurturing in our alumni multi-disciplinary responses to challenges such as climate change and building economically competitive and equitable communities, our leadership programs directly confront the fragmentation that exists in American society around politics, race, class and privilege.

350.org:
350.org is building a global grassroots movement to solve the climate crisis. Our online campaigns, grassroots organizing, and mass public actions are led from the bottom up by thousands of volunteer organizers in over 188 countries.

350 means climate safety. To preserve our planet, scientists tell us we must reduce the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere from its current level of 392 parts per million to below 350 ppm. But 350 is more than a number—it’s a symbol of where we need to head as a planet.

350.org works hard to organize in a new way—everywhere at once, using online tools to facilitate strategic offline action. We want to be a laboratory for the best ways to strengthen the climate movement and catalyze transformation around the world.

Women’s Center At UVM:
The Women’s Center is a place to build community, make new friends, access all kinds of resources and services, and learn more about the work that we do in service of building an inclusive and safe campus.

If you’re looking to get involved or are struggling with a personal issue, the Women’s Center is here to help you out. We provide advocacy services, empower women and their allies to use their voices, raise awareness about the critical issues facing women, and highlight their many accomplishments. Stop by to check our our resources & programs!

Intervale:
Our mission is to strengthen community food systems. Since 1988, we’ve been dedicated to improving farm viability, promoting sustainable land use and engaging our community in the food system. We’re helping to build a community food system that honors producers, values good food and enhances quality of life for Burlington and beyond!

Rural Vermont:
Our Vision is for a Vermont local food system which is self-reliant and based on reverence for the earth. It builds living soils which nurture animals and people with wholesome, natural products supporting healthy, thriving farms and communities. These communities in turn work to encourage and support current and future farmers, continuing our Vermont heritage. This abundant and generous way of life celebrates our diversity and interdependence.

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NOFA VT:
The Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont is a nonprofit association of farmers, gardeners, and consumers working to promote an economically viable and ecologically sound Vermont food system for the benefit of current and future generations.

NOFA Vermont was founded in Putney in 1971, making it one of the oldest organic farming associations in the United States. Today, we are proud to have over 1300 members throughout the state and to certify over 580 farms and processors to the USDA National Organic Program Standards. We are passionate about increasing the acreage of certified organic land in Vermont while also increasing the access of local organic food to all Vermonters. All our programs strive to meet these goals, whether it involves working with schools to bring local foods into the cafeteria or providing business planning services to farmers to ensure their businesses stay viable. Whether you are a Vermonter who gardens, farms, eats local food, or enjoys our rural communities, NOFA Vermont welcomes you.

Fable Farm:
Fable Farm is a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) Organic Farming Project located in Barnard, Vermont in the Upper Valley Region of the Green Mountains. During the growing season, Fable Farm cultivates a mosaic of farmland peppered throughout our hillside village. We also host weekly community gatherings during pickup hours for Fable Farm CSA members which are open to the public.

Cedar Circle Farm:
Growing for a sustainable future. Annuals & perennials, certified organic bedding plants, vegetables & berries. Our educational mission is to raise public awareness about the importance of local organic agriculture, increase access to quality organic produce for low-income people, and establish models for farm-appropriate alternative energy strategies, and train next-generation farmers. We cultivate 40-acres using certified organic practices on conserved land along the Connecticut River in East Thetford, Vermont, just minutes from Norwich, Vermont, and Hanover, New Hampshire.

A family friendly public farm, we offer a cafe’, farmstand, workshops, festivals, guided farm tours, teaching gardens, a self-guided farm tour, wagon rides, and pick your own berries, pumpkins, herbs and flowers.

Bread and Butter Farm:
Burger Night started innocently in 2011 as a way for us to promote that we were raising grass-fed beef. We thought it sounded like fun to grill some burgers on a Friday afternoon for our Farm Store customers to let them try out the beef. The very first event we held, 150 people showed up! We were blown away. It hasn’t stopped since. We have been amazed with the response and have done everything we can to keep up with the lively demand, serve the highest quality, delicious food, and provide a great space for the community gathering that is a great support for our community farm.

At Burger Night we serve a full meal that comes almost entirely from our farm. We raise the cows who provide the beef (look around, they are grazing all summer – they move around a lot to pastures near to the barn and event, and then some very far flung fields), we bake the buns, we grow the veggies for the salads, we bake the cookies for dessert (we haven’t figured out how to produce chocolate yet…). Our own Chris Dorman brings amazing bands each week to liven up the event. We love the connection between food and music and Burger Night has become a perfect combo!

Our farm is a great place for everyone to come and participate in a meal on a real, working farm. We take pride in knowing that kids are running around free playing in the gardens, in the fields, on the mulch piles and hay bales and having a blast outdoors.

Numina Wilderness School:
Numina is a group of Addison County, VT educators who are dedicated to finding each person’s spark of genius or divinity, the “numen” in Latin, and encouraging it to flame. Numina Wilderness School brings that fire alive in Nature through Mentorship, After-School and Day-long ongoing programming for kids and adults.
Mission: To teach people of all ages how to understand nature while helping them find connection to their calling in this life. We do that by introducing people to their natural neighbors. The Plants, Animals, the four directions, the night, the stars, fire, themselves, each other and all things natural.

The Walden Project:
The Walden Project is a public school program serving students in grades 10-12.  Run out of Vergennes Union High School with support and guidance from The Willowell Foundation, The Walden project provides students a rigorous curriculum that emphasizes writing, philosophy, environmental studies, while supporting student centered-inquiry.  The program is modeled on Henry David Thoreau’s sojourn to Walden Pond where he immersed himself in his ecology to deepen his sense of self, society, and the natural world. To that end, students are encouraged to follow and pursue their own areas of interest with support and guidance from the staff.

The Walden Project is not school in the traditional sense. It is a community of students and teachers who use this former farmland for what the founder calls a “great, living template for education.” They spend three days a week outdoors, through fall, bitter winter, and spring. On Tuesdays, for Field Sociology class and writing, the students visit government offices, nonprofit organizations, and other institutions in Burlington, a college town of 40,000 located 20 miles away. On Fridays, they work at internships in their areas of interest, such as Web design or photography.

The Schoolhouse Learning Center:
The Schoolhouse Learning Center is an accredited elementary school and licensed childcare center that has provided quality programs for over 40 years. Schoolhouse programs nurture each child’s innate curiosity and encourage independence of mind and resourcefulness. Families are invited to be a part of Schoolhouse programs and are a vital part of the community. Our educational philosophy and values are founded upon five Core Concepts: Trust, Sharing, Responsibility, Respect and Belonging.

The Bellwether School:
We view education from a holistic perspective which means, first, we are concerned with the whole child – emotional, social, physical, moral, spiritual, artistic and creative as well as intellectual dimensions of their development – and second, that every child’s life is connected to wider contexts of experience – peers, family, community, culture, and the natural world.

Like all progressive educators, we see children as natural learners and honor that principle. We recognize that children come to the classroom with many gifts, multiple intelligences and languages, full potential, uniqueness, and natural curiosity. We strive to design a learning environment and to use teaching practices that support children’s characteristic ways of exploring, discovering, and constructing their knowledge of the world. Teachers draw forth the intrinsic motivation of each child so that learning becomes an interactive process that values imagination, creativity, and joy, fostering a love of learning. Instead of dividing up the mind and the body, science and the humanities, action and thought, intelligence and emotion, holistic education seeks to bring these together. In this way, we foster the values of both independence of each learner and interdependence of all subjects as well as all aspects of life. Holistic education seeks to foster a sense of connection to both the natural world and the human community; we feel this approach cultivates social as well as ecological responsibility, a compassionate sense of wonder, and genuine self-understanding.

Yestermorrow Design/Build School:
Yestermorrow Design/Build School in Warren, Vermont offers over 150 hands-on courses per year in design, construction, woodworking, and architectural craft including a variety of courses concentrating in sustainable design and green building. Operating as a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization since 1980, Yestermorrow is one of the only design/build schools in the country, teaching both design and construction skills. Our 1-day to 3-week hands-on courses are taught by top architects, builders, and craftspeople from across the country.

A crucial aspect of our continued success derives from the supportive spirit of the community around us.

In turn, we are committed to improving and contributing to our local community. We do this through offering our time and skill in building a variety of projects in collaboration with local non-profits, schools, and other organizations that contribute to the well being of our community. Our mission is best met when we can pair our efforts with those who can most benefit from them.

There are numerous examples of work the school created over the years throughout the Mad River Valley and beyond. Some of the more notable ones include the Wheeler Brook picnic pavillion, the “Snail” bus shelter in East Warren, the bandstand at the farmers market in Waitsfield, the play structure at the Verd-Mont trailer park, and a trail shelter for the Mad River Path. Aside from the more visible examples of our work, we regularly create cabinetry, concrete countertops, small cob walls and buildings, timber frames, decks, renovations, treehouses and other building projects that may not be obvious to the general public. Additionally, we create structures that are trucked from the school to their final destination.  Click here to view a slideshow of many of our community projects.

cochran's

Cochran’s Ski Area:
In the summer of 1998, Cochran’s Ski Area became a non-profit organization with a mission “to provide area youth and families with affordable skiing and snowboarding, lessons and race training, in the Cochran tradition.” Cochran’s is the nation’s first IRS 501 (c)(3) tax-exempt ski area. “No child will be denied the opportunity to ski or ride”.

Vergennes Laundry:
Located in a former Laundromat, Vergennes Laundry in Vermont is an example of community enterprise at its best. Julianne Jones raised the seed money through Kickstarter and offers $500 memberships, redeemable in pastries.

Jones and her French husband, Didier Murat, opened Vergennes Laundry in 2010, creating an all-white interior featuring concrete, wood, and white-painted paneled walls that allow the food and the customers (and the wood-burning bread oven) to dictate the atmosphere. Jones was inspired by Scandinavian design when she created the interiors, “especially Aalto; and on the French side, Prouvé, Perriand, and le Corbusier (all through my architecture studies at Middlebury and in Copenhagen).” The bakery was built by hand: Murat made the counters, the cases, the shelving, and the wooden tables, while Jones’ mother sewed the aprons and napkins out of rustic linen.

pane e salute:
(the same people also do: la garagista and arlette & janvier studio/due)
osteria pane e salute is a farm restaurant founded sixteen years ago on SlowFood principles.  Our kitchen is inspired by our landscape with a focus on local, homegrown, and natively wild.  Our  wine list is also inspired by terroir with the mission to compile a living archive of regional, indigenous Italian varietals.  When you come to dine with us, we intend for you to savor your dishes, wine, and company.  Our aim is to preserve the experience of sharing a meal and the elegance of hospitality, and to take the time to appreciate both.  Our restaurant is not designed for those in a hurry.  We invite you to enjoy your evening with us…

American Flatbread:
American Flatbread began as a gift to friends and a leap of faith. It probably began in Gladys Ford’s kitchen, where her grandson George watched as she cooked with a wood fire.

One summer night, George built his first primitive wood fired oven of field stone from his land. He guessed it wouldn’t be capable of baking a loaf of bread so he attempted to make a flatbread. The original stone oven raised more questions than it answered: would it get hot enough? would the bread stick? would the food taste good?
To everyone’s surprise, it worked, and the bread was good.

Larger ovens followed.  In 1987, a ten-ton oven was built on the outdoor patio at Tucker Hill Lodge, and we baked under the stars.  The following year, a new oven was built which incorportated ideas from the traditional clay ovens of rural Quebec, most notably the earthen dome signature to American Flatbread ovens today.

American Flatbread is a return to bread’s roots. We have reached back to the very beginning of bread baking and used the same artisan methods: simple, wholesome ingredients shaped by hands of thoughtful caring people, baked in a primitive wood-fired earthen oven.

The nature of the bread we eat — from the way the grain is grown, harvested, milled, mixed, and baked to how it is administered and policed; from how it is hoarded or shared to whether its production enriches or enslaves — will shape our own nature and the destiny of our culture.

It is the mission of American Flatbread to provide good, flavorful, nutritious food that gives both joy and health, and to share this food with others in ways sustainable to all.

Old Brick Store:
The Old Brick Store is a mission driven community supported enterprise.  Our mission is to provide Convenience with a Conscience.  We want to be more than just a convenience store—we want to be a full service grocery store, offering all the essentials to our neighbors.  We offer fresh produce, fresh bread, local meats and cheeses, sustainable products and organic products, as well as conventional options.

The Adamant Cooperative:
The Adamant Co-op doesn’t fit neatly into any category. Since its founding in 1935 it has served the surrounding area as grocery store, post office, art studio and home of the infamous Black Fly Festival.  The Co-op is the hub of a vibrant community, joining us together as we stop for conversation while picking up our mail, volunteer in staffing the store, leave notes for each other in the community box, pick up a gallon of milk, or indulge in a quick chocolate fix. Surrounded by waterfalls and ponds, and next to the Adamant Music School and QuarryWorks Theatre, the Co-op is a wonderful destination for a meandering bike ride or drive.

The Co-op sells basic groceries and an eclectic combination of foods to suit the varied tastes of the neighborhood: an impressive selection of wines, one of the best selections of chocolates west of Switzerland, fresh baked cakes and pastries,  Or scrumptious take out meals, and a wide array of local products such as syrup and honey, home made pickles, prize winning eggs from farms down the road, jams, and local seasonal produce. You’ll find a request clipboard hanging from a wooden supporting beam–if we don’t have it, just ask.

Janet Macleod’s studio is above the store and she is always glad to show visitors around.

In summer our screen porch is a wonderful place to sit and watch the local goings on, check email with our free WiFi, or attend one of our Friday Night Cookout & Music evenings. Sodom Pond, across the road, (yes Sodom, the village was once so named, inspired by the disreputable goings on at the old quarry) is home for a rich bird, beaver and turtle population.

Barnard General Store:
The Barnard General Store was established in 1832 and stands as one of the longest running General Stores in Vermont. The Barnard Community Trust has been formed as a local, non-profit organization committed to finding a way to save our much loved and much needed Barnard General Store. Our larger mission is to promote and enable the Town of Barnard to maintain and enhance its rural quality of life in a positive and sustainable way.

Woodstock Farmer’s Market:
The Farmers’ Market is a very busy, crazy, year round market of fantastic food. We’re really hard to describe—we serve our local community great food that ranges from take-out prepared dinners and lunches to regular stuff like milk and eggs to fresh organic produce to fresh meats and everything in between. Our vision for the Market has always been to make great food accessible to everyone. We all love food and love to cook but we’re not snobby about it. In fact, we don’t consider ourselves “gourmet,” because it implies exclusivity, and we believe that anyone can create great food. Most of the time one just needs a little help…a recipe perhaps; the best, freshest ingredients you can find; or just an outgoing and friendly staffer to help out with an idea.

I think what sets us apart is that we really take this job of “bringing the food to the people” very seriously. We’re concerned about the process: what we charge for our products, what ingredients we use in our food, how clean we are, who our vendors and farmers are, where our fruits, vegetables and ingredients come from and how we treat each other and our guests.

And what’s really cool about the Market is that each and every person in a decision- making capacity lives and breathes food and service. From Brandon, our produce leader, who has been a restaurant chef for most of his professional life, to Melanie in our Grocery Department, who is our Tex-Mex expert, growing up in a food-loving family in El Paso. It’s a simple passion for food and you can feel it every time you step into the store.

Even more important these days though is actually knowing where your food comes from…and we make it point of making sure our guests know. From smart local buying to great signage, you know and trust that we are the preeminent farm to table grocer. We love supporting our local food chain and think it’s one of the most important things we can do for our community.

Maglianero:
Through Maglianero we’re creating an experience with both local
prominence and global relevance. In our hometown of Burlington,
Vermont, USA, we are developing, testing, and sharing the ideas that serve the continuum of needs of the Modern Mobility Movement:

Farm-direct, hand-crafted coffees-the fuel for the ride.

A café/collaborative space/commuter hub-the center of community
interaction, education, and creativity.

A responsibly-sourced, durably crafted and built, commuter-centric cycling apparel brand-stylish, functional, year round protection from the elements.

Cobb Hill Cohousing:
Cobb Hill is a community of people who want to explore the challenge of living in ways that are materially sufficient, socially and ecologically responsible, and satisfying to the soul.

Situated in rural Hartland, Vermont, we try to practice sustainable land management—ecological farming and forestry, energy efficiency, and minimization of waste.  We are also developing the skills of community: sharing, responsibility, compassion, communication, consensus building, conflict resolution, appreciation of diversity and love.   We believe that these skills are necessary to bring the larger society to sustainability and sufficiency, and we want to learn them to the best of our ability.

Some of our Enterprises:


Longhouse:
Longhouse, Publishers & Booksellers, was established in 1971 by the poet and editor, Bob Arnold. Joined by Susan in 1974, we have published hundreds of folders, chapbooks, broadsides, anthologies and small edition books by mimeograph, letterpress, photocopy and off-set…Integrating our bookselling and publishing business with a working and family life, Bob Arnold makes a living as a stonemason as shown in his authored book On Stone published by Origin Press. We also provide building and landscaping/caretaking services including dog & cat boarding!

Unitarian Church of Montpelier:
Originally called the Church of the Messiah, the Unitarian Church of Montpelier has been a Unitarian church since it was built in the mid-1800s.

The church was designed by Thomas Silloway, the architect of the present Vermont State House and many Universalist churches around New England. Dedicated on January 25, 1866, the church is the oldest standing church in Montpelier, and is the only church in Montpelier that has its original organ, a Stevens tracker organ. The building and the organ are used regularly for services and concerts. Many community organizations hold public events and meetings at the church.

All Souls Interfaith Gathering:

All Souls Interfaith Gathering is a seeker’s destination, a safe haven for exploring spiritual and human values. Our commitment is to express love toward all through lifting spirit in music, inspirational words, community service and environmental stewardship.

We are a nondenominational community that welcomes everyone – at whatever point a person may be in his or her spiritual journey. Our goal is to offer each person an opportunity to forge a personal connection with the Divine Source – by any name He or She is called.

Our journey together began on April 11, 1999. At that time the pattern for our Sunday Evensong Service began to unfold. Music plays a major role in “Evensong” because we believe that it provides a special spiritual connection. Along with music, the services combine spiritual readings and reflections on world issues and personal values, as well as Christian, Jewish, Islam, Buddhists, Hindu, Taoist and Native American beliefs and sacred texts.

Spiritual healing is quietly woven throughout the Evensong Service, Healing and Prayer services, classes, and in one-on-one conversation and counseling.

The Bread and Puppet Theater:
The Bread and Puppet Theater was founded in 1963 by Peter Schumann on New York City’s Lower East Side. Besides rod-puppet and hand puppet shows for children, the concerns of the first productions were rents, rats, police, and other problems of the neighborhood. More complex theater pieces followed, in which sculpture, music, dance and language were equal partners. The puppets grew bigger and bigger. Annual presentations for Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving and Memorial Day often included children and adults from the community as participants. Many performances were done in the street. During the Vietnam War, Bread and puppet staged block-long processions and pageants involving hundreds of people.

In 1974 Bread and Puppet moved to a farm in Glover in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont. The 140-year old hay barn was transformed into a museum for veteran puppets. Our Domestic Resurrection Circus, a two day outdoor festival of puppetry shows, was presented annually through 1998

Eat More Kale:
Bo Muller-Moore is a father, former teacher and runs a small business out of his home in Montpelier, Vt. He makes shirts that have simple messages — ‘Cheese’ was the first he made, then he was asked by a local farmer to make another that said ‘Eat More Kale.’

The River of Light Lantern Parade:
The River of Light is Waterbury’s Community Lantern Procession.  In December 2010, artists Gowri Savoor and Angelo Arnold worked with school art teacher MK Monley and the pupils of Thatcher Brook Primary School in Waterbury, VT to create over 150 willow and tissue paper lanterns for our inaugural event. Spectators of all ages lined the parade route in support of the parade which was led by Burlington’s street Samba band, Sambatucada. The procession was also joined by artists from Central Vermont, who created larger-scale lanterns during a special one-day workshop. And of course none of this would have been possible without our crew of hard-working volunteers.

Warren 4th of July Parade:
Some say Warren, Vermont’s 4th of July is the ‘greatest independence day celebration anywhere’. It’s hard to argue when all of the Mad River Valley gets together to celebrate some serious independence, Vermont-style. Always on the 4th of July, this full day of festivities, quixotic parade, buddy badge contest, music, and food is recommended for ages 1 month to 110 years old!

The Tunbridge World’s Fair:
The Tunbridge World’s Fair is an annual event held in mid-September in Tunbridge, Vermont. The annual fair continues to this day with demonstrations of farming and agricultural traditions and culture, working antique displays, horse and ox pulling, horse racing, cattle and horse shows, junior exhibits, floral and 4-H exhibits, contra dancing, gymkhana, and many free shows.

ticonderoga-drawing

Shelburne Museum:
Located in Vermont’s scenic Lake Champlain Valley, Shelburne Museum is one of the finest, most diverse, and unconventional museums of art and Americana. Over 150,000 works are exhibited in a remarkable setting of 39 exhibition buildings, 25 of which are historic and were relocated to the Museum grounds.

Impressionist paintings, folk art, quilts and textiles, decorative arts, furniture, American paintings, and a dazzling array of 17th-to 20th-century artifacts are on view. Shelburne is home to the finest museum collections of 19th-century American folk art, quilts, 19th- and 20th-century decoys, and carriages.

Electra Havemeyer Webb (1888-1960) was a pioneering collector of American folk art and founded Shelburne Museum in 1947. The daughter of H.O. and Louisine Havemeyer, important collectors of European and Asian art, she exercised an independent eye and passion for art, artifacts, and architecture celebrating a distinctly American aesthetic.

When creating the Museum she took the imaginative step of collecting 18th- and 19th-century buildings from New England and New York in which to display the Museum’s holdings, relocating 20 historic structures to Shelburne. These include houses, barns, a meeting house, a one-room schoolhouse, a lighthouse, a jail, a general store, a covered bridge, and the 220-foot steamboat Ticonderoga.

Mrs. Webb sought to create “an educational project, varied and alive.” What visitors experience at Shelburne is unique: remarkable collections exhibited in a village-like setting of historic New England architecture, accented by a landscape that includes over 400 lilacs, a circular formal garden, herb and heirloom vegetable gardens, and perennial gardens.

The Museum’s collections, educational programs, special events, workshops, activities, and special exhibitions constantly offer new perspectives on four centuries of art and material culture, assuring visitors a museum experience unlike any other.

Rokeby Museum:
Perched on a hill overlooking the Champlain Valley, Rokeby Museum provides an intimate record of two centuries of Vermont family life and agriculture. The house and farm nurtured and survived the growing up and growing old of four generations of Robinsons—a remarkable family of Quakers, farmers, abolitionists, authors, and artists.

Today, listed as a National Historic Landmark, the site tells two stories simultaneously — of the Robinsons in particular, and more broadly, of Vermont and New England social history from the 1790s to 1961.

Rokeby Museum is one of the best-documented Underground Railroad sites in the country. It was designated a National Historic Landmark by the National Park Service in recognition of its outstanding history in 1997.

Rowland Thomas and Rachel Gilpin Robinson were devout Quakers and radical abolitionists, and they harbored many fugitive slaves at their family home and farm during the decades of the 1830s and 1840s. Among the thousands of letters in the family’s correspondence collection are several that mention fugitive slaves by name and in some detail.

Labor of Love:
Vermont Works for Women is proud to present Labor of Love, an exhibit of photos and interview excerpts that recognizes and honors 29 women who are passionate about their work, who are an inspiration to others, and who exemplify excellence in their field. The honorees – who are an inspiration to others and who exemplify excellence in their fields – come from all parts of Vermont. They are farmers, doctors, tattoo artists, college presidents, electricians, and general store clerks. They hail from Newport to Vernon. They are young and young-at-heart, well-known and not.

Against Cosmopolitanism – Mark T. Mitchell – Rootedness vs. Restlessness – Wendell Berry

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 06/19/2012

The Unmaking and Making of Community – Mark T. Mitchell

Skepticism about transcendent reality tends to lead in the direction of philosophical materialism, and philosophical materialism in our age has opened the door to the more general materialism of consumerism…Home tends to become merely a launching place for economic and hedonistic endeavors, and individuals tend to lose any abiding concern for the long-term future of the local community. In such a setting, any notion of community membership, which evokes ideas of commitment and loving concern over a lifetime, is replaced by the much narrower concerns for personal affluence and individual pleasure.

…a healthy local community comprises particular people inhabiting a particular place and sharing local customs, activities, and stories. In short, they participate in a complex web of relations that are flavored by the particular history, geography, and culture of that place. When we describe a local community in those terms, it becomes clear how a massive national community is simply an impossible ideal. Even more fanciful is the notion of a world community. To be sure, because we share a common nature and many common needs and desires, we can empathize with and render aid to humans from radically different communities. But the cosmopolitan ideal that one can be a “citizen of the world” is only imaginable if we strip down the rich notion of community to mean something like “the brotherhood of man.” The idea of universal brotherhood is appealing and, as far as it goes, it is true, but abstract brotherhood is not the same as living in a local community with men and women of flesh and blood… it may be easier to love the world than to love our neighbor. Ultimately, when love for a particular place and the people inhabiting that place are lost, community is lost as well. Love itself becomes an abstraction.

But though the temptation to stay at arm’s length, to inhabit a place with ironic detachment, is alluring, the implications for a robust and healthy local community are grave. Indeed, if a critical mass of such people occupy a certain place, they are merely a collection of individuals rather than a community. They are mere residents and not stewards. In such a situation, local stories and traditions that are only kept alive in the telling and the practice are lost. But these are the very things that provide context and meaning to our social lives. They provide us with guidelines for acting together. They are the source of manners and customs that make life in a community possible. With the loss of common traditions and shared stories, we lose the cues that help us navigate a particular local world.

…[Wendell] Berry argues that a meaningful community must include the ideas of rootedness and human scale. “By community, I mean the commonwealth and common interests, commonly understood, of people living together in a place and wishing to continue to do so. To put it another way, community is a locally understood interdependence of local people, local culture, local economy, and local nature.” Berry identifies the corrosion of flourishing communities as the result of an excessive individualism that places rights ahead of responsibilities and economic gain ahead of meaningful and durable relationships—relationships with neighbors, with local customs and practices, with the land itself. As he puts it, “if the word community is to mean or amount to anything, it must refer to a place (in its natural integrity) and its people. It must refer to a placed people….The modern industrial urban centers are ‘pluralistic’ because they are full of refugees from destroyed communities, destroyed community economies, disintegrated local cultures, and ruined local ecosystems.” Ultimately, according to Berry, “a plurality of communities would require not egalitarianism and tolerance but knowledge, an understanding of the necessity of local differences, and respect. Respect, I think, always implies imagination—the ability to see one another, across our inevitable differences, as living souls.”

 

Against University Uniformity And For The Provincial Institution – Localization – Place Based Education – Intra-diversity vs. Inter-diversity

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 06/04/2012

This may rub my progressive friends the wrong way, but there is much to think about here. There is a powerful critique of universality to be made, and this piece does so, showing how the notion is related to the abstraction of (economic) exchange. There is something Baudrillardian about that line of thinking, although I’m sure Wilson would not embrace the comparison. The localization of education at the university level is not something progressives/liberals talk enough about (if at all).

Universal Uniformity in the University – James Matthew Wilson

If contemporary diversity leads all departments, all schools, and the character of all graduates to look roughly alike, it would seem reasonable to propose an alternative account of diversity that takes the word more seriously and makes it conducive to a substantive good that cannot be measured with a calculator…what if an institution were to commit itself not to attracting students and faculty from every possible state and a smattering of foreign lands, but to building up a faculty composed whenever possible of persons from a specific region and committed to educating the youth of that region?  This used to be quite common, but in the impossible chase of the Ivies, even schools that stand no realistic chance of attracting a “world class” elite faculty nonetheless burn their local bridges in the attempt to do so.  This reduces the cultural capital otherwise available to universities through nurturing and retaining their native population, and makes it difficult for an institution to manifest the particularities that naturally arise in a settled culture.  Mobility and geographical cherry-picking homogenize more than civilize.

So, I ask, what if universities began hiring according to specific, exclusive, and perhaps even ungeneralizable criteria about what kind of knowledge is valuable?  Currently, most scholars are more loyal to their profession and the standards and interests of their field of expertise than they are to their institution.  They have to be, because the institution offers little of substance to which they might feel profound intellectual fidelity.  Rather than seeking to have the best-available scholar in every field, schools might specialize more, and coordinate that specialization across departments and disciplines, reaching a provisionally local but robust consensus on the attributes proper to the life of learning.

…building upon a less widely “imported” faculty, and a newly circumscribed curriculum that makes substantive choices about what constitutes the essential knowledge of the liberally educated person of a particular institution, we may entertain the prospect of universities’ provisionally abandoning the attempt to establish a global, banal, and diluted consensus regarding the attributes of a good graduate’s character.

…yet schools restrict this celebration of “difference” to admissions criteria and superficial demographic festoons on an otherwise homogenous institutional coat rack.

We would then realize real diversity between institutions, rather than a uniform diversity within them.  That this would result in inferior and superior character formation at different schools would be an obvious consequence, but I am not sure why we would shy away from ambitious experiments in character and virtue, in an age where nearly everyone is convinced—for often opposed reasons—that universities are failing their students both intellectually and morally.

[All bold emphases mine.]