My work in communities as a visiting artist is seasonal. The projects only stay up for three months or so, passing like the bloom of a garden. But I believe the projects’ spirit stays with the place and participants in other ways. Just this last month two communities: St Louis, Missouri, and Tubac, Arizona, where POW recently grew sent me some of their artifacts. In early May, Terry Suhre, the gallery director of Gallery 210 at the University of Missouri/St Louis sent the lovely catalog that was published to document the ambitious project that was done in St Louis during the summer of 2014. St Louis’ rich tradition of writers and poets were well represented thanks to efforts from Terry and poet curator, Jennifer Goldring.
Just last week I received a large packet from Tubac, Arizona. The Tubac project was installed along the historic Anza Trail and had the greatest number of participants thus far- a total of 42 boxes were created. The journals filled up and were replaced numerous times. At the end of the project many of the boxes were auctioned off and the two main partners: The Tubac Center of the Arts and the Anza trail Coalition benefited from fund raising. The Arts center sent me the copies of journal entries and I got to imagine walking the trail one more time.
Because of the temporal nature of the project I often talk about the poetry of the wild installations as one would of community gardens. To begin, I come in with the seed of the idea to share with the community and during that first week of my engagement the garden gets planted in the minds of the participants. I then leave for at least 6 weeks. During this time the community participants begin to think of the poems they will use or write and how to create poetry boxes for them. When I return to work with the town I see the seedlings that have sprung, tactile beautiful and inspired poetry boxes. During this stage the community decides on a network of trails for the boxes and we plant them together. Once installed in the local landscape, the third stage is pollination. Like the bees doing the work of plant pollination the public seeks out and visits the artful boxes which are meant to be inviting to open and use. Each contains a journal and the project is fully animated only when the public response begins.
The last phase is the harvest, when the poetry boxes come down some organizations will choose to auction the poetry boxes like Tubac did. It is also the time when the journals are collected, archived, and sometimes a catalog is made- like St Louis was inspired to do, or book is made- it’s on my list.
Strewn across my desk is just some the latest harvest awaiting sorting and further attentions from this artist-farmer who always seems to be trying to keep up. These artifacts also remind me of the rich community engagement and relationships that I’m so fortunate to have and reminds me why I love to plant this project.