My experience this first semester was quite exciting, in that Professor Wascovich planned for a very diverse set of visitors. A veritable smorgasbord of artists and activism oriented talkers. So, what I'll do here is briefly express what I took away from the talks we got to enjoy.
Summer & LaMendez are a young couple living on a Navajo Nation reservation. They were recently written about in the NY Times because of their efforts to address food needs in what amounts to a food desert. The article titled For the Navajo Nation, a Fight for Better Food Gains New Urgency. The article illuminated the impact of the pandemic on a the Navajo nation's struggle for food sovereignty and highlighted this couple's efforts to address it with farming.
We had an opportunity to get, first hand, some idea of the struggle of living as a Navajo, on the reservation. They shared a bit of their story, regarding how difficult access to healthy food is, and how the difficulty is being addressed locally.
The couple shared how politics complicates getting support for their programs, and the conflict due to the need to maintain sovereignty as a nation. It seems that food, water, and land are sort of held as a control. The land and water are held in a trust by the government, and access or ownership have to be applied for. Then, these applications are saddled with arduous bureaucratic process, and sometimes local politics.
Ironically, and not unlike many of the 'ghetto' urban areas of many U.S. cities, they said that fast-food, such as Burger King and the like are readily available. Whereas in order to shop for nutritious items, such as fruit and vegetables, and water, must be reached by motor transportation, on the order of 45 minutes or more sometimes. Water is most frequently purchased on long distance drives, despite that wells could access ground water, principally because the bureaucratic process presents a hurdle for well digging, not to mention the staggering fees and costs to build one. So, effectively, not only is healthy food, but water is also practically unavailable locally.
Summer explained how she and LamMendez are finding the means to work on their garden. She explained that they work with other gardeners, and socialize methods and processes to make the gardens productive despite the arid and rocky soil. They also exchange and cooperate for the benefit of variety. Lastly, regarding means, LaMendez found a new hobby that they turned into a family business, which is selling handmade leather items by way of World Wide Web based commerce. They have a website, and are beginning to see a flow of sales.
Their sustainable agriculture efforts have a website: AJO Center for Sustainable Agriculture
An article about the food crisis: Navajo Nation Food Desert
The NY Times article can be found at: NYT Article
Their eCommerce website: Lotus & Layne Leather
Jeannoute is a private school teacher at Abington Friends School in Jenkintown, Pennsylvania. He has been inspired to purse the work of mentoring low income and marginalized student in reading and writing classes, in Philadelphia, for free.
What might be considered the most significant aspect of this story is that his goal is to have students learn by meeting, and discussing protests that are happening in their communities. He said that “With the explosion of the Black Lives Matter movement and the unfortunate murder of George Floyd, that just added to the conversation,” in a CNN interview. He expressed that these classes were likely to be the best way for him to leverage his experience, and help the students, and connect with them.
Jeannoute talked with us about his program and process, talking about how important it is to teach a class that would arm students with "context from history" so that they can have a better grasp of what is happening in movements today.
The humble and funny Bartley indicated that he understands that the big difference between the private school where he teaches, and public schools, is that some voices of the children in the public schools can get lost in the shuffle. He sees what he does as “an opportunity for me to give back to one of my principles of teaching, which is to give a voice to those who have been overlooked.”
Websites and articles: Abington Friends School
CNN article: 'Protest Writing' workshop gives students an outlet to fight racial injustice and bullying
New Yorker Magazine article: Summer School for Protest Writing
Parker, a classically trained musician, put on exhibition one of the most interesting shows that I can imagine. Unfortunately, I did not get to experience this live performance. However, Steve painted a very vivid picture of it for us to imagine, and then...he showed a video :)
Steve shared with us, his passion for sound and how it can be seen differently. In fact, despite his education, he does not spend his time these days working as a musician. Instead, he does teach music to help make a living, and he makes art out of classic instruments and sound devices. In many cases, he is doing a lot of his work for a non-profit, providing artwork and performances for the public.
One such work was called BAT//MAN. A very large production whose lead performer was a cauldron of 1.5 million Mexican Free-Tailed bats. These bats were something of a local feature as it were. The colony of bats live under the Congress Street bridge in Austin, Texas.
The work was, as he described it, a ritual-like performance. The performance explored how living creatures use sound to navigate, The bat's performance was accompanied by a conch shell ensemble, a local choir using megaphones, a garden hose consort, and some handmade echolocation devices, which were modeled after Alvin Lucier's SONDOLS.
Steve went on to share with us some images and videos of pieces he has on exhibition at a gallery in Austin. These artworks were clearly about sound, but the pieces also provided an interaction that could be said to have made the viewer participant a part of the artwork for a moment.
He was friendly and engaging, and briefly touched upon some insights he had gained over the years of how an artist can get supportive finance by working for the public good. Many people were interested but we seemed to get sidetracked before he could go any deeper. There was a book recommended, but that was the extent of the discussion.
Steve's website: Steve Parker