Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Art in Difficult Times

One of Youngstown’s gems, the Butler Institute of American Art, turns 90 this year. This week on Lincoln Avenue, I’m talking with museum director Lou Zona about what’s happening at the museum this summer. On the top of the list is the anniversary gala. The May 28th event with feature actress Jessica Lange. An exhibit of her photographs will also open that evening.

Late in the summer, the Butler will host its annual Midyear Exhibition, a nationally-recognized, juried show. As Lou explains in our interview, this show is not only exciting to put on, it is viewed by artists and galleries around the country as an important exhibit for emerging artists. The Butler is also extending the Andrew Wyeth exhibit, and it has a new exhibit of small-scale collages from the National Collage Society. With so much high-quality activity, it’s not surprising that the Butler was recently re-accredited. In our interview, Lou explains what that means and why it matters.

But we also talk about the challenges facing museums and other arts organizations in this time of economic crisis. I’ve written elsewhere about how the current situation might connect with the 1930s, but so far I’m not seeing any signs of what I think is one of the most culturally significant aspects of the New Deal – the arts programs sponsored by the Works Progress Administration. Roosevelt’s stimulus plan, unlike Obama’s, funded arts projects as a way of getting artists back to work. In the process, those artists also created some significant new works and reached out to new audiences. In the current recession, we have to take on that responsibility as members of the community. By supporting the arts, we not only help provide jobs for those who make, exhibit, and distribute art. We also support the availability of art that can help us understand the events and issues of the moment and find inspiration to persevere in difficult times.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Growing More Than Good Food

May is garden time. While you’re beginning to plant tomatoes and pansies, this is also a good time to think about the larger social value of growing your own food, supporting local agriculture, and contributing to the greening of our community. On Lincoln Avenue this week, I’m talking with Elsa Higby, director of Grow Youngstown, who’s organizing several projects focused on these issues.

Along with supporting and encouraging urban gardening, Elsa is not only advocating but also helping make it easy for local residents to buy most of their summer produce from local farms. Through community-supported agriculture – also known as CSA – you can buy a share of what’s being grown on one of three area farms. Every week this summer, you can pick up a box of fresh veggies, fruit, and herbs at a convenient site in the city. Grow Youngstown is also offering shares in two local meat producers. Participating gives you lower-cost, higher-quality food as well as the pleasure of knowing that you’re helping support local agriculture and build our community.

As Elsa explains in our interview, all of this is not only about improving the quality of our food, our environment, and our community. It’s part of a global vision about improving the world through social change and organizing. Who knew that what you eat could matter so much?

Grow Youngstown is not the only greening project in the Mahoning Valley these days. As we discuss in the interview, it’s part of an expanding network of projects aimed at planting more trees, building more urban gardens, and helping people who’ve never planted a garden learn how to make things grow. Interested in getting involved? Contact any of the folks below:

Fairgreen Neighborhood Garden
(North Side of Youngstown - plots available)
Contact: Elsa Higby or Hannah Woodroofe

Good Natured Gardening Partners (ages 5 and over)
Competitive/Educational program
Contact: Dave Georig OSU Extension
(330) 533-5538

Jubilee Gardens
(Brier Hill, Youngstown - plots available)
May 21st luncheon and garden kickoff
Contact: Mary
(330) 651-3054

St. Patrick’s Church and 4-H Oakhill Clovers
(South Side of Youngstown - plots available)
Contact: Carla Hlavac
(330) 743-1109

The Urban Community Victory Garden
A project of Concerned Citizens II, OSU Trumbull County Master Gardeners and Horace Mann School
(Warren - 15 x 30 plots available)
Contact: Steve Hudkins
(330) 637-3530

Treez Please
Planting trees and creating urban gardens in Youngstown

They’re hosting a Perennial Plant Exchange on May 16 at 1 pm
Contact: Susie Beiersdorfer
(330) 881-1050