Saturday, August 15, 2015

The Community Table at Red Lodge Clay Center | DO GOOD Residency

I use art to tell a story and ceramics to give people a voice, allow them to share, connect, and engage with each other. The Community Table took place in Red Lodge, Montana this past July. I was awarded the 2015 MJ Wood DO GOOD Residency at Red Lodge Clay Center. Thanks to Jill Foote-Hutton who conceived of the idea for this social practice residency.

I am honored that RLCC selected my proposal for The Community Table and allowed me to come work with their community. The idea came a few summers ago when I started thinking about using the meal as a place to get people together and start conversations. Food is a natural connector and I have found it makes people comfortable. To sit and talk without food or drink will make one uneasy but to share food shifts ones perspective in a multitude of ways.

The Community Table first started in Columbus, Ohio when I sheepishly set up a tablecloth and a set of dishes in a city park. After no one even attempted to get near the table I realized I needed to revisit my plans for the project. So I brought the table inside as part of Trefoil an exhibition I had with my great friends Lindsay Scypta and Gunyoung Kim. Still the table did not function at its greatest potential inside a gallery. People we scared to sit at the table and use the dishes without guidance. And yet again the project failed. I tell you this because I must learn from my failure. I am not embarrassed by it or ashamed by it. I look at it as getting me one step closer to achieving the vision I had for the project. If I had given up with the idea The Community Table as I know it now would never have happened.

In my proposal to RLCC the idea behind The Community Table was simply a table (really a set of dishes that travels to different tables) where people preferably those who don’t know each other well could come together to share meals. When I arrived in Red Lodge at the beginning of July I spent a few weeks getting to know the community, connecting with business owners, and planning meals that would take place at the end of the month. I balanced this with making a set of ceramic dishes in the studio. The cups and bowls were decorated with a diamond pattern that I found on the side of a building in town. Working with traditional round wheelthrown plates I decorated them sourcing images I collected around town inspired by the landscape, architecture, and businesses that made Red Lodge special.

The way I approached this project was to share my general idea with the community to see if they wanted to participate and if so in what capacity. The meals spanned from a large community meal that was already in place to a small meal at someone home.

At the end of the project, I had more friends then I had ever imagined I could gain in one month and Red Lodge felt like home not a place I had only visited for a month. I realized that I had intended to come to Red Lodge to bring the community together but in this happening I had joined the community. I learned that you cannot change something from the outside and thankfully  the people of Red Lodge let me in: into there homes, their lives, and their hearts! And they taught me a few things along the way. Most importantly they taught me to trust and to receive. I must have been naive to think that I could come to town and do this project and the community would simply say yes and that would be it. In learning to trust, I allowed the community take ownership and decide for themselves what would happen with the project. This was difficult but and important step in doing this type of work focused on community involvement. I view my roll as a maker: as a facilitator, a potter, and now a story teller. Most importantly I learned to receive. This came from working with John and Katye from KMB Communications. We became great friends and they taught me that receiving back from the community was an important element to the success of the project and that allowing the community to invest with me had been the goal from the very beginning. John and Katye offered their advice, equipment, and time they spent hours filming meals, interviews, and capturing the story.
Monday Nigh Dinner group arranged with Kerri from Honey's Cafe

Meal 1: Monday Night Dinner group at Haley's house
Meal 2: Community meal hosted by Common Ground at the Legacy Lodge
Meal 3: Lunch at Red Lodge Senior/ Community Center
Meal 4: Lunch at The Willows of Red Lodge, Assisted Living Center
Meal 5: Collabration between Honey's Cafe, Hope's Artisan Foods, and Moon Lake Market. Keri from Honey’s hosted the event, Hope prepared the food, and Will from Moon Lake Market donated the food. These three business owners invited a few customers who came in during the week preceding to share the meal together.
Meal 6: Lunch in the Sun a summer program offering a free meal for kids
Meal 7: Montana's Shakespeare in the Park following Taming of the Shrew
Meal 8: David and Maggy Hiltner allowed us to invite a few people to their home
Meal 9: Martha Young from Cafe Regis hosted a dinner that had been intended for all the restaurateurs in town but expanded to include just about everyone Martha saw that day.
Meal 10: Potluck lunch and artist talks at Red Lodge Clay Center
Meal 11: Final meal was at Steve Palmer's Ranch with dinner provided by Wholesome Foods Farm.

All those meals happened in the course of 8 days. After which Hannah dropped me off at the airport and I was instantly sick most likely from physical exhaustion.

This project would not have been half of what it was if not for my project partner Hannah Newman who spent the entire month of July living, eating, and working with me. Thank you Hannah- words could not possibly express how grateful I am for you hard work, dedication, and friendship!

Hopefully there is a video coming soon to help tell the story!

My hope for the future of this project is that it can expand and reach other communities. That not just the Red Lodge story will live on but that stories will continue to be made day after day and that the dishes that were left behind holding the memories will serve as a daily reminder of The Community Table
Music at Steve Palmer's Ranch during the final meal.
Katye, John, Jeni, Hannah
Hannah, Steve Palmer, Jeni
Everyone contributing to clean up the dishes.
Dessert by Mel the Chef at Honey's Cafe
Collaboration: Honey's Cafe, Hope's Artisan Foods, Moon Lake Market
Lunch in the Sun

Setting up the sign
Lunch at Maggy Hiltner's home
Potluck at Red Lodge Clay Center
Eating good food means washing a lot of dishes.