reWorking Michigan: Art Meets Academics at the Broad Museum

Apr 15, 2012

This week from reWorking Michigan, we look at the first project under development at the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University.   The Land Grant Project will stretch the museum’s mission, bringing artists into the classrooms at MSU.

Alison Gass looks around the former Barnes and Noble space on Grand River in East Lansing.  It’s empty now, but this Saturday, she plans to fill it with artists, students, academics and farmers.  Gass is curator of contemporary art at the Broad Museum.  The seeds of this project, however, were planted in her previous job at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

“When I was in San Francisco, I worked with artists who are engaging something that they call social practice, which is basically art practice that exists outside the confines of a museum wall,” says Gass.  “Not object-based, but really action-based, with a focus on social mindedness.”

Gass has invited some of these emerging artists to work with students and faculty at MSU, focusing on issues of land use, food and sustainability.

“I came here to MSU and learned about the history of the Land Grant and learned about the incredible Agriculture School here and the work being done,” says Gass.  “It resonated so strongly both with my own interest in artists engaging social practice, but also with the mission of the Broad, which is to kind of think globally and look at the issues of the day.”

Amy Franceschini will be the first Land Grant artist in residence

Amy Franceschini is an artist with a collective in San Francisco called Future Farmers.  She’ll be the first artist to get a Land Grant residency at the Broad.  Franceschini is coming here this week to tour the campus and get ideas for what her project might be.  She’s intrigued by the history of MSU and has been digging through the MSU archives.  She’s  looking for examples of projects that were going on at the inception of the Land Grant in the 1850’s. 

“To look at what was going on in the United States at that time, I think is really important to parallel it,” says Franceschini.  “To look at what was driving this land grant. What was driving the politics behind it and what’s going on now?  How can we feed off that, or learn from that?”

In 2008, in San Francisco, Franceschini organized a project where she turned the entire city hall plaza into a community garden, similar to a victory garden that was there during World War Two.   She says her project here will be very specific to MSU and in the context of a university that is focused on the production of food.  She says contemporary art can shift people’s perspectives about those kinds of issues.

“When I experience great art, it does that to you,” says Franceschini. “You’re like whoa! That’s the space that art opens up.  It’s that moment when the idea of the world that I had isn’t exactly what it used to be.” 

The Organic Pig Project at the Student Organic Farm

Over at the Student Organic Farm on campus, Laurie Thorp is hoping that the Organic Pig Project will provide Franceschini with some inspiration. Thorp is coordinator of RISE, a residential program for students interested in environmental stewardship.  The pigs here are raised outdoors on pasture.   

“Students that are out here training to become organic farmers, coupled with my students who are looking to become zoologists and engineers and communication specialists, come together around this physical practice of farming,” says Thorp. “They learn about what it means to create a sustainable food system.”

Thorp says she uses lots of different teaching methods, including the arts.

“The aesthetics and the art for us is a really important piece of food and farming,” says Thorp. “It’s not just something that you engage at the grocery store or at the table or intellectually. We’re also going to engage this farm, each other, in community with these animals, all of our senses, our emotions, as well as our intellect.”

Kick-off event for the Land Grant Project

For the kick-off of the Land Grant Project this Saturday, Alison Gass has invited faculty, farmers and artists for a town hall-type discussion of what the Land Grant means for MSU.  There’ll be farming and sustainability activities for kids, an indoor farmer’s market and in the evening, live music.  

reWorking Michigan examines our evolving economy, as citizens of the Great Lake State explore new ways to make a living and build a future for their families. A project of WKAR NewsRoom, WKAR-TV and WKAR Online.