Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Conversation: BAN6 at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts

This is a comment response to The S. Kitchen Fan Erica P's post on The Eatable Life about the BAN6 Conversation at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts which happened on Saturday, February 19 from 1pm to 4pm. The guest speakers were Novella Carpenter, Leif Hedendal, and Bryant Terry. To get a detailed and accurate summary of the event, please head on over to The Eatable Life.

This is a commentary and reflection.

Thanks for this fab review of the event. I liked all three of the speakers as well. I think they all brought in different perspectives of the food movement and industry. I especially liked how Novella talked about her love of animals, and they are dinner. I found her description of the ritual of slaughter fascinating, and have been grappling with what it means to me as a meat eater.

I had a much harder time with the format.

To me, the crux of the conversation was the intersection of food, art, and social justice. Having come to food and art through the vocation of youth development and educational reform, I have a really hard time when "conversations" about these topics don't also embrace a food, art, and social justice approach. The format of the event was constructed using a classical educational approach. There were "experts", the panelists and curator, and "learners", the audience. These two positions need to be filled in a classical educational approach because the role of the expert is to impart their learning on the learner. The learner has little to no role in the area of expertise.

At this event, there was even a hierarchy in what role each particular audience member played. Throughout the event, the curator/moderator asked questions to "the artists". While I was in the audience and listening to the conversation and being asked questions, I took comfort in being called an artist. It made me feel like there was a level of importance in being an audience member, that I may in fact be an artist. I felt like they were also trying a new approach to learning, one that, while not completely embracing a social justice or people's educational approach, was at least moving in that direction.

After the event, I stuck around to talk to Bryant. I noticed as the chairs were being picked up that there were technically two classifications of audience members: ones whose seats read "Artist" and ones whose seats were blank. I haven't felt that dissed in a very long time, and it made me question the entirety of the event. Was this event really *for* me?

It also shed light onto a weird interaction between me and the moderator. During the discussion, I spoke and shared my story of how I came to both food and art. I have mostly worked in low-income, historically marginalized communities. Within those communities, art and food are not a superfluous question. They are questions of both survival and engagement. (I would argue engagement is survival, but that's another debate.) They ONLY way I got young people to the table and understanding anything was through food and art. Parents only came to meetings where food was present. I could only meet with teachers if I brought pizza. And that is solely on the most surface of levels.

The weird interaction came after I stated, "Take a look around and see who is here and who isn't here." (Or something incredibly similar.) I know I did not see a single person under mid-twenties. I can make a fairly educated guess that most had some (if not a lot) of post-secondary education. (I myself flunked out, so I might not be making that educated of a guess.) And all were, while maybe not rich per se, at least either upper-lower or lower-middle class and above. I couldn't imagine a single youth I worked with in my 15+ years of youth development work ever showing up to the event.

My comment was dismissed by the curator, and he quickly moved on. I wondered after I saw the chairs with the "Artist" label on them if part of that reaction was due to the fact that I was not labeled an "artist". I also wondered if I struck a nerve on a topic that the museum has been grappling with.

I know a museum is for a very particular kind of person, one that can navigate it and understand it, which requires a certain level of education. It is also an institution. But as we move forward with the conversation of the intersections of food, art, commodification, and social justice we cannot forget that there is a LARGE segment of the population MISSING from the dialogue. Those people are the same ones that will be the most impacted by any decision (political, aesthetic, cultural, etc.) in these arenas. I think we, the collective we that includes me, can do better at finding ways to engage them. And that starts with some great food and excellent art.

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