Several years ago I had the honor of working for a nonprofit arts organization in Reedsburg, Wis., called the Wormfarm Institute. The founders had ventured to do something daring: encourage people to experience the land through art. Each year they curate a 50-mile artistic experience called the Farm/Art DTour through the rolling countryside of the Driftless Region, featuring temporary art installations on farmland, with music and dance performances in hay fields. The DTour is meant to be fleeting, lasting only 10 days in the fall.
The art installations are always stunning: giant wild pigs made out of straw jumping over a fence, thousands of leaves crocheted out of used plastic bags covering an old farmhouse like vines or 30-foot papier-mâché boots jutting out of the land.
When I experience art in traditional settings like galleries I find myself focusing on the art, but not the space it lives in. Moving the experience of art to a rural setting pushed me outside of my normal realm and instilled in me a sense of wonder. Moments like getting mud on my shoes while watching ballerinas dance on a hill overlooking grazing cows, or playing a musical fence on someone’s farmstead, were unlike anything I had experienced before. Here I was in my home state, appreciating my own backyard in a new light.
The real moments that have lasted with me were watching other people’s responses. There was the time that Larry, a dairy farmer, was so inspired by the festival that he decided to build a giant turkey and place it on his farm by the road so that people could see it as they drove by. Or the time that a small group of Reedsburg citizens were so awe-struck by a John Deere tractor laden with colorful stained-glass windows that they decided to buy the piece and install it permanently as a landmark in the community. There was the artist from Washington, D.C., who was commissioned to create an installation for the event, who promptly fell in love with the landscape and the people and moved there shortly thereafter. There were the people who came out to enjoy the DTour who didn’t think of themselves as “artists,” yet there they were — writing poems, singing and dancing.
I felt this same sense of wonder at the Eaux Claires Music & Arts Festival over the weekend (“Eaux Claires’ surprise lineup backfires,” July 9). I knew going into it that I was taking a chance. The lineup hadn’t been announced, and the tickets were not cheap. I decided to strip away the word “festival” from my vocabulary for the weekend and walk in with an open mind. In doing so, I felt that same sense of wonder that I felt in Reedsburg. I watched as thousands of people walked into the woods of Wisconsin to listen to music. I listened to little-known musicians play together in pure joy, being given the gift of time to collaborate and create new art with each other. I watched adults tug at the strings of white balloons in order to catch a glimpse of the sparkling lights inside. I enjoyed the new sounds of traditional Native American music woven with modern tunes. I watched families play music together on a three-tiered porch.
Would I have loved to have seen Sufjan Stevens or Father John Misty play at Eaux Claires? Of course. Did I appreciate the opportunity to feel wonder? I think we could all use more of that.
Katherine Godfrey, of Owatonna, Minn., is communications coordinator at the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation.