Art -- and the art of just hanging out -- on a splendid summer canvas.
Summer officially begins on June 20. But like the weather, "summertime" is fluid. Meteorological summer began on Friday. Memorial Day kicked it off for some. For others angling to start summer, the Fishing Opener was all it took.
As of two years ago, a new entry crowded into this chronological discussion locally: The opening of "Open Field," the Walker Art Center's program of outdoor artistic expression taking place on the big hill next to the museum.
"If this was in California, it would really be a different project," said Sarah Schultz, director of education and curator of public practice at the Walker Art Center.
"I always think back to 'My Life as a Dog,' about the preciousness of summer in Scandinavia," said Prof. Lance Neckar, referencing the classic 1985 Swedish film. Neckar heads the Department of Landscape Architecture at the University of Minnesota. Assessing the success of Open Field -- the space and the program -- he said, "There is always this sense in Minnesota about this sort of fragile preciousness, and I think this was picked up on by the sort of light hand, as opposed to something that was much more architectonic and static. This speaks to the media of landscape that is only slightly in our control."
Schultz and her Walker colleagues also think of Open Field as a media form in its own right. Indeed, the Internet -- and coffee shops -- were cited as inspirations.
"A lot of this grew out of thinking about what the influence and impact of the Internet culture was," Schultz said. "The kind of DIY-empowering culture of the Internet where anyone can make, say, share or comment on something in part was also a catalyst of how we might use Open Field."
But, Schultz added, "People are the most transformative technology of all. ... We're in an age where we are all virtually connected, but absolutely crave face-to-face connection."
This combination of the virtual and real worlds makes mashups common in Open Field. For instance, one program, @analogtweets, lets people handwrite a Twitter message on an embossed, telegram-style letterpressed card, which will then be tweeted by the Walker with the #analogtweet hashtag. Another, Post Office Love Letter, rediscovers the lost art, and etiquette, of letter writing.
And the swan song of the Summer Music and Movies series, which normally plays across the street in Loring Park, will come to Open Field when a screening of the silent film "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari" is set to a commissioned live score -- the subgenre of one media, film, matched to another, music.
"And thousands will be tweeting their experience to their friends," added Scott Stulen, project director for mnartists.org at the Walker, speaking of the media mixing of past and present that's omnipresent at Open Field.
"People now -- what they want is full circle," Stulen said. You go online, find out an event in Open Field. Then you want to actually go to a physical event, go do something in the real world that's offline. But then you want to connect again and go back online and talk about it and have this continuing community that comes through social media."
Both the Walker Art Center and Open Field have social-media devotees (more than 314,000 people follow the Walker on Twitter, for instance). And the first two years of Open Field has drawn about 50,000 people, while during the same months the nearby Minneapolis Sculpture Garden attracts about 170,000.
Yet for all the online/on-field traffic, slowing down (or speeding up as kids roll down the hill) best captures Open Field's vibe. "This element of time is a really critical characteristic of Open Field," Schultz said. "If there's anything old-fashioned about the project, it's a very old-fashioned sense of time. You come someplace, hang out, and may not know what you are going to do. That sense of just hanging out and allowing time to unfold in the way it does, or should, in the summer is one of the most frequent comments we get."
Neckar said it would be a mistake to take such experiences for granted. "They are very powerful aspects of the creation of our culture across all the values -- financial, health, artistic -- and are a hugely valuable resource," he said.
Neckar spoke as a University of Minnesota professor. But he channeled the universal Minnesota sense of the importance of summer, and culture, and how both make this such a unique place to call home.
The Rash Report can be heard at 7:50 a.m. weekdays on WCCO Radio, 830-AM. Follow John Rash on Twitter: @rashreport.