Pitzer Launches Eat Your Sidewalk Project

“How can we imagine food and eating practices within a new ecological framework that goes beyond both nature and culture? What will this mean for questions of ‘food security,’ ‘eating locally,’ the ‘commons,’ and our urban environments?” 

These are the questions that Spurse, a team of ecological designers, will be exploring in collaboration with the Pitzer College Art Field Group by working on an environmental research and design project known as Eat Your Sidewalk in the Claremont region. Eat Your Sidewalk will impact how Pitzer teaches as well as how it relates to outside communities. The proposed transformative ecological project will take place over the course of the next year, and will consist of a class taught at Pitzer in spring 2014, a building period during summer 2014, and an ongoing research period in fall 2014. 

Pitzer art professor Tim Berg contacted Spurse as part of the four-year Andrew W. Mellon Foundation grant. The $600,000 grant was awarded to the Pitzer College Art Field Group in 2012. Each year, a portion of the grant is budgeted to invite artists to do a project for an entire year. The grant supports interdisciplinary programs that will explore the intersection of the arts and the environment.

This past week Berg and and Spurse project coordinators and artists Matthew Friday and Iain Kerr organized two events to spark the Claremont community’s interest in Eat Your Sidewalk. They led a food-foraging walk and apparatus-building workshop Sept. 30 and hosted an experimental dinner and discussion on the Pitzer Mounds Oct. 1.

“This is [Spurse’s] launch vehicle for a yearlong project and a way of getting people involved in discussing the ideas that they’re interested in pursuing,” Berg said. “[The goal is] seeing what we can share [through conversation] and how we can create something together [rather than Spurse] just coming in and doing a project and not getting the community involved in it.”

Berg learned about Spurse through Friday’s Facebook page and decided that the Eat Your Sidewalk project would fit well with Pitzer’s core values.

“Foraging—collecting foods from one’s local environment—does a number of different things,” Friday said. “[This includes] disrupting notions of what’s public and private. It can have a significant social justice component to it, [as it] gives people a sense of agency. It challenges the dominant systems of capitalism and can all be packed into this very simple on-the-ground practice as well as making people just more generally aware of their ecology.”

Jess Ohlson PZ ’14 is one of the Art and Environment interns helping out with the project. She believes that she will gain a better understanding of the world around her through these studies and interactions with food.

“I personally want to learn more about edible things that are around me and just be more aware of my environment,” Ohlson said. “Exploring that idea of going more local than we talk about. Local now means farmers’ market and farmers around where you live. You never think about local being right under your feet.”

Ohlson has high hopes for the potential of Eat Your Sidewalk to inspire students to apply the practices of foraging into their daily lives.

“I’m sure a lot of us are going to start picking up stuff from on our way home and start cooking it. They don’t just come here and do one thing, it’s here forever,” Ohlson said. “It’s very effective in terms of the core values at Pitzer. The people here are genuinely interested in the environment, social justice, and art. It’s a great way to get the community together and just think about what’s going on.”

Because Spurse is an open-ended group of people with a broad variety of skills, Friday and Kerr are always up to working with new people with different expertise and interests.

“Collaboration for us is [that] reality is collaborative. Nothing happens alone. Everything is inherently collaborative,” Kerr said. “If reality is collaborative, we should figure out, not to just be a collaborative, but how to collaborate with reality—bacteria, people, ecosystems, politics, ideas, stupidity.”

Both events attracted students and faculty as well as members of the greater Claremont community and sparked a productive discussion of the benefits of Eat Your Sidewalk. Friday and Kerr are currently in the process of getting to know the citizens of Claremont and applying their perspectives to the final outcome of the project. The two did not come with a set plan to carry out, as they believe it is more productive to incorporate the general public’s needs. Students who register for their class in the spring of 2014 will further contribute to the evolution of the project.

“Everyone who’s involved will shape whatever it is. As a group, we’ll make it. Concretely, we have no idea what will show up,” Kerr said. “If it takes the whole class to figure out what we’re doing, we’ll have the summer to build it—whatever that is.”

Friday and Kerr hope that the city of Claremont takes advantage of the freedom of experimentation and the playfulness as well as enjoyment that projects such as theirs provide. 

“We want [Eat Your Sidewalk] to mesh in with the institutions and groups on campus. We want to create a life for it, transform it rather than just doing one repetitive thing that we’ve designed,” Friday said. “[We want there to be] room for it to grow and emerge as something new—take on a life of its own.”

Anyone who is interested in getting involved or wishes to learn more about the Eat Your Sidewalk project can contact Spurse via e-mail at inquiry@spurse.org

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