The Currency of Soil: Public Art and Sustenance for the City
For the first week of April, an abandoned building in a transitional neighborhood of North Philadelphia became a clamoring hub of activity as it was transformed into a soup kitchen, soil testing lab, and meeting space for urban farmers. This was Soil Kitchen, the first temporary public art project to be commissioned by the city’s Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy. Soil Kitchen used food, performance, and a giant windmill on the roof to engage and educate the local community about soil contamination, revitalizing urban spaces, and tools of self-sufficiency. I spent two days at the event, eating delicious soup and learning about wind turbines, farmer networks, and Don Quixote.
The small town of Tivoli, NY, where I lived for my latter two years of college, didn’t have a single shop. It did, however, have a laundromat, a pizza parlor and six restaurants of high caliber. Tivoli, and the neighboring towns of Red Hook and Rhinebeck, played host to a strange mix of demographic between local townies–owners of the hardware store, the peach orchard, the video store carrying step-aerobic VHS tapes from the early ‘90s–and wealthy New York City residents seeking retreat to the Catskills and the Hudson. They shopped at boutiques and the farmers market, they did yoga, and they went to brunch. Ethan Hawke and Uma Thurman bought a place in Rhinebeck and were rumored to be brunching at Calico. Brunch was hip, brunch was elite. I learned the word “Epicurean.”
“We both have to do it. By tomorrow,” she says. “We’ve been talking about it forever.”
My best friend’s voice makes soft encouragements from a thousand miles away.
“I know,” I reply. “We need this.” We've both been in a rut.
Jamie and I are both working artists, painters mostly, but neither of us has ever committed to the risk of doing it full time. We usually show in galleries and shops a couple times a year and take on a few commissions, but it’s not really enough to live off of. So we go from day job to day job, making art at night on the side. We’ve worked in museums, restaurants, schools, offices, a pharmacy, and, most recently for me, as deckhand on a 134-foot yacht based out of Seattle.
“Hi Mama.” I lean over her tiny figure and brush the edge of her forehead with my lips.
The weight of the necklace tucked below my shirt collar tumbles out and sways just above her face. Two metal anchors, one the color of warm iron, and one of gold, become entangled. My mother’s eyes follow them back and forth wildly and she lifts bony fingers to clutch them.