On March 1, 2015, artist, activist and organizer David Loewenstein spoke at the Public Art Scrambler. The Public Art Scrambler invites self-defined public art professionals to learn and connect with peers at quarterly meetings in the Twin Cities. The events are focused on issues and ideas related to public art creation, process and ideation — temporary and permanent. Scrambler Steering Committee member Dudley Voight reflects on Dave’s talk.

Looking over my notes from David Loewenstein’s talk at Forecast Public Art’s Public Art Scrambler, they are mostly scribbled ideas — some of them are his, some of them are mine, all of them are familiar and feasible. In fact, the whole day was of full of those conversations, as though David had shown up that morning and handed me seeds and fertilizer.

We heard about his artistic work — the communities he has entered, the processes he uses to engage folks, the values that guide his work, the tension around what it means to disrupt with the act of observation and creativity. What struck me was the humanity of it, his deep desire for connection and for finding the stories of a place and it’s people.

Having been at the same Springsteen concert as David the night before, many of his references resonated for me: lyrics from The River — the focus of Springsteen’s Tour, a tattered copy of The Little Prince, the concept of Cheap Art, and how it feels to leave a place where you’ve spent time working as an artist, integrated into people’s lives.

We call Springsteen a troubadour, but Dave is too. Traveling from place to place as an organizer, an artist or activist (however the people decide to define his role) meeting strangers and listening to and telling stories. David opened with the lyrics from “The Ties That Bind,” which happened to be the second song The Boss played the night before. With slides of his childhood and a snapshot of his own artistic work, David led us along a path that seems more in dialogue with the questions he’s asking than the answers that he might have found.

Some of Loewenstein’s questions:

  • Who are we?
  • What do we stand for?
  • How do we want to be remembered?

Some of his responses:

  • “The purpose of art is to lay bare the questions that have been hidden by  the answers” from James Baldwin.)
  • “No,” said the little prince, “I’m looking for friends. What does tamed mean?”
  • “It’s something that’s been too often neglected. It means, ‘to create ties’…” – by Antoine de Saint Exupery
  • “To create ties. Ties to each other, to the past, to a sense of shared purpose and belief. Another translation of this last line says “It means, ‘to captivate’.” To be captivated – by another, by a place or an idea.” – David Loewenstein

This got me thinking of my own ties.  “Art has to be CHEAP & available to EVERYBODY. It needs to be EVERYWHERE because it is the INSIDE of the WORLD. Art soothes pain! Art wakes up sleepers! Art fights against war & stupidity! Art sings halleluja!” – Peter Schumann, founder of Bread & Puppet Theatre, from the Cheap Art Manifesto. 1984 http://breadandpuppet.org/cheap-art/why-cheap-art-manifesto

My little muddy town in Vermont, my poet mother seeing Betty Lovely’s yard and turning that into an afterschool enrichment class called junk art; casting my teenage hand in plaster, decorating it and then seeing it on a gallery wall with a hundred other hands as part of a community art project; parades, puppet pageants, drum circles, poetry readings, community choirs and school musicals.

My ties still pull me back to Vermont. I find my heart in my throat every time the plane descends and I see those Green Mountains again. I left a generation ago, the landscape in my DNA, but the daily life is now foreign. There was a feeling, even in my childhood, of being an outsider in that farming town. Yet there is a deep sense of belonging and of being seen that comes from a tight-knit community.

Being a traveler is being on the outside in the very best way, a way that ultimately informs our sense of ourselves. Some of my most profound experiences as a traveler happened because I showed up with a drum or a puppet or a show. I’ve samba danced down main street in a sleepy New England village, danced at a chief’s funeral in Ghana, brought my students from North Minneapolis to perform Langston Hughes in rural Nebraska, sang gospel music at Pilgrim Baptist Church, and most recently found myself with a Puppet leading Boston First Night Parade.

But the place I travel to almost daily is North Minneapolis. There are ties there that bound me first to my theater students at North High School, then to the brave youth spoken word poets and eventually to the artists I’ve met through FLOW Northside Arts Crawl. I hold of lot stories, I remember what has changed on West Broadway, I can point to places where murals have come and gone, I am part of the history of many places, I am both insider and outsider. Like David’s community murals process, I keep asking this community to reflect and reframe itself.  And yet, after 16 years, even if I’m not a Northside resident, I am not a foreigner, and I can’t imagine leaving it. Bruce Springsteen brings us other people stories, artists like David Loewenstein show us our own.

Keep up-to-date on the work shared above as well as other projects, opportunities, and resources via our Public Art Scrambler Facebook page. Sign up for the Scrambler e-mail list to receive notices about upcoming Scramblers!

Thanks to the McKnight Foundation for making this event possible.