Center for Performance + Civic Practice
CATALYST INITIATIVE Artist Jennie Hahn, based in Portland, Maine, worked with Stephanie Gilbert, Farm Viability and Farmland Protection Specialist at the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry. Their work together focused on how artistic practice could illuminate issues of farming and conversation by creating spaces and process for varied stakeholders to be in dialogue about complex and, at times, polarizing issues. Their story together over a year of collaboration is one of deepening relationships; land-based creative experiences; discovering the powerful invitation art can make in non-arts settings that allows people to engage with each other, not just in official capacities but as whole selves; and how that invitation, when accepted, informs and even alters the quality of decision-making and coalition-building that can occur.
Welcome to Lisbon, Maine.
This property is 400 acres of rolling hills and woodlands that the Littlefield family had farmed near hardscrabble Lisbon since 1853. Bob and Ella Mae (nee Littlefield) Packard, who inherited the land, began the process of putting a permanent agricultural conservation easement on the property in 2000. They still raise hay and enjoy traveling in the off-season.
Bob and Ella Packard on the Packard-Littlefield family farm.
What is an agricultural conservation easement? An agricultural conservation easement is a voluntary, legally recorded deed restriction that is placed on a specific property used for agricultural production. The goal of an agricultural conservation easement is to maintain agricultural land in active production by removing the development pressures from the land. Such an easement prohibits practices which would damage or interfere with the agricultural use of the land. Because the easement is a restriction on the deed of the property, the easement remains in effect even when the land changes ownership. Easements are complicated, time consuming and restrictive. On the down side, easements do not ensure that the land will continue to be fanned simply because It is protected from development, and they can actually increase land values In popular regions. On the plus side, they can potentially lower land values, improving accessibility for beginning farmers, and they can provide cash income for established farmers who need to make a capital investment in their businesses.
As the Packards settled into retirement, Stephanie Gilbert, the Maine Department of Agriculture’s Farmland Protection Specialist, asked if they’d consider leasing land to the New American Sustainable Agriculture Project, or NASAP. ... Fast-forward eight years, and what started as six acres at the Packard-Littlefleld Farm has swelled to a 26-acre incubator now cultivated by about thirty-five recent immigrant households.
This was the site of the Maine Catalyst Partnership.
Stephanie Gilbert Is the Farm Viability and Farmland Protection Specialist in the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry’s Agricultural Resource Development Division. The mission at the Division of Agricultural Resource Development is to encourage agricultural development and sustainability through education, annual industry events, technical assistance, research, economic development and environmental stewardship of Maine’s existing and future farm businesses. Among other responsibilities, Stephanie administers Maine’s Farms for the Future funding program and organizes business planning support for farm business owners. She has assisted many farm families with the difficult transition of their property from one generation of producers to the next, and facilitates a variety of land protection transactions. She regularly collaborates with farmers and their families, land trusts, educational and community development organizations, and both state and federal agencies. Stephanie comes to her work at the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry from a background in dance, textiles, and biology.
Stephanie Gilbert met artist Jennie Hahn in 2009, as Jennie was beginning development for Farms and Fables, a collaboration with three Maine farms that engaged artists in farm work and farm workers in storytelling and theatrical production. Jennie was the producer and director of Farms and Fables, and Stephanie served as a member of the FAF Advisory Board. Stephanie played a pivotal role on the project as the primary liaison between partnering farms and the project. Stephanie also contributed greatly to script development and revision, offering the creative team a wealth of knowledge about the technicalities of farm transitions, the language of conservation, and her many observations of trends in Maineâ€™s agricultural sector. The Catalyst Initiative gave Jennie and Stephanie the opportunity to embark on a new, and very different, creative collaboration together. They focused their attention on the Packard-Littlefield farm.
Jennie Hahn is a producer, director, and performer with a career focus on community based practice. She is the director of Open Waters, a performance collaborative that strives to create opportunities for effective communication and cultural exchange through the production of theatrical events. Emphasizing research-based interdisciplinary practice, Open Waters works to increase access to artsbased civic dialogue in diverse communities across the state of Maine. The most recent Open Waters project was Farms and Fables. Other projects include Choirspeak: The Maine Woods, developed from 50 interviews conducted in five Maine towns, and Feverfest 2008, which included a production of Wallace Shawnâ€™s The Fever and several public events exploring poverty in Maine. Jennieâ€™s aesthetic influences include the methodology of Cornerstone Theater Company, Suzuki and Viewpoints training, and the visual arts. Jennie was born and raised in Thomaston, Maine. In her work, she values interdisciplinary practice, finding a way to talk and work with people she might never otherwise meet, hands-on research, experimentation, and practicing new and old forms of civic dialogue.
Their partnership started with core questions.
How do we, as a community, define farmland “conser-preser-protection”? How do we talk about farmland protection, and what is the language we use? How can “creative imagining” (creative practice) impact specific usage of current models and the creation of new models of farmland protection? How does a community use new art and policy language fusion to invent plans for future action?
How does a community use combined art and policy practice to ensure the affordability and accessibility of productive land?
Site tours led participants on walks of the farms, connecting land, people and histories.
Whole popcorn stalks for sale at the Brunswick Winter Farmers’ Market remind Mekhan Mumin of corn she used to grow back in Africa. Photo by Laura McCandlish.
Stephanie‘s goals — • Humanize easement enforcement practices • Develop techniques for periodic humanization and revitalization of the protection purposes remembering, re-visioning • Create a horizontal experience for all • Build a stewardship culture into the community and Jennie’s — Integrate storytelling and creative practice approaches into Stephanie’s facilitation work with three specific case-study groups called pods. As the Catalyst Initiative Report describes, “At the heart of the Maine project was the hefty challenge of decoding the technical nature of farm land preservation policy and easements in order to forge a new conversation between farmers, policy makers, community members, and various other stakeholders including new immigrant farmers. Jennie and Stephanie capitalized on the potency of the farm itself as a setting for dialogue by convening diverse stakeholders on the land. For one meeting, they literally broke up into bite-sized sections the language of easement legislation. As stakeholders walked the property of farm, these were read aloud to help demystify legal language. The result was a high level discourse among parties who have varied concerns but who don’t typically get to hear each other’s points of view.”
They formed three pods to examine different challenges stakeholders were facing.
Management Plan Meeting for Packard-Littlefield Farm (Lisbon) : Existing and Emerging Farmland Protection Practice This pod would examine the advantages and limitations of the agricultural easement model, envisioning improvements to the easement process.
Inaugural Meeting of Maineâ€™ s First Municipal Agricultural Commission (Winslow): Emerging Farmland Protection Practice This pod would examine the process of implementing a new protection tool, for the first time, and envisioning its improvement for future use.
Digging Deeper : Future Farmland Protection Practice This pod would conduct a group-think exploration of new models of land protection. A kind of think tank for the question â€” What new tools can we envision?
POD 1 Examine the advantages and limitations of the agricultural easement model, envisioning improvements to the easement process.
THE STORY The New American Sustainable Agriculture Project leases land from the Packards to operate a farm business program that supports roughly 25 refugee and recent immigrant farm families. NASAP needs to make infrastructure changes to the land they lease to support growth of their program and the businesses under its care. The owners, non-profit lease holders, land trust, and the Maine Department of Agriculture and the USDA must all convene this summer to examine the needs of aII parties and to establish a long-term management plan. These meetings began with guided walks, site tours of the land â€” using the farmland itself as a creative provocation for understanding history, policy, changes, and relationships to the land.
POD 2 Examine the process of implementing a new protection tool, for the first time, and envisioning its improvement for future use.
THE STORY Maineâ€™s first municipal Agricultural Commission was formed in Winslow in the spring of 2014. One high priority task for the commission is to work with the Maine Dept. of Ag to explore implementing the Voluntary Municipal Farm Support Program. In many towns, there is no organized voice for agriculture, and planning decisions are made that actively hinder production practices. Many towns find themselves trying to respond to decisions that have already been made - this commission is proactive and ahead of the curve.
POD 3 Conduct a group exploration of new models of land protection.
THE STORY Professionals from converging sectors focused on support of agricultural industries and community land management are growing increasingly frustrated with the limitations of the agricultural easement as the go-to land protection tool. Easements are complicated. The question community planners are asking now is: Whatâ€™s next? What brand new tools for farmland protection can we imagine or implement?
Digging deeper (the POD 3 gathering) was really the most abstract â€” We ended up being a small group of eight guests, plus Jenny and I. But it was very ... the intimacy of it was really phenomenal. We did an activity called Question Generator; we were in a nice loft, upper loft, of a barn. A closed off space, comfortable chairs. Beautiful wood all around us. As folks felt certain impulses, we just asked questions.
Jenny and I agreed — it was one of the most powerful things, because these questions were... “What do people see when they see a farmer?” “Why is the treehouse I played in, in the field, now a paved parking lot in Lowell, Massachusetts?” These questions were beyond what I could have imagined because I was just — stuck in my own rut about how we have to think about these questions. - Stephanie
â€œIf I do a small scale thing here, and another small engagement there, and another small engagement there...
I’m still working across that geography, but in a way that feels actually physically and tangibly manageable to me. That’s one of the big changes in my thinking.”
We had an assignment to build communication using artistic practice to draw people’s contributions and self expressions out. In the site walks, in the reflections, in the different activities that Jenny planned. They all went off so well that day. Everyone has that as a nugget of... a golden nugget, let’s call it that. Packard Littlefield farm and the artistic practice there humanized an otherwise maybe more bureaucratic requirement or what was perceived as a more bureaucratic requirement and it brought the easement to life. ... to have a document become something more like a living document is very important. .... People let down their guard. They stopped trying to be experts. They felt invited to play a little. And then laugh a little. And crack their shell. I think, just having described Winslow to you ... I think they thought they would come to their Ag commission meeting and we would work down through and follow just a black and white, eight and a half by eleven agenda and we asked people to bring a new level of energy and imagination - without saying “let’s use our imagination.” It’s a little bit more covert. But once there’s that invitation people do spark to it. Especially when the demographic is ages mid-40’s up, people all have so many life experiences whether its they have kids, or grand kids, or whatever part of their story is in their mind. They feel a little more allowed to be more whole, rather then just wearing the hat of authority that lets them come to this meeting. I think they get to use more of themselves to think with, to act with, to do decision-making. The town manager has invited me back. So we had a fabulous tour of the farm with Gloria and learning more and more and had some active listening and talking partners on different stages of the walk. Then we came back and had folks write a letter to a future person farming that land. What did we want them to know about. People were letting down their guard and letting out just outrageous different questions. And it just made for me the world so much bigger and rounder, multidimensional. It was wonderful. Digging deeper was really critical. - Stephanie Gilbert
OUTCOMES << Partner organizations’ desire to build staff capacity in using creative strategies was a positive sign that they valued what artists brought to the table.... In Maine, this became a thrust of the partnership, and from both artist and partner perspective, a way to sustain creative practice within the organization’s work when the artist is no longer present. Even as both Maine and California partners sought staff capacity building, they did not view this as a replacement for artists, but rather as a way to enhance their civic processes on a more ongoing basis. In both cases, the organizations saw benefits to continuing to work with artists in the future. Commonalities among artists increased the potential for deep and meaningful exchange. By focusing on artists doing place-based work in their own communities/regions, Catalyst ensured common ground for participating artists and a basis for CPCP to apply findings to inform its performance-based focus. It proved advantageous to California, Kentucky, and Maine teams to have common ground in rural and regional work. The three artists naturally gravitated to one another and connected on their own, even presenting a joint conference session for the National Rural Assembly’s Cross-Currents: Art & Agriculture Conference (2014) on their Catalyst experiences. The learning that occurred through this connection was noted as extremely valuable by all three artists. When artists and community partners knew each other or had previously worked together, trust and relationship building was facilitated. .... Intended project outcomes sharpened when partners invested in learning and relationship building. ... The Maine partnership started with the goal of enhancing the broad dialogue around future farmland protection practices but shifted focus to building the creative capacity of the community partner through professional development. Community partners who are also artists were able to contribute in a highly collaborative way with the artists. In Maine, Stephanie Gilbert, who had been a dancer, immediately understood how movement and other creative techniques could shift the tenor, participation, and discourse of public meetings. She and artist Jennie Hahn found themselves, after some practice, comfortably sharing creative co-facilitation of meetings. Community partners spent social capital on behalf of the artists.... Thinking about advice she would give other community-based partners in a civic practice partnership, Stephanie said, “For the community partner, have a specific event in mind, know who will come, and be willing to let your community partner help you take the risks to draw people out of their usual script. And help the artist working with you and folks attending that activity or event, see that experimenting with the arts does bring them good material... good meaty content and new ideas come forward that add to their areas of expertise.” Creative capacity was built within community partner organizations. Partner organizations in Maine (as well as other Catalyst projects in California and New Orleans) became better equipped to deploy creative strategies in their work based on modeling and professional development that artists offered to community agency staff and affiliates. Partners gained confidence through their direct work with the artists as well as through training. According to artist Jennie Hahn, the
community partner exercised new-found confidence by initiating creative technique in the moment of a community meeting and “raised the bar creatively.” Partners were emboldened to test new creative practices together as relationships with artists deepened and trust was built. In addition to providing new capacity, in some cases artists helped partner organizations reexamine risk within their own agency’s work. Post-Catalyst, Stephanie Gilbert has ventured to bring her creative skills into work with the Maine Department of Agriculture. Catalyst was a real test ground, bringing the work of cross-sector partnership out of the theoretical. Clarity about the artist’s role and the nature and possibilities for creativity to enhance civic processes came in the doing of the work. “For my practice,” explained Jennie Hahn, “the change is [in] that experience of physically working through some of your questions, as opposed to just thinking about them in your head and theorizing.” .... Community forums gained depth and were enlivened through creative techniques.... In Maine, partners innovated meeting techniques and practices for community policy development. Maine partners applied theater practices to highly technical farm land policy conversations with the goal to “make it easy and comfortable for participants to tell their their true stories about land and farming to one another…and to find courage to develop new policies.” - Excerpts from Catalyst Initiative Report (Animating Democracy, 2015) Animating Democracy is a program of Americans for the Arts
The Catalyst Initiative is an action research initiative â€” a model for supporting, advancing, and learning from innovative artist and community partner collaborations in order to reveal new possibilities for artistic contributions to community problem-solving and growth. The Catalyst Initiative is supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
CENTER FOR PERFORMANCE + CIVIC PRACTICE ÂŠ2015 www.thecpcp.org
Center for Performance and Civic Practice presents a five-part series on the first round of its Catalyst Initiative Pilot Projects, supporte...
Published on Aug 13, 2015
Center for Performance and Civic Practice presents a five-part series on the first round of its Catalyst Initiative Pilot Projects, supporte...