The blaze orange Honda Element car parks curbside midday in a rural community dotted with modest homes. An artist quietly approaches, placing a hand-thrown ceramic cup at each doorstep. Each cup is in a box that is delivered with the top lid open, exposing the cup, cradled in paper. On the top of a box is a sticker that simply reads 'Hello' and on the interior is a message to the person who finds the cup. The art is delivered with no strings attached, just a note with a web site address where the person receiving the unexpected gift can leave comments if they wish. The project carries the imprint of Michael J. Strand, head of the Visual Arts Department at North Dakota State University, Fargo.
This spring, Strand quietly delivered hand-thrown ceramic cups to 117 households in Dwight, Neb., and 33 in Dwight, N.D. It is part of an effort founded by Strand called ArtStimulus.org as a way to inspire art in communities that are underserved, rural or off-the-beaten track. The underlying concept is to push the boundaries of how art can be disseminated or viewed by bringing art to the people - one-by-one, project-by-project.
The message left is simple: A cup left quietly on your doorstep. In a world of digital connections, social networking and twitter-palooza, I offer an alternative, a physical how-do-ya-do in the form of a cup.
Strand is interested in how people respond to uninitiated generosity. 'I know that by stepping into the lives of these people that some folks will be uneasy, or scrutinise why I would want to simply give away what I could easily sell. The act of giving and developing a very simple relationship with another human through a gift, becomes the content. The cup is simply a tool to accomplish the work.'
Over a decade ago, Strand chose to become much more proactive about how art is disseminated into society. He became increasingly uninterested in 'pedestal work' and/or the art market in general. 'This project gives me the opportunity to say hello through my work, and not have to wait for them to 'bump into' my work in traditional venues such as a gallery or museum,' said Strand.
Why carry out this art project in two small rural towns named Dwight? 'I chose Dwight, Neb., and Dwight, N.D., because I am interested in the 'village' culture of communities that are hanging on to the tradition of the small town. Everyone-knows-everyone in towns like the Dwights, for better or worse, they are a close network. In large cities, folks speak to the sense or lack thereof, of 'neighbourhood' in the areas they live. In towns like Dwight, the city becomes the neighbourhood. I am interested in this dynamic, and how my work can intersect with the lives of the people in these communities.'
Some of the recipients of the art leave messages at ArtStimulus.org.
- Hello,... and Thank You! What a wonderful idea for sharing the gift of the beauty of art, and of the human spirit. I feel very honoured to be part of this project. What a lovely surprise. Posted by Sally
- These cups are the meeting of two extremes of human evolution, the spiritual and the practical. Posted by Bernard
In some cases, the ceramic cups are delivered covertly. In other cases, they lead Strand to make connections with people like a 101-year-old woman with fading eyesight who could not see the cup. 'I loved watching her discover every part of the tea-bowl with her hands as she talked,' said Strand. He plans on continuing the mission of ArtStimulus with additional projects that question current modes of deploying art and craft into culture.
Source: North Dakota State University