HIGHLIGHTS: Monika Burczyk, Executive Director
26TH ON THE 26TH CHAIRity 2015
CHRISTO/“Wrapped Automobile” will be up for auction
(See: CHAIRity 2015 for more information and to purchase tickets)
DONOR ROFILE: CATHE BULLWINKLE
New York State Department of Health,
Brownfield’s Land Re-Use Project Coordinator
Monika Burczyk, Executive Director
Greetings from the dog days of Summer! In this latest update of studio happenings I am pleased to show off our new Stone Soup Garden – a partnership with the Oneida County Health Department, Thea Bowman House and the Cornell Cooperative Extension, with funding from the City of Utica’s Community Block Development Grant. With volunteer/Master Gardener’s Gina Murtagh and Joan Gorton at the helm, the kids have been learning all about planting and plants, soil and worms, healthy eating and healthful gardens, in addition to sampling the gorgeous vegetables they helped to grow. Next month, we will be delivering more of nature’s bounty to St. Clare’s Cupboard, that serves the hungry that live in our West Utica neighborhood. We are thrilled to contribute freshly grown organic delicacies for all to enjoy. Coming this Fall, our alumni DeWitt Godfrey will install his design for a series of raised circular beds: as you might assume, Sculpture Space is committed to creating a garden that is as unique as our artists, as distinctive as our community and as delightful as our supporters. We have no doubt that the design and form of the Stone Soup Garden itself will be as much a work of art as its mission, vision and programming already is!
In other news, we have had two very full months of very full rosters of Artists in Residence: in August, we hosted four artists plus alumni Mikolaj Szoska, who has returned to premiere his video focusing on the Polish Community Center in a specially-designed installation at the studio. (Stay tuned for unveiling date and time!)
In July, we also hosted four artists plus welcomed back Finnish alum Anssi Taulu, who, along with his wife Sirpa and their three children (Maria, 18 years old; Inka, 17 years old; William, 12 years old) came to soak up American culture and practice English, sample the Mohawk Valley’s cultural, natural and historic offerings, and – in their spare time — build a monumental sculpture for our grounds. “Top” is made from donated recycled tires (almost 100 total) and was a family collaboration from start to finish, with equipment and muscle help from Sculpture Space friend Patrick Vedder. Funded by the Finnish Cultural Council, we hope to make this an annual partnership for other Finnish sculptors. Of course, being able to welcome a family of five knowing we had space both in the studio (post-fire renovations) and residence (Community Foundation grant) was hugely gratifying. I want to also thank the endless enthusiasm of Office Manager Holly Flitcroft and Studio Manager George Hendrickson, who went out of their way to assist the Finns in whatever was needed. Of course, our outstanding Board also helped make the family feel welcome, making sure they were well-fed and entertained during the month.
(See the Utica Observer-Dispatch Article: Finnish family reflects on time at Sculpture Space)
Forget the colorful leaves and warm fleeces that beckon Fall. At Sculpture Space, Autumn means CHAIRity! Join us in our 26th celebration of this annual fundraiser on the 26th of September. Always surprising, always unusual and always entertaining, we hope you will attend!
This year, we are happy to present perennial favorites by local artists as well as our esteemed alumni. With catering provided by Irwin’s Fine Foods, as always entertainment abounds with both a silent and live auction and other surprises. World-renowned artist Christo has once again donated a unique work of art: entitled “Wrapped Automobile” (Project for 1950 Studebaker), we know that this one of a kind piece will look great on any wall, but especially one whose owner is a fan of classic cars!
Please see our Facebook page and website for more information or to volunteer – as always your interest in greatly appreciated – see you there!
Monika: We have been working together on your Community Garden project for over a year now, and are so excited to be able to participate and host the Stone Soup Garden on our own grounds. Can you tell me a bit about the history of this initiative and the Oneida County Health Department?
Cathe: I was working as the Project Manager for the local health department’s Lead Primary Prevention program in 2012 and worked in the Cornhill and West Utica neighborhoods. We were concerned that refugees and other residents were planting directly in their backyards and we knew many of those yards were contaminated with lead from lead-based paints that had been scraped from the houses over the years. The second reason we were interested is that local refugees were foraging for greens along the roadways that were likely contaminated with lead from lead in gasoline used before 1982 and we were trying to reduce overall lead hazard exposure in children since the city has the highest prevalence of childhood lead poisoning in NYS.
The NYS Department of Health had received an ATSDR federal Brownfield’s Land Reuse Grant and was looking for a partner, and it was a perfect fit for us. We were able to use the funding to do the historical analysis and soil sampling for the Kemble School Park Project and conduct site and soil analysis for lots in the City of Utica for prospective gardens. It was supposed to be to start one community garden but in 2014, I left to join the New York State Department of Health, and no pun intended, the gardens keep growing and now we have built nine of them.
Monika: Since the first time we met, I have been so impressed by your enthusiasm, as well as your ability to make things happen: your title should be IDEA MACHINE. Can you tell me where your astounding energy comes from — what fuels your passion?
Cathe: Even as a young child, I was always analyzing how things worked and bursting with new ideas. I had an ability to envision how to accomplish projects, and see every step in my head, from start to finish in advance. It always reminds me of playing chess and planning your moves ahead. It has never changed, I see a problem and my mind just can’t rest and has to keep trying out solutions. I always tell myself, it’s not rocket science, there ought to be a way to solve this. Great for creativity, not so good for my need for sleep! Needless to say, I drove my parents, teachers and often, my co-workers crazy. Shortly after graduating from college as a nurse, I discovered public health, and realized I could use those skills to develop programs to improve the health of the community.
Gardens offer residents the opportunity to be outside and enjoying nature’s amazing beauty and gives them the ability to experience fresh air, and exercise, it allows them to meet their neighbors and socialize, it provides an inter-generational experience that is so often missing in our families, and having a garden just brings a special feeling of happiness to a neighborhood. I get up every morning excited about the new day, and all the possibilities that could happen that day, and it never seems like work to me. I want every child in my community to have the opportunity to experience nature in their own backyards and building gardens in their neighborhoods is one way to do so.
Monika: The Stone Soup Garden has multiple community partners in addition to the Health Department: the City of Utica gave us funding from the Community Development Building Grant to work with kids attending Thea Bowman House this summer, and we also received funding from Scot’s Miracle Gro. In addition, we have two Master Gardeners who are funded through Cornell’s Cooperative Extension. From my perspective, collaborative projects such as these are very rewarding but also can be very challenging. Your thoughts?
Cathe: My philosophy has always been the ‘more the merrier’ When I start a new project, I always have a culminating vision of what I think it could become and it brings me such great joy as each new partner joins, in that they add to that original vision and take it to new heights and perhaps in an entirely new direction. If your goal is to ultimately benefit the community you serve, then you should always look to bring in value by inviting others to join in the effort. Too often we are siloed in our own agencies, but if we break down those barriers and work with new partners, we can do amazing work together.
Monika: As a related question: you also work with so many constituents and stakeholders in your position, community members, neighborhood residents, organizations, grantwriters, State and Federal programs: when creating a garden, how do you balance all of these different desires, needs and requirements?
Cathe: We always start with stakeholder community meetings to find out their needs, and wants. We have been fortunate to partner with the Cornell University Landscape Architecture students who will take those community visions and create garden plans that we can work with. We work with those stakeholders each step of the way to develop the project.
Due to the costs, sometimes we have to phase a project in over a few years or seek other funding to support the project’s components. My job as Project Manager is to work with our NYS Department of Health team to figure out what we can fund and then find creative ways to fund the other things the community wishes to include in the project. We have had amazing support from our local businesses who have helped us to expand and support our gardens and the Parks Conservancy recently helped us to add the urban orchard at the Unity South garden site.
Monika: I am betting one of the most fulfilling things about your work is to see the finished gardens in action. Any other highlights that we might not know about?
The wonderful thing about gardens is they are never the same. You start with an empty garden and each day there is new growth, and new surprises. Some vegetables can grow inches in one day of hot sun and there are new vegetables and flowers sprouting up every day. Today the strawberry is a blush color, tomorrow it is a beautiful red. I never get tired of coming to the garden. When I see our neighborhood seniors, refugees and children all gardening together, it warms my heart. Office workers from downtown walk through the garden on their lunch break and bring their lunch and eat in the gazebo. Hot summer evenings, you will find neighbors sitting in the gazebo chatting until dark. Parents are gardening with their toddlers and teens and young adults are discovering the fun of getting their hands in the dirt.
Cathe: Many of our urban residents have never seen a vegetable grow. They love that we put pictures of the fullgrown vegetables and their names on the garden boxes, so they can watch them grow from seeds. We have worked with Mohawk Valley Youth Build students to build some of the gardens and they are gaining valuable work experience while completing their GEDs and giving back to their own communities.
My favorite part is the fact that so many of our community’s children are benefitting from the gardens. We work with Thea Bowman, Cornell Cooperative Extension’s Master Gardener and Eat SMART NY programs bringing experienced gardeners and nutritionists into the gardens to help children learn where their food comes from, how to create nutritious snacks fresh from the garden, and how to plant, raise and harvest their own vegetables. Watching children munching and enjoying fresh, delicious green beans and peas straight from the garden is amazing. The key to improving the health of our children is to improve their nutrition and eating habits at an early age. Having access to the community garden is the ultimate primary prevention initiative.
Monika: Our Stone Soup Garden, when finished, will be unique in Utica as it will be constructed from circular water tanks of different dimensions and heights. Our alumni, DeWitt Godfrey, was so excited to try out this design, based on his monumental sculptures. This will be very different than the hundreds of raised wooden beds you have installed. Any thoughts?
I’m very excited that we will participate in building a different design at Sculpture Space. Not every lot permits the building of large rectangular beds, so it will be great to experiment with different materials and shapes. Since we started discussing this with you, over a year ago, I was able to see how your vision of sculpture is one that includes fluidity and motion, and that lends itself to gardens as sculpture. The idea of linking gardens, sculpture and art is an exciting one for me as I see this garden as an ever changing living sculpture piece that can be utilized to promote different themes each season or having new sculptors augment the design over time. Garden seasons also offer changes in color, shape and size that can be utilized by the sculptor to create a unique piece as the seasons change and the maturity of the plants evolve. We also see urban orchards as valuable additions to the garden and the ability to ‘sculpt’ trees into interesting shapes add another dimension to the project. We are very appreciative that you and your Board of Directors had the vision to see that gardens have a place in art and sculpture and that the culminating experience that will invite the community in to share the produce grown educates the public about the value of the arts in every aspect of life. It has been a wonderful experience working with you and your team on this project.