I first experienced Grace Farms on a Saturday morning in August, 2018. I was visiting my sister and her family who live in Stamford, Connecticut, and we stopped by for our young daughters to participate in an art class that weekend. As we drove in, I was struck by the serene beauty of the place. As we settled the girls in their leaf-pressing class, I wandered out of the art room to explore.
I had been working all summer on a project that aimed to examine the potential of aesthetics to transform community. I had read a great deal about Joseph Beuy’s idea of “social sculpture” and the importance of “creative placemaking” and was getting ready to share my learnings with a team of researchers who were getting together later that month. As I meandered up the white stairs, enthralled by the enigmatic pillowy, silver metal chairs at every stop along the way (I later learned that they were called “drop chairs”), I felt it immediately – this was not any ordinary space – this was a social sculpture!
Potential of Aesthetics to Transform Community
I felt inspired by the architecture that invited the outdoors in, the Library with its beautiful mirrorwork entryway and abundance of books, and, the sunken Court in which a number of men and boys were playing a vigorous basketball game. That is when the thought struck me: I have to include the Foundation into my collaborative art research project! It captures so beautifully the power and potential of art and aesthetics to transform community.
I quickly transformed myself from “vacation-mom” into “professor-researcher” and introduced myself to the librarian. I asked for some literature, had a lovely conversation with her, and, returned home energized to explore the website and find a way to include this Foundation in our project.
As I write this, our project is now complete and will be published in the Journal of the Association for Consumer Research in October 2019. Grace Farms is one of 19 organizations our team of 11 researchers interviewed and profiled. While the organizations included are very different in their mission and goals, they are connected in the belief that there is tremendous power in the potential of art and aesthetics to inspire, shape, and create community. In our research article, we integrate our learning from these different organizations to outline a five-stage best-practices framework that helps foster community-based collaborative art.
Stages to Amplify Impact
In our work, we attempted to map the mission and work of the Foundation (and the other organizations) onto the five steps we identified. Specifically, Grace Farms (1) preserves and shares historic land, providing public space to experience nature (Stage 1: community need identification), (2) provides a space for collaboration to facilitate community engagement on wide range of issues (Stage 2: engaged ideation), (3) delivers aesthetic experiences and education on-site and encourages community to work, play, and learn in the space (Stage 3: collaborative art-making), (4) provides “a peaceful respite” to stimulate creativity and advance common good (Stage 4: shared celebration), and, (5) supports nature, arts, justice, community, and faith (Stage 5: amplify impact).
In closing, I would like to share the hopeful and inspiring words, of the author Rebecca Solnit, “The stars we are given. The constellations we make.” It is incredible how much Grace Farms has managed to achieve in such a short time since it’s initiation. I believe that the Foundation is poised to contribute significantly to the well-being and advancement of both individuals and society.
I am hopeful that our research paper will help shape Grace Farms’ activities and strategic initiatives to take it to even greater heights, and, I am grateful to have had the serendipitous good fortune to have the opportunity to play a small part in documenting Grace Farms’ success.
Bauer Professor of Marketing and Lead Faculty for the Bauer Executive Women in Leadership Program, Bauer College of Business, University of Houston
Sign up for our newsletter to learn more about Grace Farms’ ongoing programing and our initiatives: nature, arts, justice, community, and faith. To understand why creating a “social sculpture” was important to Grace Farms’ founders, Sharon Prince, the Foundation’s President & Founder, writes about hopeful spaces and their power to transform.