School of Live Culture is a social practice artwork that hires statistically at-risk youth to teach local university students about sustainability and food justice. The title, “School of Live Culture,” adapts the wildness of live-culture microbial fermentation to the creation of new cultural practices and micro-networks of dialogue designed to rethink racial hyper-segregation in the U.S. Rust Belt, inequality and privilege in the American education system, the relationships of universities to their immediate neighborhoods, and the idea that academic experts need be the providers of solutions to the problems faced by “underprivileged” communities. In SLC|Rochester, which débuted in 2016, the Youth Leadership Team of Seedfolk City Farm, the majority of whom are high-school age, designed and implemented lesson plans to educate University of Rochester undergraduates about the organic farming methods they use to grow vegetables for food deserts in the city of Rochester, namely the 19th Ward and PLEX neighborhoods. Through this project, local youth demonstrated the ways in which Rochester citizens were already solving food justice issues that university students tended to study in abstract form, as problems faced by populations “out there,” rather than across the river (15 minutes) from their campus. As a platform for imagination, skill-sharing, and community, SLC|Rochester worked closely with University of Rochester undergrads to help them “give back” to their teachers through the development of a series of social practice artworks that fostered dialogue and communication between themselves and their youth instructors, and between the campus and its surrounding neighborhoods.
Lisa Barker, Founder/Director of Seedfolk City Farm and School of Live Culture | Rochester collaborator:
“The Seedfolk Farmers have been trusted as leaders to work with college students. They’ve been told that what they have to say matters and that they know is worth sharing. This is an incredible thing. They come from a range of backgrounds, and some know the experience of just trying to get by. And then they get to lead college students, and not only that, these students sit by them and help them put their ideas into words and poems. They ask them for photographs and input for collaborative artworks. The University of Rochester students’ ideas for social practice projects included giving these young people the mic and learning about their neighborhoods. They’ve invited them for dinner on campus. This class represents the traditional power structure being turned on its head and it was an incredibly empowering experience to be a part of.”
SLC|Rochester was a collaboration between the M.K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence, University of Rochester, and Seedfolk City Farm, and was generously supported by the Rochester Center for Community Leadership, the University of Rochester Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning, and a Community Grant by the Association for the Study of Literature and Environment. A very special thanks to our Seedfolk teachers: Tavante Conyers, Kasim Wallace, Keyasia Roberts, Marina Shaver, Semaj Cruz, Charisse Warnick, Jarvis Duvall, and Jamison Clark.