Crossing Brooklyn: Linda Goode Bryant and Project EATS

Project EATS' Amboy Garden Farm, in Brownsville.

Through January 4, the Brooklyn Museum will present a major survey of contemporary Brooklyn art, featuring more than one hundred works from 35 artists. Crossing Brooklyn: Art from Bushwick, Bed-Stuy, and Beyond includes work in virtually every medium, including painting, drawing, photography, sculpture, installation, video, and performance, linked only by place and by an engagement with the modern world. This is the last of our profiles of artists who appear in the exhibit. You can read the rest here.

A few years ago, the documentary filmmaker Linda Goode Bryant was working on a short film about the impact of the 2007-8 global food price crisis on low-income communities in the United States and developing countries. During her research, she saw footage from Haiti of people eating mud and pebbles, spiked with honey, for lack of other subsistence. Desperate vendors were selling dirt pies at market. The images reduced her to tears. She thought, “what type of world it is we live in, where people are forced to eat mud because the price of food has risen to a level completely beyond their means?”

Not long after, Bryant realized that the food situations in New York and Haiti were more alike than they might seem. “They are similar in their dependence on food that is grown and shipped form other places,” she told me. “It was then that I realized how critical it is for people to be able to grow their own food. There should be models for urban farming designed to produce sufficient yields to feed people in their neighborhoods and throughout the city.”

So Bryant founded Project EATS, an art project-cum-social justice program that uses urban agriculture as its primary medium. She calls it an “ArtAction—works of art that have a direct and tangible impact on the social, cultural, and economic conditions where they occur.” It is the flagship program of the Active Citizens Project, a 501(c)3 non-profit founded by Bryant in 2003 that seeks to foster and catalyze broad-based public activism using art and new media as tools for social change.

Bryant, a Guggenheim Fellow and Peabody Award-winner, has a catholic definition of art, and a true believer’s faith in its restorative capacity. “Art has been a key or window through which we are able to connect to our intrinsic selves,” she explains. “But increasingly, our thoughts, beliefs, and behavior are shaped and dominated by extrinsic motivations that often lead us to make decisions, take actions, and prefer choices that are not in our basic or best interests. I believe art has the means and power to reconnect us with ourselves and each other in ways that lead to a sustainable balance between what is good for life, the planet we depend on, and the social and economic structures we have created.”

Project EATS’ site-specific installation at the Brooklyn Museum is called ItNot#2. It is comprised of three components on the Museum’s grounds: vegetable gardens, a weekly green market, and an “Energy Hub” station where visitors can pedal a bicycle to generate power for future use by Project EATS at their urban farms in Brownsville and East New York. The installation is unique among the works in Crossing Brooklyn; of the few non-artifactual projects, it is the only one that isn’t a performance, or the staging ground for a performance.

But similar to other works in the exhibition, ItNot#2 “revises the use and relevance of the Museum and the social and economic impact it can have on its community of visitors” and the community in the neighborhoods around it, many of which are low-income and food-poor, Bryant says. “The ‘cross-pollination’ between these communities has the potential to strengthen them individually and collectively.

“While Project EATS grows food, it is not about food,” she adds. “It is about the innate ability of all life to use what it has to create what it needs.”

Follow Phillip Pantuso on Twitter @phillippantuso.

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