Ag and arts join forces to ‘make music’

SPRINGFIELD, Ohio – As Clark County, Ohio, farmers harvest crops this fall and plant seed in spring, they’ll also be snapping photographs to reap another benefit: a symphonic concert combining agriculture and the arts in November 2005.
The concert will include a new production, Our Fields, Farms and Families, which will combine the sounds of the Springfield Symphony Orchestra with hundreds of images of Clark County farms projected on three large screens suspended above the orchestra during the concert.
The project. The concert is part of an Agriculture and the Arts project being spearheaded by Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and is funded by a $104,500 grant from the USDA’s Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program.
As part of the overall project, the college and its partners are producing a DVD with narration and photos, telling the stories of several area farm families.
Grabbing attention. Already, the concert has garnered international attention.
A September notice in the Springfield News-Sun about a photography workshop with the project’s photo-choreographer James Westwater caught the eye of an Associated Press reporter.
The story on the project was printed in dozens of national newspapers.
“We never guessed we’d get this kind of reaction,” said Denny Hall, coordinator of the project and special assistant to the dean of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.
“Even the (USDA’s) Foreign Agricultural Service’s office in Tokyo saw a mention of it and is interested.”
The Foreign Ag Service office was attracted to the project because Japanese consumers often think that all American food is produced on large, corporate farms, and the DVD related to this project can show the family side of American ag production.
The Foreign Ag Service public affairs office believes many of its offices would be interested in using the DVD to show how American farm families work to produce an abundant global food supply.
Value. “Why do communities value agriculture? Why do farmers choose it as a way of life? That’s what’s important,” Hall said.
He hopes the project depicts the answers to these questions.
“Even with all of the risks and uncertainties, farmers still choose this lifestyle because of the returns that go beyond the economic,” he said.
“It’s the beauty, the satisfaction. I hope the farmers who participate in this project are able to see the importance of what they do in a new light – to see the beauty around them anew.”
Important link. Connecting agriculture with the symphony is an important link, Hall said.
“I think farmers sometimes wonder how relevant they are to their communities,” he said.
“If they produce corn or soybeans, as most do, their crops get shipped all over. There’s not a connection to the local community like when they brought their goods to local markets.
“Symphony orchestras often struggle with similar issues of relevance today. This program makes an effective community collaboration between these two organizations.”
Symphony support. David Deitrick, the symphony’s executive director, said the nonprofit Springfield Symphony Orchestra has been lucky to have strong support for 60 years, even when orchestras in larger cities have fallen on hard times.
“It’s a great opportunity to bring the community together,” he said.
“We haven’t really tried anything like this before. It’s an unusual marriage to bring the arts community, which is very strong in Clark County, together with the agricultural community, which is also very strong in Clark County.
“Most people wouldn’t see a natural relationship there, but it’s a great way to highlight farms and the people who work on them, and bring people into the symphony who might not otherwise attend.”
More support. Deitrick said the orchestra will be working to raise additional funds to carry out the project; the USDA grant won’t fully fund the expenses, he said.
But the interest generated in the project already opens opportunities for additional support, he said.
Brian Harbage, president of the Clark County Farm Bureau, has been involved in the project from the beginning and is excited about the opportunities.
“It’s going to be wonderful for the agricultural community to have its story told through pictures to an arts community, which, for the most part, doesn’t usually realize what goes on in the day-to-day life of farmers,” Harbage said.
“And it also works the other way around, too. I think this will open up some farmers’ eyes as they partake in the process and gain a greater understanding of the arts.”
Capturing the senses. Hall hopes the final concert captures the senses on many levels.
“Photographs can do so much to tell a story, but when you attach them to something that can evoke emotion, like classical music from a symphony orchestra – well, this will be an awesome experience.”

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