Social Sculpture: The Larger Response

By Shannon Twenter, We Are Here to Plant a Tree team member

We Are Here To Plant a Tree served many purposes, but primarily as a community art project.  Having always been a patron and supporter of the arts, I was excited to be a part of this project.  I wanted to see how this all unfolded and learn how our project would define art for me in a new way.

This was a shovel ready project.
This was a shovel ready project.

I learned that our social sculpture’s goal was to change society, our environment.  By planting trees and interacting with the people at sites across the Kansas City metropolitan area, we could create conversations and a focus on the importance of planting trees, of taking care of our environment, and arts’ role as a change agent.  As a team of an artist -Don Wilkison, an educator – myself, and three (which grew to four) young men from Green Works and Paseo Art Academy – budding artists and environmentalists, we would work together to make this happen.

I learned that you start with a plan, deadlines, and a focus, but you don’t stay strict to those.  You allow for change and each team members’ ideas to influence the course of action.  I learned that with a lot of work and consistent summer meetings slowly this idea would become a reality.  I watched as our sites became established, and suddenly we were planting trees. We were interacting with folks throughout KC excited to talk about these trees and what they were doing about the environment, for Kansas City, or both.

At Juniper Gardens, we sat down for tea with Cathy Bylinowski, program manager, and a farmer on their land.  We learned about this amazing place where recent refugees learn to farm in a new country while bringing many of their home’s tools and crops to the fields.  At Trailside Center, we spoke with the volunteer staff and board members, including a Paseo alumni, who instantly made a connection with our present Paseo students.  They discussed trees and who and what was effecting Kansas City’s environmental movement.  At Roanoke Park, we dug through hard soil and spat in each other’s faces (accidentally, of course) and then sat along fellow volunteers in this neighborhood workday dining on some hearty chilly and cupcakes.  At Kansas City Museum, we enjoyed breathtaking views of a city from an angle that not all find their way to see.  Each site visit reminded us of the resources of Kansas City and how many want to help with the growing green movement.

It is exciting to celebrate the success of more than fifty trees planted at 18 sites across the metro. I have seen how this type of art, social sculpture, works.  It works in varied ways. It is fluid.  It is about what we learned and what we shared at each location as we planted these trees. It is about the excitement brought to audiences at Leedy-Voulkos during the gallery opening for We Are Here To Plant A Tree’s collaborative portraits of team members and at The Commons’ discussion where our experience were shared with the public.  It is about the trees at each site and the type of mark they will make visually on a map, and on a city. It will also be about what comes from the final part of this project, reflecting and creating based on what we have done with the trees and the sites.

Cathy Bylinowski, program manager for Juniper Farms Training Center, firms up a newly planted Overcup oak.
Cathy Bylinowski, program manager for Juniper Farms Training Center, firms up a newly planted Overcup oak.

Social sculpture was a new concept for me, but now it makes complete sense as an art form. Many relate art solely to looking at a painting or sculpture at a gallery, but really it is our response to that art that is most important. Similarly, or perhaps even stronger, social sculpture looks to garner an audience’s response that goes beyond appreciation to action. We Are Here To Plant a Tree provided many more venues and direct interactions to elicit such responses that one could argue would be change making.


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