The Art + Agroecology project: AgroArt is a two-year live/work art residency program designed by artist and farmer Ryan Tenney to galvanize socio-ecological transformation of oppressed individuals and communities. It will take place over two summer seasons at Sankara Farm, in Kansas City, MO. Each season provides four artists 2-week long residencies – including accommodations, unrestricted studio access, on-farm training and a small living/material stipend (8 artists total).
AgroArt reseeds creative right-to-land practices – material, cultural and spiritual – at the intersections of environmental justice, black agrarianism, and cultural specificity. Participants will be supported in claiming their capacity for self-determination of their bodies and imaginations. Artists will become active agents of healing change through practical and aesthetic unpacking of agro-historical and ongoing traumas .
Ryan’s practice as a visual artist has accompanied and anticipated his agricultural work. He is the owner and director of Sankara Farms and his aesthetic practices center visions of Afro-futurist ecology. He incorporates collage, painting, soundtapes, and digital images to nurture the black imaginary. He has worked in several capacities providing small-scale intensive crop production, as well as community- and aesthetics-based management/labor.
In 2016 Sankara Farms established a CSA and weekly farmers market on 18th and Vine Ave. Ryan also participates in international and domestic organic food production conferences, such as the X Encuentro de Agricultura Orgánica y Sostenibe in Havana, Cuba and annual attendance of the Black Urban Growers (BUGS) Conference. The goal of his work is the decolonization of both agricultural and aesthetic knowledge and practices.
AgroArt is keyed to healing historical land-based trauma. Participants in the residency will practice direct market farming via Sankara Farms presence at 18th and Vine and Grandview weekly farmers’ markets, to ensure access to a supportive community network. Each artist residency will end in a free public presentation with a light meal, hosted by 31st&Brklyn at the Quilombo, an independent community resource in Kansas City, MO.
AgroArt engages directly with the historic Vine community, a food insecure neighborhood without walking access to fresh produce. Its CSA track reflects adaptation to the reality of Kansas City’s divisive urban planning (largely due to redlining) and the adaptive creative response of African descended people in KC. The main site of the residency is centered on a farm to revitalize artists’ holistic healing in the midst of their individual creative practice.
AgroArt culminates with a book publication that will act as an art and ecology resource. It will feature contributions from artists and community members involved in the project. The book will include written, visual, and sound-based work from both seasons of participants to further the creative decolonization of community.
This project begins the process of creating sustainable models of a necessary decolonial ecological future.
Ryan Tenney is a returning generation farmer and multimedia artist from Kansas City, Missouri. He studied painting at University of Missouri-Columbia and Columbia College, Chicago. Upon returning to Kansas City, he decided to create a livelihood that was also an aesthetic return to agriculture. George Washington Carver is influential to his processes because of the interdependent relationship between his aesthetic, ecological, and community impactful practices… using drawing and painting to understand plants and their relationships to human society. Learning the history of black agrarianism is related to Ryan’s practice of radically imagining a socioecological future – inspiring his engagement with land. His goal is to develop art-centered answers to political questions, through ideas centered in ecology, afrofuturism and decolonization.
Previous to agriculture, Ryan worked extensively in arts education and community engagement including work with AmeriCorps, ArtsTech, and the Children’s Defense Fund Freedom Schools. After volunteering at several school gardens, he worked a season at Lulu’s Herbs near Lawrence, KS, and gained intensive organic production experience with Cultivate KC’s Gibbs Farm. His experience in project management and agriculture allowed Ryan to work as the Healthy Communities program coordinator for Niles Home for Children. There, he began a sustained practice and focus on development and exploration of a culturally and socially relevant approach to art and urban agriculture while addressing trauma. At Niles, he used agriculture to engage youth and staff in health and wellness and the visual arts, as well as practical skills in carpentry, agriculture, and market management. His program development included the Niles Home Garden and Farmer’s Market, garden club workshops with Lincoln Prep high school students, and further community garden management in conjunction with the Housing Authority of Kansas City.
The cultural, political and social lens through which Ryan views art and agriculture was brought into sharper focus during his first attendance at the BUGS conference in Brooklyn, NY in 2013. Following this he had an opportunity to see first-hand the often quoted “another world is possible” on a field trip to Cuba in 2014, where he was immersed in sustainable organic production. His current focus is developing an economically viable, 22-acre, agroecological production farm in Kansas City: Sankara Farm. In 2016 Ryan established a Friday Farmer’s Market at 18th and Vine and a CSA, which provides local, organic produce independent from the constraints of the food system.