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Open Field: Conversations on the Commons

(The Book)

In the spirit of public exchange, the Walker presents Open Field: Conversations on the Commons, a book examining our three-year experiment in participation and public space. In the hope of giving each piece of content new life, we’re sharing links to every chapter of the book—updated as they are published on various Walker and non-Walker websites—below. These illustrated essays and interviews address the possibilities of a true cultural commons, both within the context of a contemporary art center and beyond.

Open Field: Conversations on the Commons book

Edited by Sarah Schultz and Sarah Peters

Contributions by Susy Bielak, Steve Dietz, Stephen Duncombe, Futurefarmers (Amy Franceschini, Michael Swaine), Lewis Hyde, Jon Ippolito, Marc Bamuthi Joseph, Sarah Peters, Rick Prelinger, Machine Project (Mark Allen), Red76 (Courtney Dailey, Dylan Gauthier, Sam Gould, Gabriel Mindel Saloman, Mike Wolf), Sarah Schultz, Scott Stulen, Works Progress (Colin Kloecker, Shanai Matteson)

Open Field: Conversations on the Commons book

Buy the Book

Open Field: Conversations on the Commons is available in book form via Walker Postscript, the Walker Art Center’s print-on-demand publishing imprint, which presents short and focused texts to delve more deeply, or broadly, into the rich concepts that animate the institution’s diverse artistic programs.

Chapter 1

Sarah Schultz & Sarah Peters


The coeditors of Conversations on the Commons introduce the core idea of Open Field as an experiment in collective creativity in a museum-operated space and lay out the guiding philosophy of the project.

Chapter 2

Sarah Schultz

My Common Education: Lessons from Open Field

The origins of Open Field are explained, from the germ of an idea and the research into the “commons” to its collaborators and participants to its rules of etiquette, tools, and expectations to its planning and execution.

Chapter 3

Interview with Rick Prelinger

An Authentic Commons Is Not a Temporary Affair

This writer, filmmaker, founder of the Prelinger Archives, and longtime advocate for the public domain talks about the relationship between commons and museums, and the complications of institutional forays into social practice.

Chapter 4

Jon Ippolito

Which Commons: Market, Zoo, or Tribe?

Drawing on historical models of commons, Ippolito outlines different models for collective ownership and ponders which one a museum should follow: one of two highly compromised examples—the market and the zoo—or a prototype closest to the spirit of the commons, the tribe.

Chapter 5

Interview with Lewis Hyde

In Defense of the Cultural Commons

Cultural critic Lewis Hyde talks about the idea of the commons as resurrected today after two centuries of tension between the individual and the collective, what it means to be a good cultural citizen, and what the model of a commons can offer to an art institution.

Chapter 6

Interview with Stephen Duncombe

Utopia Is No Place

When 2010 Open Field artists-in-residence Red76 invited theorist and activist Stephen Duncombe to give a lecture, his ideas about the uses of utopia in political imagination became fodder for the group’s discussion series. Here, Duncombe talks about collective utopia in relationship to Open Field 2011.

Chapter 7

Sarah Peters

When Bad Things Don’t Happen

How Open Field’s much-debated set of guidelines (Rules of the Commons) were found to be necessary to communicate a set of values, rather than their original intention of protecting the space, the participants, and the institution.

Chapter 8

Steve Dietz

This Is Not a Trojan Horse

Steve Dietz, founder, president, and artistic director of Northern Lights.mn, deconstructs Open Field 2010 artists-in-residence Futurefarmers’ process, practice, and motivations.

Chapter 9

Interview with Futurefarmers

A People Without a Voice Cannot Be Heard

The Futurefarmers collective talks about the temporary classroom, ways that voice is used as a tool for exchange and liberation, and the series of objects and public events they designed to raise the expression of the people.

Chapter 10

Interview with Red76

If We Had a Hammer

Artists-in-residence at the first Open Field, Red76 discusses the five core elements of their three-week project, which explored ways that we repurpose knowledge and materials by inviting people to activate their dual roles as consumers and creators of ideas and things.

Chapter 11

Interview with Mark Allen of Machine Project

Summer Jubilee

In July 2011, a confederacy of artists called Machine Project flooded Open Field with 17 different happenings, including an operetta for dogs and polygraph tests for museum visitors. Mark Allen discusses the role of artists in the social experiments of museums, and the reasons for making work that is exploratory, contingent, and open to failure.

Chapter 12

Interview with Marc Bamuthi Joseph

Living Classroom and Open Field

On August 11, 2011, a daylong gathering called Living Classroom explored the question “What sustains life in your community?” Marc Bamuthi Joseph, a spoken word and theater artist, answers this question and others about building and supporting creative ecosystems.

Chapter 13

Shanai Matteson & Colin Kloecker

Commons Census: Surveying the Field

Using tactics from Participatory Action Research, the authors reflect on their wide-ranging alternative assessment of Open Field’s first iteration, including interviews with Walker staff and off-site think-tank discussions.

Contributor Biographies

Mark Allen is the founder and executive director of the Los Angeles–based collective Machine Project. He is currently an associate professor of art at Pomona College and a board member at the Andy Warhol Foundation.

Susannah Bielak is an artist and associate director of public and interpretive programs at the Walker Art Center. She was the project manager of Living Classroom and curates ongoing Open Field programming.

Courtney Dailey is a maker of objects, texts, events, and myriad collaborative and collective situations. She currently resides in San Francisco.

Steve Dietz is a serial platform creator. He is the founder, president, and artistic director of Northern Lights.mn, which produces the Twin Cities nuit blanche art festival Northern Spark, among other projects. He is the former curator of new media at the Walker Art Center, and the curator of Futurefarmers’ residency for Open Field 2010.

Ashley Duffalo is the public and community programs manager at the Walker Art Center. She was the project manager for Futurefarmers and Machine Project residencies and curates ongoing Open Field programming.

Stephen Duncombe is an academic and an activist. He is an associate professor at the Gallatin School of New York University and the author of the book Dream: Re-Imagining Progressive Politics in an Age of Fantasy (2007).

Amy Franceschini is an artist and educator based in San Francisco whose multimedia work encourages platforms of exchange and production. She founded the artist collective and design studio Futurefarmers in 1995 and cofounded Free Soil in 2004.

Futurefarmers, founded in 1995, is a group of artists and designers collaboratively creating work to challenge and critique current social, political, and economic systems. The collective’s studio supports art projects, an artist-in-residency program, and research interests. Futurefarmers was co-commissioned by the Walker and Northern Lights.mn to conduct a residency on Open Field in August 2010.

Dylan Gauthier is a visual artist, curator, and media educator based in Brooklyn. He is a cofounder of Mare Liberum, an experimental boat-building, print-making, and publishing collective.

Sam Gould is the cofounder of Red76. His interests concern politics, sociality, culture, and education. He teaches in the Text and Image Arts department at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Lewis Hyde is a poet, essayist, translator, and cultural critic with a particular interest in the public life of the imagination. A MacArthur Fellow, Hyde is the author of numerous publications, including The Gift: Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World (1983) and Common as Air: Revolution, Art, and Ownership (2010).

Jon Ippolito is an artist, curator, and advocate for network art and culture. He is associate professor of new media and co-director of the Still Water lab at the University of Maine.

Marc Bamuthi Joseph is the director of performing arts at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco and an internationally presented performer. His distinctions include a National Poetry Slam championship and a United States Artists Rockefeller Fellowship. In August 2011, he and collaborating partners presented a week-long residency at Open Field.

Colin Kloecker is an artist and designer working at the intersection of public engagement and civic design. With a background in architecture, he has created numerous public art projects as co-director of the design studio Works Progress.

Machine Project is a loose confederacy of artist/performer collaborators based in Los Angeles’ Echo Park neighborhood. Founded by Mark Allen, the group’s work investigates art, science, music, literature, food, and more. In July 2011, Machine Project and the Walker presented Summer Jubilee, a two-week residency consisting of more than eighteen unique projects at Open Field.

Shanai Matteson, an artist, writer, and cultural producer, has led myriad collaborative, cross-disciplinary projects. As co-director of the studio Works Progress, she draws on her interest in science and systems to produce public art and design programs at the intersection of disciplines.

Sarah Peters co-created Open Field during her tenure as the associate director of public and interpretive programs at the Walker Art Center. She is currently an independent writer, educator, and arts programmer.

Rick Prelinger is an archivist, writer, and filmmaker keenly interested in the commons. He is the founder of the Prelinger Archives, a collection of 60,000 advertising, educational, industrial, and amateur films, which was acquired by the Library of Congress in 2002.

Red76 is a nationwide network of artists and activists that since 2000 has conducted projects in physical space, in print, and online that focus on the ways knowledge is produced and the forms it takes. Their 2010 Open Field residency was organized by Courtney Dailey, Dylan Gauthier, Sam Gould, Gabriel Mindel Saloman, and Mike Wolf.

Gabriel Mindel Saloman is a Vancouver-based artist, writer, and musician. His artistic, curatorial, and musical projects include Diadem, the STAG, Collective Jyrk, the Lower Mainland Painting Co., and Yellow Swans.

Sarah Schultz is the director of education and curator of public practice at the Walker Art Center. In addition to co-creating Open Field, she has led the Walker’s efforts to engage diverse communities with contemporary artists and art forms for more than a decade.

Scott Stulen is a co-creator of Open Field and founder of the Drawing Club. A practicing artist, he is the project manager of mnartists.org, an online resource for more than 18,000 Minnesota artists.

Michael Swaine is an artist and educator dedicated to working in the community through socially engaged art practice. He is a senior lecturer at the California College of the Arts and an analog designer with Futurefarmers.

Mike Wolf is “a collaborative free radical contaminating primarily the tissues of the Midwestern United States through experiential research, writing in the first person, drawing, taking walks, and talking about it all.” The Illinois-based artist is a member of the collective Red76.

Works Progress is an artist-led public art and design studio based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The group’s collaborative projects are known for providing new platforms for public engagement across creative and cultural boundaries.