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WUWM's Susan Bence reports on Wisconsin environmental issues.

Art & culture intertwine in unique installation throughout Wisconsin's rural Sauk County

Giant Farmer of Plain.jpeg
Katrin Talbot.
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Performance of “The Giant Farmer of Plain” by artist Christopher Lutter-Gardella. Collaborators include the Village of Plain, Kraemer Bros., WEdances Movement Collaborative & community artists.

Every two years, a small Wisconsin nonprofit offers a unique opportunity.

Wormfarm Institute selects a handful of artists who create installations that can be viewed along a 50-mile route through Sauk County farm fields. It’s called Farm/Art DTour.

The self-guided event is underway right now. Performances including dance and music are sprinkled throughout the 10-day event.

Wormfarm Institute program director Philip Matthews heads the team that put on this year’s tour. “It’s our biggest event. It’s a 50-mile self-guided drive through Sauk County’s working farmlands. And the route is punctuated by large-scale artworks that draw attention to the farmland,” says Matthews.

One-hundred-nine artist applied to be part of Farm/Art DTour 2022.

“The finalists—fifteen to eighteen—come to Sauk County for a tour of the route. So they get to meet participating landowners, former artists, and each other [and] share their ideas. And from there, they go back, and they receive a stipend to submit a second round proposal that is more site responsive because they’ve actually been in the space and met the people who call the space home,” says Matthews.

The work of 13 artists from far-flung places—Seattle to rural Texas—is on display.

Matthews says DTour brings together a diverse group of creatives and an equally diverse group of farmers.

Philip Matthews_poetry at General Sherman's Footprint.jpeg
Katrin Talbot
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Philip Matthews (left holding microphone) reading poetry as part of artist Catherine Schwalbe’s installation titled “General Sherman’s Footprint” during opening weekend 2022 Farm/Art DTour.

“We welcome both rural residents and urban visitors to this 50-mile route and in this 50 miles they experience a whole range of farming practices,” says Matthews.

Wormfarm Institute was created in 2000. “Wormfarm’s foundational program is an artist residency program, where artists come each season," says Matthews.

During their stay, the artists help tend Wormfarm's vegetable CSA (community supported agriculture).

Matthews calls it a chance to get dirty, eat well, while creating art and community.

That's how he, a poet, first experienced Wormfarm in 2015, along with two other writers and a sculptural artist.

At the time Matthew’s 9 to 5 job was working at an art museum in St. Louis, Missouri.

“I loved that job,” but he says the sabbatical proved to be life changing. “It changed the way that I was writing and it changed the way that I was thinking of my work as a creative,” says Matthews.

So in 2020, Matthews says when Wormfarm invited him to come on as director of programs, he jumped at the opportunity.

"I feel really grateful to be in a job where I can say 'I don't know about that, tell me more,' particularly when it comes to the participating landowners and the farmers along the DTour route. I, like many people, have felt disconnected from the source of my food, and so it's a real thrill to learn more about the contemporary state of agriculture," says Matthews.

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Susan Bence entered broadcasting in an untraditional way. After years of avid public radio listening, Susan returned to school and earned a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She interned for WUWM News and worked with the Lake Effect team, before being hired full-time as a WUWM News reporter / producer.
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