Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Yuma Project: Adrianna Santiago

Adrianna with Yuma residents in Shop All; Richard Saxton

Today we have the honor of presenting Adrianna Santiago's work from Yuma. Below we'll feature Ms. Santiago, in some excerpts from our email correspondence, describing her project and her collaborations with the community. For more information on the work of Richard Saxton and his students in Yuma, Colorado, please see our introductory article.

Listening is an important part my artistic process of engaging with any community.  In the case of Yuma, I began with the Yuma Historical Society Museum.  I investigated and researched the history of Yuma, as it relates to agrarian traditions surrounding food.  I curated a small exhibit from the museum collection and presented a small display in the context of the Shop All Grocery Store, also a historic site.  Those historical objects guided our conversations and interactions.  

From there, I spoke directly with community members as they shopped.  The main 
interest from the audience at the Shop All came mostly from the elderly, who recognized and could contribute to the topic of Yuma history and traditions.  The influence of these individuals was essential to the making of the work.  I initiated the creative process through conversation and invited collaborative engagements that were defined by the community. I also asked Shop All patrons to nominate community members who could teach me, through hands-on experience, about Yuma's traditions.

The most inspiring aspect of this work centered around those close community connections. While I began by meeting Judy Rutledge in the Shop All, who nominated her son, the web of connections became very apparent as I embarked upon new lessons with different community members. Organic popcorn planting, cattle herding, wood carving and butter churning were the focused situations that I experienced.

Working in the public space of the Shop All was most eye-opening.  I expected that the display of historic objects would surprise and draw people in, however, many completely overlooked my presence.  This experience caused me to reflect on the idea of being outside of the community.

Communities have become less connected, even in rural areas; the progression of technology has watered down the quality of relationships people have with each other. The family traditions and collective histories embedded in the identity of a locale are becoming mere memories spoken by elders. 

The individuals who founded The Yuma Historical Society Museum (YHSM) in Yuma, CO are dedicated to preserving the history of their farming community; they can be found leading efforts through their work at the YHSM. Founders and members of the YHSM share and archive first-hand narratives about times such as the depression era, stories about land development and the lineage of common families. Ms. Doris Mekelburg and other YHSM members want to ensure that younger generations of the town take responsibility and continue to preserve the cultural identity of Yuma.

I am intrigued by how quickly cultural knowledge seems to be disappearing, despite all “advances” in technology over the past decade. My work in Yuma will begin a journey focused on seeking knowledge and establishing a network where resources can be shared. I want to incorporate new technologies with old practices, without losing ties between people and the land. Eventually, I’d like to create a practical guide book that’s easily accessible for others to take part in so that they may create wholesome communal ties that preserve traditions in their own communities—Yuma, Colorado is the first stop in this process.