No, I’m not talking about the remains of a mess hall brothel. This week, Petaluma Arts Center opens its doors AGRICULTURAL, an exhibit exploring the intersections of food and agriculture in Sonoma County.
The theme of food and the roots of food in the Sonoma County region are, for Carin Jacobs, PAC’s executive director and exhibit curator, inextricably linked to the region, and the focus on food and farm through the show creates an unmistakable sense of Sonoma County place.
“To me, there are very few things that exemplify the sense of belonging in Sonoma County. [more] than food and the roots of our food,” Jacobs said.
Jacobs, who started as a volunteer and later became a board member, has been PAC’s chief executive for a year and a half. She has a background in arts and food studies, and has long wanted to bring the two together in one space.
Jacobs moved to Petaluma from East Bay nine years ago. During that time, she has witnessed demographic shifts, from longtime Petalumans who raised their now adult children in the city and have been here for generations, to young couples, families and individuals moving in.
“Sometimes there can be a schism between the old Petaluma and the new Petaluma, if you will. And I think food is a topic – I hope – that will unite generations of Petalumans, in some way. I feel like there’s a bridge to be built between geographies and generations in this area, and I think food can do that,” Jacobs said.
In Sonoma County in general, and in Petaluma in particular, the food scene is growing. Institutions such as the Tea Room and Della Fattoria are thriving, and new spots like Sol Food and Lunchette on 4th Street offer exciting new dining options. From an outside perspective, it’s an exciting development, but change can bring some discomfort, and Jacobs hopes AGRICULTURAL build bridges through food; after all, the dining table is the ultimate equalizer. Everyone must eat.
Although focused on food and agriculture, the exhibit does not include a statement on current climate issues in Sonoma County. “I know there are lively and substantial conversations going on around this topic right now. But this exhibit is about terroir, a sense of place and the evolution of community,” Jacobs said.
Jacobs chose to hold this exhibit now, in a time of heightened climate change that may lead attendees to assume it is directly related to current climate issues, in an effort to relocate programming from the Petaluma Arts Center.
There was a time when the Centre’s exhibitions featured the work of artists from different geographies in an effort to emulate institutions like SFMOMA. But, in recent years, PAC has focused its vision on a closer geography, showcasing the work of regional artists and addressing regional events. Exhibits that speak to the location are the focus now, as PAC seeks to deepen community connections, creating an inimitable Petaluma artistic niche that cannot be found anywhere else.
With its Petaluma-focused programming, PAC also seeks to explore the connection between art and life. Science, botany, ecology and biology are all things Jacobs likes to explore with visual art, locating and highlighting unexpected commonalities.
“With AGRICULTURAL, I hope to bring artists and farmers into conversation, to see where the commonalities lie between the act of creating in these two worlds,” Jacobs said. “And there is a poetry portion of the exhibit programming, juried by Sonoma County Poet Laureate Elizabeth Heron. I think hearing poetry juxtaposed against the backdrop of visual art is going to be really interesting.
There’s an experimental quality to Jacobs’ method of preservation, almost like a chef combining different ingredients to produce a surprisingly successful dish. This cross-examination of art and life has been part of PAC’s mission since 2016, when Jacobs introduced the Idea Lounge series, which she lovingly calls “her baby.”
At Idea Lounge events, two speakers, one from the arts and the other from a non-arts background, each speak for 20 minutes about their work and process. The public then becomes the third speaker, exploring and discovering the links between the two fields.
“My programming and content philosophy is to take unexpected elements and put them together to see what happens, whether in an exhibit or in programming,” Jacobs said. “It’s kind of the surprise element of the petri dish – bringing people, objects and ideas together in a room that might never be in the same place, and see what happens!”
AGRICULTURAL The programming offers a wide variety of opportunities to explore Petaluma through the lens of food.
Opening night, Thursday, August 11, promises a great turnout from community members, artists, and Petaluma food vendors. The aforementioned poetry reading, Food & Memory, is scheduled for August 18 and will present food and agriculture through a poetic and memorial lens.
On August 25, Douglas Gayeton and Laura Howard-Gayeton will discuss three short films from the Sustainability Lexicon web series and their work in food education. A Sept. 8 roundtable with local farmers will examine the current food economy in Petaluma, and on Sept. 17, historian Katherine J. Rinehart will lead an architectural walking tour of Petaluma’s past and present agricultural history. The show ends on September 24.
With art as a pivot and launching pad, AGRICULTURAL explores Petaluma’s relationship with food from a multitude of perspectives.
For more information on this exhibit and other PAC programming, visit www.petalumaartscenter.org.