As La Sierra University’s art students finished the school year last spring, their professors knew what would happen—their young artists would head off into the dog days of summer, lose contact with faculty, and stop creating art.
“We started brainstorming about ways to stay connected to the students,” said department chair Terrill Thomas. “How could we encourage them to still keep making art?”
Thomas and his colleague, assistant professor of art Tim Musso, cultivated an idea derived from a unique project begun in April that involved growing vegetables in an art department planter bed. The garden was inspired by Thomas’ recent graduate studies the Vermont College of Design which explored the connections between graphic design, sustainability, and identity through the experience of gardening at his Riverside home.
Musso used the art department garden for artistic instruction. In the planter grew several varieties of tomatoes, lemon cucumbers, Japanese eggplant, yellow and green bell peppers, cilantro, basil, Thai basil, and mint. Musso’s Introduction to Graphic Design students made observational drawings of the plants and created garden signage that a restaurant might use.
“The garden provided an answer by bearing produce that needed to be harvested every two weeks,” says Thomas. “We thought, ’Why don’t we meet with students, harvest the vegetables, have a barbecue, talk about art, and watch a movie? And just like that, Art.Eat.Film. was born.” Thomas and Musso organized six Art.Eat.Film. events throughout the summer. Each gathering attracted between nine and 26 students, faculty and art department alumni. They participated in harvesting trays of vegetables from the art garden, roasting the food on Thomas’ donated gas grill, and watching movies projected onto an outdoor screen while eating their freshly cooked fare. The students were also encouraged to bring any artwork they had created for informal critique.
Art.Eat.Film. kicked off on June 26 with black bean burgers and a Thai cucumber tomato salad from the garden. Over the summer the group’s recipes became more elaborate. Thomas and Musso purchased additional knives, cutting boards, and food preparation gloves so that everyone could be involved in the cooking process. Musso even built a rolling workstation for chopping vegetables.
Before the end of the summer, Art.Eat.Film. participants were cooking full meals for a growing crowd of attendees using a combination of recipes found online. In August, they cooked Thai food for 26 people and in September, Indian food for 20. “One of the challenges is scaling recipes up for a large crowd,” Thomas said. An Indian egg curry recipe, for instance, involved 40 hard boiled eggs, five pounds of Yukon potatoes, six onions, three heads of four inches of ginger and about seven tablespoons of spices—turmeric, coriander, cumin, cayenne, and fenugreek.
Graphic design major Cat Kent, a senior this year, attended Art.Eat.Film. and helped harvest vegetables from the garden for making salads. She enjoyed keeping in touch with her friends who showed up for the food, art, and camaraderie. The get-togethers also helped form stronger ties with her professors. It was kinda cool seeing them on their own time, relaxing,” she said.
“This is the first time the Department of Art and Design has tried anything like ths,” said Thomas. “we are thrilled with the response and plan on continueing this activitie throughout the year.” He and Musso may even take the students on a road trip mext year to visit associate professor of art Susan Patt at her Arizona summer residence, where her husband and son are cultivating hundreds of fruit trees.
“These social art events help us share what we believe is important,” Thomas said—”a profound wonder of nature, discovering community through sharing, and inspiring eachother through art and design.”