Critical Encounters Potluck (Part 1): Stone Soup

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Last week, the arrival of international art duo motiroti set the long-awaited Critical Encounters: Rights, Radicals, and Revolutions into motion with a series of potlucks in multiple Chicago neighborhoods. I served as documentarian and participant in the CE initiative, capturing as many conversations, dishes, and opinions as I could. The result is very much like any of the potlucks staged–a collection of moments brought to the table for all to enjoy. In the spirit of the upcoming holidays, I bring you a cornucopia of highlights from these potlucks in a three-part blog series. [flickr id=”6383590291″ thumbnail=”medium” overlay=”true” size=”original” group=”” align=”none”]

Columbia College Chicago hosted the Stone Soup event for the general public on Wednesday night. This free shindig invited each guest to bring an ingredient to either the literal or metaphorical soups being created in the Conoway Center (headed by Tara Lane, Hull House kitchen manager, and a score of CE participants). Meaning, one could bring a rutabaga or a friend, a carrot or a poem. Both ingredients would either be added to the communal soup for dinner or used for conversation over the meal (…and hopefully, you would know which would go for what purpose!).

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All of these elements were documented, cataloged, and recorded in a variety of ways as a means of data gathering for motiroti and the CE group. It was a balance of sociological study and joyful celebration, a party with a purpose. The public that arrived to eat together were encouraged to sit and discuss certain key questions–what does Chicago offer you?, what do you offer Chicago?, where has the city failed you? and, what wish would you want realized here? 

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The responses varied based on the diversity of the crowd, which was one of the major points of the dinner. Race, class, gender, neighborhood, and political affiliation were just a few of the tangible characteristics that informed perspective, outlook, and answers for Chicago. Where some wishes were a bit nebulous–racial equality, better public education–from some, others were basic and immediate. One CE participant encouraged the gentleman pictured above to come to Stone Soup earlier that day; his thoughts were on the impending winter, and enjoying as many bowls of soup as he could tonight in preparation.

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Potluck does create a circumstance for strangers to congregate, mingle, and eventually warm to one another. However, there were rumblings from the crowd about how an event like Stone Soup isn’t enough. Why weren’t more homeless invited to the banquet? Why have the event at an educational institution? What permanent impact could one dinner have on any of the cultural issues it is attempting to address?

Yes, Rumbling People. I hear you well.

In the time of Occupy movements, national deficit gridlock, and political stagnation, a need for long-term tangible change is as fervent as ever. I will counter this hard-grit realism with an argument paraphrased from Ali Zaidi, motiroti Artistic Director, on art and civic engagement. Art activists are their own worst enemy, Zaidi states, in feeling that they are not doing enough. We didn’t capture a more diverse demographic. We didn’t document the conversations proper. We didn’t do this or that. We need to remember that we took the step to start the conversation. Before scrutinizing how far we moved forward, we should first acknowledge the success of moving forward at all.

In other words, enjoy the soup and speak your mind. There is another course after this meal.

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