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A Magazine for Sheffield

"Eating is one of the most immediate ways for people to connect with soil"

This week Arts Catalyst host a special event of eating, sharing and considering the ways we can deepen our relationship to the ground that connects us. They told us more about the gathering and the wider programme.

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Experimenting with cochineal pigments – Al-Wah’at, 2023.

Yasmine Omari

The Soil Futures Gathering on 6 October (10.30am to 4.00pm) is an event combining knowledge sharing, creativity and hands-on activities. It’s part of a wider year-long programme and an international network of creative organisations "exploring the ground between us".

The first session of the day will take place at Arts Catalyst's base on the Moor, Soft Ground, giving you the opportunity to hear about the artistic and ecological practices of artist Gabriella Demczuk (Al-Wah’at), artist duo Breakwater, writer, grower and organiser Sam Siva (LION), and The Growing Project (Grand Union) over a shared vegan meal at Soft Ground prepared by Jo Capper.

The second part of the day will be held at the Sheffield Mind Garden on Sharrow Lane, where Al-Wah’at member Gabriella Demczuk will lead a hands-on workshop using local plants to create natural pigments, dyes and prints.

We chatted to organiser Anna Santomauro to find out more about this unique event, the vision for the programme and how we can all play our part.

Tell us more about Arts Catalyst and the upcoming Soil Futures Gathering.

Arts Catalyst is a visual arts organisation and charity based in Sheffield. We enable people in South Yorkshire and beyond to engage in creative experiences that increase ecological awareness, encourage positive social action and open up new ways of learning about the world around us.

The Soil Futures Gathering is the culmination of a one-year programme called Soil Futures, which brings together five arts organisations based in different parts of the world to explore the ground between us. These are Arts Catalyst (Sheffield, UK), RIWAQ (al Bireh, Palestine), Sakiya – Art/Science/Agriculture (Ein Qiniya, Palestine), Struggles for Sovereignty (Yogyakarta, Indonesia) and Vessel Art Project (Puglia, Italy).

In Sheffield, the Soil Futures Gathering is an opportunity to open up common concerns about repair and regeneration of damaged soils through community-led initiatives. Participants can expect to learn more about practices that positively engage with soil in different contexts, connect with artists and community organisers, and find out more about their creative approaches to soil care and stewardship.

Art and the natural world feel like they are inextricably linked. How did Al-Wah’at, LION (Land in Our Names), Breakwater (Youngsook Choi and Taey Iohe) and Jo Capper (Grand Union, The Growing Project) come together?

Al-Wah’at (Ailo Ribas, Areej Ashhab, Gabriella Demczuk), Sam Siva from LION and Breakwater (Youngsook Choi and Taey Iohe) were all involved in different ways in the Soil Futures programme throughout 2023.

Al-Wah’at spent six weeks in Palestine, hosted by Sakiya Art/Science/Agriculture, researching the cactus and its social and environmental significance in Palestine. This plant is the symbol of the region and at the same time it is considered the plant of the future, because of its ability to adapt to arid lands. During the gathering, they will share the journey they undertook with this plant and share some of their knowledge they gathered in Palestine through the encounter with local communities of artists and land workers.

Sam Siva, Youngsook Choi and Taey Iohe were all involved as contributors in The School of Soil Futures that took place online between March and May 2023. During their session, Sam invited participants to reflect on the ways in which the British empire has shaped and interrupted communities' relationship to soil and land across the world through expropriation and colonialism.

Taey and Youngsook instead asked: what forms of care do we need to practice when struggling for ecological justice, in order to support and maintain our human and non-human communities? We wanted to share these artists’ practices with the Sheffield community.

Jo Capper is a community organiser and artist whose work Arts Catalyst has followed and admired for a long time. Jo is Collaborative Programme Director at Grand Union in Birmingham. The Soil Futures Gathering in Sheffield is an opportunity to connect Jo and the incredible community-led food initiatives in Sheffield.

Is the menu influenced by the ethos of the gathering?

Food is an important part of everything we do at Arts Catalyst. A shared meal is usually when the most expansive and inspiring conversations happen, and eating is one of the most immediate ways for people to connect with soil and the nourishment it provides.

During the meal we will try and reflect on this, and think about our bodies in relation to what we are ingesting and the knowledge that emerges when sharing food. The menu will use seasonal and locally gathered produce and is very much influenced by the idea of caring for the environments around us.

What are you hoping comes next as a result of the gathering? What would a more positive future look like for our city?

The main hope for the gathering is to create space for and expand a community of people and friends who care about the changing environment and who are seeking positive ways to be active agents of change in the city.

Sheffield is rich in ecologically-minded initiatives and we are inviting those who are part of them, or who are interested in finding out more, to join and take a pause to reflect together, inspire each other and network.

A more positive future to us looks like a city where people can work in more interconnected ways. We hope the gathering can open up conversations about the relationship between culture and environmental justice in the city.

How can people get involved and find out more?

The Soil Futures network will keep growing and create programmes for artists and practitioners to work together in the different countries involved.

Learning and reflections from the programme are often shared in the Arts Catalytst blog, and later in the autumn the Soil Futures partners will launch a dedicated platform collating content from the programme, along with a series of podcasts where they will share their journey and knowledge about soil with a wider audience.

Soil Futures Gathering

Friday 6th October, 10.30am – 4pm. £5.04 including booking fee

Soft Ground, 37 - 41 The Moor, S1 4PF.
Sheffield Mind, 110 Sharrow Lane, S11 8AL.

Soft Ground and Mind Garden are wheelchair accessible venues with a disabled toilet. Seating is on folding chairs and cushions can be provided. Further access and travel information is available via Soft Ground and the Eventbrite ticket link.

Update: Part two of the day, the hands-on workshop at the Sheffield Mind Garden, is now sold out.

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