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"The Community Meal" to move forward with Joyce Award

As its name suggests, The Community Meal, a public art project from St. Paul artist Seitu Jones, centers on a huge feast.

In this case, the meal, for which Jones is working with Public Art Saint Paul, will span up to three-quarters of a mile along the Central Corridor light rail transit line. It will happen in September of 2014. Jones wants to see the project's table make it into the Guinness World Records as the world’s longest.

The project recently received a Joyce Award for $50,000. “It has a lot of different layers to it,” he says. “It’s more than just a meal, though the meal will be the high point.” The meal will follow a yearlong “listening project that explores traditions, attitudes, and the presentation of food, with a specific focus on the Central Corridor,” he says.

This year, he’ll visit homes, restaurants, urban farms, and various gathering places along the line to hear people’s food stories.  

“What started me thinking about this was just being blown away by the urban agriculture initiatives happening along the Central Corridor,” including urban farms and community gardens, he says. He wants to celebrate these green ventures. “I thought of a meal that could be prepared from the bounty from the city,” to get people thinking about making healthy food choices.

The idea is also an outgrowth of a food assessment that Afro-Eco, an environmental group he belongs to, helped produce. It found that many people feel intimidated by the topic of healthy eating.  

To help show people how to cook and eat better, he came up with mobile kitchens that could be pulled by bike or pushed on a cart, which could be set up in parking lots, parks, and other community sites.
This naturally led to the idea of providing one big meal, using mobile kitchens. “One legacy that will be left behind are these mobile kitchens,” Jones says.

The table and its place settings will also be works of art, while spoken word artists will perform during the meal, he adds.

Jones hopes the project gives people “the tools to begin to place themselves in the food system and do interventions in their food." On top of that, “This is an awesome opportunity for 2,000 to 3,000 people to sit down and break bread together at a common table and talk about issues that generally drive dinnertime conversations,” he says.

Source: Seitu Jones, artist
Writer: Anna Pratt
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