"It gave me the chance to do work that was really about changing attitudes, changing values and changing the world."
Multi-disciplinary artist and community organizer Seitu Jones (BF’92, ’04) has built a career around public art commissions that align with causes he believes in. He applied his Bush Fellowship to a liberal studies master’s program with a horticulture sciences emphasis at the University of Minnesota. With the educational tools gained there, he co-founded and volunteers regularly at Frogtown Farm, an organic farm in the Frogtown neighborhood of St. Paul, Minnesota.
How were you hoping to develop through the Fellowship?
I wanted to learn something in graduate school that I could begin to apply to my community, in my neighborhood. So, I looked at this interdisciplinary program of environmental history that explored sociology, anthropology and cosmology. My research focused on the north side of Minneapolis, the area that’s now called Heritage Park that was at one time the Sumner Field housing projects, where I was born.
It was an opportunity for me to explore the history of a site that had meaning to me, and then to be able to apply that to a whole slew of other things. I was introduced to ideas of storm water management. That led me into storm water policy and creating artworks where I was able to integrate my work into storm water management best practices. All of that began with research and digging around this community that had long had this relationship with water.
What were you hoping to accomplish after your Fellowship ended?
Essentially, to change the world. It gave me the chance to do work that was really about changing attitudes, changing values and changing the world. That’s what I really wanted to do.
Where do you find inspiration?
I’m a child of the ’60s and ’70s, and I’m still inspired by the work of the generation that came before. I read the writings of Martin Luther King, Jr. I read the words of Malcolm X. For the food work that I do, I was really inspired by the Free Breakfast program by the Black Panther Party. And most importantly, my family is where I learned how to love myself, love family, love community. I’m a fourth-generation Minnesotan. My great-grandfather came here and settled in 1877. He was born in slavery and worked at the St. James Hotel in Red Wing, Minnesota as a porter, earning enough money to start a farm in Rochester, where my grandmother was born. Those are the folks that inspire me.
What advice do you have for current and future Bush Fellows?
Be persistent. Just don’t give up. And after you receive the Fellowship, you continue to be persistent, you continue on.