Silos, waiting to matter

The opening plenary of the Grantmakers in the Arts conference featured a fabulous performance by spoken word artist Marc Kelly Smith and the Speak’Easy Ensemble (Robbie Q. Telfer, Joel Chmara, Tim Stafford, Molly Meacham, and Dan Sullivan). Their task was to share and reflect on the long, long, long list of comments gathered after the 2009 GIA conference, and put them in some context that would inform the 2010 conversations yet to come.

It was fantastic stuff, and among the best efforts I’ve seen to bring the voices and insights of a past conference into a current conference. The performance closed with an extraordinary piece on silos, value, and the people who connect them. I asked ensemble member Robbie Q. Telfer if the group would be willing to share that text, and he graciously sent it along.

The first list, with numbers, includes a series of comments from the 2009 GIA conference participants. The poem that follows helped connect the dots for all of us.

62. Tried to bridge sector silos and be more collaborative with internal colleagues.
252. I started planting seeds for projects.
337. Breaking down silos between disciplines in order to encourage creativity and shared audiences
429. Use arts as connector and community builder, change maker.
3289. Advising and leading staff to understand the community impact of community based organizations and shifting their silo based thinking to a more integrative culture.

erupting like crops of tombstones across the countryside
silos help remind truckers driving through monotonous
Midwest landscapes that their rigs are still connected to the earth
like the ground is pointing skywards
”that’s heaven” they say ”you’re still here, churning out
an 18-wheel existence, connecting Illinois soy
to the plates of the nation. don’t float away yet, child.”

the silos also keep the sky from the meal,
stored grain energy and potential
trapped in their aluminum walls
”don’t float away yet”
they always say. the silos have a lot to say.

and they hold so much future
so many brilliant flavors
nutrition, grain, seeds yet to be planted
the silos are waiting to matter
and until the trucks pull up
to release this potential pent up
the silos will stand untapped with their rich
stores of importance
rotting away to oblivion.

we are waiting to matter
in each of your chests is a truck driver
a surly know-it-all who connects life to life
silo to silo
meal to meal
your trucks grant us the fortune of meaning
and without you asphalt captains
there would be nothing to eat.

connect the dots, truckers —
the silos are waiting to matter.