Letters to Alfred
Most people who have lived in Alfred, NY know well that there is a certain curious quality that makes this place unique - a sense of magic that changes people and stays with them long after they leave. Likewise, each person who lives there has a hand in contributing to Alfred’s evolving character. “Letters to Alfred” is an ongoing community art project inviting former and current residents of the town to write a letter to the place itself - the land, the water, and all the life it supports. It is an opportunity for each person to reflect on their experience with Alfred: how it shaped them and how they shaped it, and to say whatever they wish to the place that was, or still is, their home.
The project began in June of 2019 and everyone who has signed up to participate has been sent a piece of biodegradable handmade paper embedded with seeds of grasses and wildflowers that are native or naturalized to the Southern Tier region. After writing their letter on this paper, they were asked to return it to me to be exhibited at the Cohen Gallery, included in a book documenting this project, and ultimately returned to the earth in Alfred. By burying the letters, the seeds will be given the opportunity to grow and the messages will be absorbed into the soil, transforming the memories and emotions expressed back into the living body of the place.
“Letters to Alfred” is currently in progress and the letters continue to filter in every day, filled with love, nostalgia, regret, gratitude, frustration, and joy, each affirming the letter-writer’s unique experience and helping to weave a complicated narrative of the way Alfred has shaped people’s lives. This project is happening in tandem with the “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” exhibition at the Cohen Gallery, co-curated by Michael Stevenson Jr., Cassandra Bull, and Caitlin Brown, which opens to the public on August 22nd, 2019.
Over 160 people have signed up to participate in “Letters to Alfred” so far, so in order to manage the demand for seed paper, I am pausing the project temporarily until after the opening reception August 30th. More seed paper will be available at the opening reception for visitors to the show to write their letters directly, and a limited number of out-of-town participants will be able to write letters after that. If you would like to be added to the waitlist to participate, you can reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org with your mailing address.
More details about the upcoming book and the project’s progress will become available soon!