There may be only one outdoor venue that has played host to a weekly drawing club, a Suzuki youth violin performance, square dancing and flamenco, an outdoor rock concert for 10,000 fans, and instruction in the art of the bullwhip. The place is the Walker Art Center’s Open Field, in Minneapolis.
“The whole idea behind the Open Field is that we’re doing experiments,” says Andrew Blauvelt, the Walker’s director of design, who, with the center’s education department, spearheaded the creation of this four-acre space. One of those experiments was to simply let people do whatever they wanted. The Walker programmed some events but also set up a website where people could create and promote their own. More than a hundred events have originated this way.
Even in the absence of events, Open Field offers food, beer, free wireless Internet access, and board and field games housed in the “toolshed,” a custom-made wooden tower. The toolshed sits on a simple flat plaza with a rubber surface. Farther away from the museum’s door is another flat plane, of gray trap rock bounded by curbs and steel walls. There are picnic tables shaded by a grove of honey locust trees. Beyond that, the land slopes upward to the surrounding streets, creating the perfect grassy lawn to roll down, fly a kite on, or throw a Frisbee across.
Blauvelt says the main inspiration was the concept of the commons, a phrase he uses to refer not to space, but to the notion of collective ownership. By that thinking, Open Field is the truest of commons: Not only is the land for everyone, so are the programming, the World Wide Web, and even the hula hoops.
This article first appeared in the May-June 2011 issue of Utne Reader.