Conference to explore imagination, place

Sunday, October 12, 2003

Rick Mitchell never imagined The Kansas Conference on Imagination & Place would take on a life of its own.

Inspired by New York poet Robert Kelly's essay "Hypnogeography," the conference has evolved since its debut in 2001. Artists, environmentalists, community activists and scholars will gather Friday through Oct. 19 at Lawrence Arts Center, 940 N.H., to discuss the meaning of place in peoples' lives. The conference -- a collaboration of the Lawrence Arts Center, Kansas Land Trust and Cottonwood literary journal -- combines philosophy, geography and ecology.

"The first conference was about dreamers; the second conference is about doers," said Mitchell, gallery director at the arts center and a conference organizer. "We want to open up questions, open up possibilities and ways of thinking about places, rather than come to some conclusion. The people we get to talk are people who are thinking in different ways of what places mean. What we need to do is expose people to a lot of different ideas about place. It's not like having a zoning meeting. It's about not forming restrictions about places."

The three-day event will feature four main presenters, a tour of the Haskell Indian Nations University campus, Medicine Wheel and the wetlands. On Saturday, an eclectic group that includes artists, architects, a state representative and the city manager will lead breakout discussions.

"We're not trying to advocate a point of view," Mitchell said. "We're trying to look at how people think about places imaginatively. It's an intellectual event. It's not a rock concert or a pro football game. Certain people regard it as vital and very interesting."

Mitchell and other members of the conference committee have been intrigued by imagination and place since Kelly's essay suggested that if dreams of place were collected, compared and overlaid, "a truer geography will appear."

"Most people don't think about places," said Paul Hotvedt, a conference committee member and director of Blue Heron typesetting. "You usually do that if you have a particular interest, or you feel something is lacking and you can do something to change it if you don't like it. There are more people in the world now and a lot less space available to all of us."

Hotvedt has been amazed by the conference's development since Kelly proposed the idea.

"We invited people to submit dreams about places, then we invited people to talk about it," he said. "Kelly (who attended the first conference) said, 'I can't believe you guys are trying this.' A lot of people in a lot of different disciplines are talking about this very subject."

Wes Jackson, president of The Land Institute in Salina, enjoys talking about the subject. He is one of the presenters for the conference.

"The idea of imagination and place is an interesting and important concept," Jackson said. "We're an increasingly ruthless society."


Special to the Journal-World

"Naked Ladies," tryptich, oil on canvas, 7x9 feet, John Louder

Jackson said he planned to read from his essays and tell stories from 1953, when he worked on a ranch in South Dakota.

"The landscape forces us to be different," Jackson said in a phone interview from his office. "There are two kind of determinisms. There's a historical determinism and an ecological determinism. If you're living along the Nile (River), you can get away with growing anything; if you're on a ranch in South Dakota with not very much rainfall and thin soil, you're not going to be raising watermelons, sweet potatoes, cantaloupe, corn, wheat, milo and so on. You better stick with the original vegetative structure, or you're going to lose ecological capital."

Other conference's presenters are: