Sunday, January 27, 2013

Introduction to Give Take Give

They say the National debt is $14,000,000,000,000.
The average family credit card debt in the U.S. is about $16,000.
The average student loan debt is $25,000.
We’re told that this debt will destroy our country, our families, and our potential.
Maybe…but I believe a certain kind of debt could be the thing that holds us together.

I have other debts.
To my family, I have a debt I can never repay.
To my teachers, I owe a debt of gratitude.
I am in debt to my peers, and past artists who have inspired me.
I am indebted to my friends and neighbors who never ask for the balance of what I owe them.
Looking at the ledger of my life, the accounts are never quite square. From some I receive, to others I give. We are indebted to each other and the cycle never seems to end.

In my neighborhood there is an annual event called the Free Sale where there is no trading and no money changes hands. I was reminded of the Free Sale a while back when I was introduced to the small gift economy that had developed out of a city dumpster in the alley near my apartment. Like the Free Sale, people were leaving what they wanted to give and taking what they needed. But unlike the well organized Free Sale, the rules of the dumpster were unspoken.

I am a participant in this exchange, and have documented its ever-changing contents. It is a wonder of mixed up treasure and a locus for neighborhood news. Its layerings of are like a living archeological site continually being excavated and reburied. An uncurated space, it is organized only by those who go through it looking for things, those who add to its bounty, and the sanitation workers who empty it once a week.

I always thought I would make something of my observations, but have hesitated until now. I held off because I worried that drawing too much attention to this place might overwhelm it. Now, I take that risk. Plans for a hotel to go in the space across from the dumpster have been filed with the city. Although It’s not clear how use of the dumpster would change if the hotel is built, the alley would become a far cry from the pedestrian corridor and improvised gathering place it is now.

Through photographs, interviews with participants, a regular inventory, and modest publication given away for free, this project will explore the economy of and stories connected to the dumpster. By shedding light on an alternate economy hidden in plain sight, I hope that others will be inspired to reflect on how gifts of labor, teaching and time, as well as things, can help bind us together in a connected circuit of good will. In other words, how this asymmetrical cycle of giving and taking engenders new relationships, creating a network of mutual indebtedness.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Inventory #10

Friday, January 4, 2013
3:00pm 35˚ sunny

(I was met at the dumpster by Journal-World reporter Sara Shepherd who interviewed me about the project while Richard Gwin took photos)

View of the dumpster through fenced off area
that will soon become a five-story Marriott hotel

black costume witch hat
pink and blue jack-o-lantern trick or treat baskets
men's and women's sandals
assortment of women's shoes
cds painted to look like records
poster of irises mounted on foam core
glazed ceramic coil pot with the word 'Bath' embossed into its base
faux wicker wall decoration accessorized with plastic ivy
glass vases
tote bags
pink flower decorated tray table with stand
toy '911' police truck
wicker fruit basket
32 oz refillable drink cup
plastic cupcake
green denim pants
children's book "One Grain of Sand"
handmade watercolor Mother's Day card from 2000
lots more down below

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Take a penny, leave a penny

Coffee and a bagel, $4.97. I handed over a five dollar bill, got three cents change and put the coins in the little ceramic dish next to the cash register - a small gift for a future patron who comes up a few pennies short. The next time it may be me who needs the help, and without a second thought I'll reach into that same dish.

In a very unscientific study of coffee shops along Massachusetts St., I found that all five of the locally owned ones I visited maintained penny dishes, while the two corporate chains I checked did not.

It's a modest convenience to help make change and keep the wheels of commerce turning. It's also a form of gift exchange that operates right next to the cash economy. As pennies lose buying power (Canada minted its last one cent piece in 2011, and many in the U.S. have called for the End to the penny here), they are easier and easier to part with. But imagine, if there is, let's say, just $20 in change that circulates through these exchanges in Lawrence in a week, that would mean $1,040 in a year, and literally millions circulating freely across the country, from those with more than they need to those who don't have quite enough.




La Prima Tazza
All of us who give and or take a coin or two are participating in a kind of 'pay it forward' economy predicated on trust (there are no explicit rules for how many coins we can take) and long-term reciprocation (we can imagine that one day we will be the ones in need). This begs the question, if we can freely exchange pennies, nickels and dimes, why not quarters, and why other things like food, housing or education?

As an answer to my question above, an old friend who lives in Nevada City, California sent the blog post below. The original source can be found here. To see more photos of the veggie cart click here.

Outside Inn Veggie Cart

The Outside Inn’s veggie cart has made its 2102 season debut, for those of you who have been wondering when it would reappear.  The original antique cart didn’t weather the winter and we’ve been trying to come up with an alternative option to house our free neighbors vegetable baskets, so we apologize for the delay in the opening of our free fruit and veggie stand.  For those of you unfamiliar with our cart please check out this blog post about the 2011 Neighbors Vegetables season.  Lots of great pictures from last year’s bounty, click here to see more.  The Outside Inn loves watching the flow of traffic, from the generous people sharing their extra homegrown fruits and vegetables, to the folks who enjoy collecting a goodie or two to the Outside Inn guests who don’t understand the concept that the cart is free, the whole project is another reason why we love Nevada City.