Art at the Intersection: Carlton Turner

Co-founder and co-director of the Mississippi Center for Cultural Production (Sipp Culture)
Headshot of a man.

Photo by Kevin Edwards

Music Credit: “NY” written and performed by Kosta, from the album Soul Sand. Used courtesy of the Free Music Archive.

Jo Reed: From the National Endowment for the Arts, welcome to a new season of Art Works—I’m Josephine Reed.

We are kicking off the new season by introducing a new monthly series, “Art at the Intersection.” This will be an examination of the various ways the arts are pivotal in health care, city planning, veterans’ services, infrastructure, conservation and so on. Each month, we’ll focus on another aspect of the ways the arts are helping to shape and inspire work being done in so many areas of society. And we’re beginning with Carlton Turner, the co-founder and co-director of the Mississippi Center for Cultural Production or Sipp Culture. Sipp Culture uses story to address food insecurity and to support community, cultural, and economic development in the small town of Utica, Mississippi. In fact, its tagline is “Telling our story. Growing our future.” Sipp Culture is a young organization, it began in 2016—But Carlton Turner, who is an artist, researcher, organizer, and deeply respected thinker, has spent most of his career demonstrating both the power and urgency of creative placemaking. A native of Utica, he spent 15 years with Alternate ROOTS, much of it as executive director. Alternate ROOTS is an organization based in the South that supports the creation of art rooted in community and advocates for social and economic justice. Carlton brought that experience and vision to Sipp Culture which supports community development from the ground up through cultural production focused on self-determination. Its premised on the belief that history, culture, and food affirm both the individual and the community. So, it works to strengthen local food systems, advance health equity, and support rural artistic voices by activating the power of story –Here’s Carlton Turner to tell you the rest.

Carlton Turner: So I come from a community where my family’s been for eight generations. That town is Utica, Mississippi. It’s the land of the Choctaw and the Quapaw, the Natchez and the Yazoo people, and growing up, we as a community, we were an agricultural community and we produced large amounts of our food locally. So when I say we produced our food locally I mean like when I would go to my grandparents’ house, which was like three minutes from my mother’s house, they would milk the cows in the morning, they would churn the butter, we would have fresh milk, we would have fresh butter, she would make a pan of biscuits. So you’d have the biscuits and the butter and the milk and the chickens and the eggs and the ham, everything came from right in the yard, and we weren’t an anomaly. Many people in our community produced food for themselves in that manner. Fast-forward 40 years and that same community is now food insecure, and it isn’t because they don’t have the knowledge or the access to space, it’s because the challenges of our community and moving into a system that doesn’t really value growing food as a part of community cultural development. And so thinking about how a community moves from being producers to only being consumers was a big challenge for us, so we were thinking about that both in terms of agriculture but also in terms of culture. Are we producers of culture or are we just consumers of culture? And so when I returned from working for Alternate ROOTS for many years, for about 15 years, I began thinking about what does it mean to engage our community in a conversation about the shifts that have happened and how we can be in more direct control and have more agency over the systems that govern our communities, specifically thinking about arts and culture and agriculture as the foundational principles by which our community’s fabric is held together? So my wife and I, Brandi, we began the Mississippi Center for Cultural Production, as a way to engage the community in a conversation about what it means to redesign a rural community for the 21st Century.

Jo Reed: Okay. It seems at one stroke both brilliant and unexpected that you would combine culture and agriculture. Was it something that was just as natural to you as breathing out and breathing in?

Carlton Turner: Yeah. So for me, the greatest storytellers of my life are people that I grew to learn about storytelling around food. So the dinner table is the greatest space for story in all of our lives, whether we think about it or not. That’s where we learn about each other. We learn about each other’s back story. We learn about the places that make us laugh and giggle, the places that make us cry and dig deeper into our souls for the wellspring of emotions that the stories bring out. That’s where we learn about our history. So for me, story and food kind of went hand in hand, but even going back a long time ago, the development of our culture really became more advanced when we ceased to be nomads and began to set in one place and cultivate a place, and that place and the cultivation of that place and making a life that was not nomadic is where we began to understand dance and season and songs and began to have rituals that go along with weddings and births and death, and so culture is so engrained in this idea of agriculture. In fact, it’s in the name agriculture. So arts and culture is not at all separated from agriculture. Agriculture is culture’s ancestor. So when we began to formulate the Mississippi Center for Cultural Production, food and story were just natural connectors and they were the things that people can hold on to and grasp onto those concepts without having to have a degree in dance or in music or have studied abroad. The songs that are in our body and the poetry that’s in our body and the movement that’s in our body are all connected to the way that we live and the culture that we’re part of.

Jo Reed: So it’s like a community dinner table.

Carlton Turner: Yeah. I think it’s about asking people to invite us to their dinner table and because for us it, you know, we can create something in the community but it’s really the story started at home. When you listen to people’s stories, you get a sense of their worldview, you get a sense of how they arrive at their ideas and their opinions. When we listen to stories it opens us up to understand the formations of thoughts and ideas from a societal point but also it gives us the history of how our communities have been configured. So what we’re doing is comprehensive community cultural development, and what that means for us is that we’re not just thinking about developing an art space or developing a particular discipline, or even the kind of like traditional community development sense, which is built structures and spaces, but we’re thinking about how does our community benefit from a comprehensive approach to cultural development, which encompasses all of the parts of our lives? So those stories start at home, so we ask people to come and share those stories but we also go to people to ask them to share those stories about where they are in the place that they call home and how that helps them to formulate their kind of like geo-positioning in life.

Jo Reed: As you said, you’re from Utica eight generations deep, so obviously there are <laughs> roots there, but beginning a new organization is really hard. How did you actually begin to do the work with the community members there?

Carlton Turner: So we began in 2016 with an Art Place America grant. It was a program that really was supporting creative place making, but the idea for the center goes back a decade before that. So we had began thinking about it and trying to configure out ways to address kind of like the systemic challenges that our community was facing, and the way that we chose to move about that was the development of this practice of community engaged design. So we work with the Gulf Coast Community Design Studio, which is part of the Mississippi State University’s School of Arts and Design. We work with them to create these spaces with our community to have conversations about the future. We put maps on the walls and we asked community to map four things. We asked them to map where they where they live or slept, where they worked, where they worship and where they shopped, thinking about these as kind of the four major sections of our lives, and what people began to map on the walls were the fact that they lived in Utica but they did everything else outside of the town, and what we came to as a community is the understanding that our community, which used to be the center of production-- it was a place with sawmills and schools and shirt factories and grocery stores and a bustling Main Street and all of these things that most towns have. It had pharmacy and the hardware store and all of these things. That it had gone from that to becoming a bedroom community, and so within that realization we asked the community, “So are you satisfied with that new identity?” because the community was critiquing our community based on this idea that we were still a center of production but that all of the production had gone away, which is the reason why the challenges exist in the community, and so the Gulf Coast Community Design Studio would help us to turn those conversations with our communities into structural design. And then between my wife and I, we would begin working with the community to then turn those conversations into programmatic designs. So we were having both a conversation about how we could utilize the structures in our community, repurpose them, reshape them, to be more in service of what our needs are moving forward, and also what is the programmatic design that needs to go within those structures in order to facilitate the development of the community that we all wanted to see and that we all deserve.

Jo Reed: Let me ask you, when in these conversations, was there a tendency in some ways towards nostalgia when there used to be this and used to be that? Because I don’t think what you want to do is replicate the past. What you want to do is create something that serves the community, have the community create something that serves itself in the 21st Century.

Carlton Turner: Absolutely. I think stories are always filled with nostalgia, but our work is not about replication, it’s about understanding that the information that is part of our stories, you know, that information technology allows us to develop ideas based on putting all of the options on the table, and what I mean by that is for instance when we first talked with our community and we talked about what our needs were, the immediate need everybody goes to, is that, “We need a grocery store.” Our grocery store closed in 2014, and so that’s the first thing that people say, and so we say like, “Okay. Well, let’s back up from the issue for a second and say, ‘Okay. Instead of jumping to the conclusion that we need a grocery store, let’s start with the actual need, the food.’” So we need groceries. We don’t necessarily need the grocery store, although that might be what we need, but when we began to tell stories about how people were able to source food, and those stories are told across generations, we get a spectrum of ways in which people have sourced food in our community, all the way from growing their own food to bartering with neighbors to, you know, looking for merchants in the vicinity or engaging with these types of exchange, to having a grocery store. And so now all of the options are on the table, so stories are filled with information. They’re not just the nostalgic reflection but they give us all of the materials that we need to tell us both what has already been accomplished and give us a sense of what’s possible because we know what’s already been done.

Jo Reed: I’ve heard you speak, and anybody who can should because you’re a wonderful, wonderful speaker, and you’ve talked about how people were anxious to get off the land, to get off of farming, and to do-- and to move into other work, and I wonder if you still see that or is that being rethought or how you confront that.

Carlton Turner: Yeah. I think that’s a primary challenge I think. For us in Mississippi, and specifically for black people, the land which should be the base of power and the base of like grounding and freedom, became this place that was marred in the remnants of enslavement and sharecropping, especially here in Mississippi. That’s the history, and so as we come out of sharecropping and black folks were really using the land as a way to try to gain their financial freedom, once they’ve gained their kind of like citizenship freedom, this system still worked against them and did not allow for them to build the type of wealth that white folks were able to build off the land, and so much of them leaving the land was a result of that not being a viable way to make a living or build the type of wealth that you saw others build on the land-- on the backs of black people. And I think as the generations have gone beyond that initial post-enslavement, Jim Crow sharecropping generation, you know, people left the land because they didn’t see a future in the land. And so I think that that is shifting, but it’s a very difficult road, especially as young people when they don’t have a lot of connection to food or connection to land and the cultivation of it as a viable career, and so they see jobs in agriculture but those are mostly, you know, in commercial ag or working for the USDA or the wildlife, you know, all those fishery parks and stuff like that, which are jobs but they’re not the ones that really are about the production of food for the local economy in a local community, and so yes, it’s a challenge. It’s a challenge to begin to reinstate that not just as viable but connecting the development of the land and growing food locally in a sustainable and organic way as connected to health and wellness, as connected to economic development, as connected to community development and reconnecting those pieces for us, is about creating the opportunities for people to see a much broader life connected to the space in which they inhabit every day.

Jo Reed: Well, I know the Mississippi Center for Cultural Production is a fairly new organization, but you’ve really begun programs already. Why don’t you tell us about some of the programs that you’ve started?

Carlton Turner: Sure. So we have a Rural Performance/Production Lab which is a artist residency program for artists in a five-state region. So we serve through that program artists in rural areas in Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, Arkansas and Tennessee, and we support those artists through direct funding, with grants up to $15,000. We also provide them with consultations with other artists and other professionals in the arts community, and we also provide them with up to three weeks of residency time in our artist residency space. So we have an artist residency space in Utica, which is one of three spaces that we’re developing. We also have a 17-acre farm in which we are growing 2 acres of produce, as well as a 1800-square-foot greenhouse, and we train farmers and young farmers, aspiring farmers, in sustainable, no till, regenerative agriculture, and so that’s another program called our Small Farm Apprentice program. We also work in research, so a big part of our work is not just storytelling, because storytelling is the centerpiece, but that story, as I said earlier, it’s full of information. So we look to build on the information through stories through our research work, and so we have a program called Equitable Food Futures, in which we’ve been working with an organization called Imagining America based out of University of California, Davis, to do a three-year program that looks at the impact of storytelling on a community’s ability to make decisions about their food system, and so that work is allowing us to do focus groups and community surveys and oral histories that are about using story in community conversations to uplift the ideas around how we can be more engaged in making decisions about our food systems. So those are just a few of the programs but we have other programs that we’re engaged in. We’re working with the Jackson-Hinds Comprehensive Health Center here in Jackson and the town of Utica on a three-year project with the National League of Cities and One Nation/One Project to culminate in a performance in 2024 in June that will be about-- around the idea of, “There’s no place like home,” and so through that we’re working with artists, we’re working with the town, we’re working with community members, to really uplift the story of our community and use that to kind of galvanize a communitywide production in a couple years. So we have a lot of things that we have going all the time. <laughs> You know, I think one of the things about our work is that we’re really focusing on development of the community, we’re focused on community-engaged design and we’re focused on cultural production, and the last thing I’ll say on that is that we’re developing, at this moment we’re developing a 4,000-square-foot space on Main Street, and we’re turning it into a commercial kitchen and into a cultural center for our Main Street.

Jo Reed: Oh, when do you think that will be ready?

Carlton Turner: We hope that it’ll be open in the early parts of 2024. We just started working with an architect and getting-- actually, tomorrow we’ll be looking at the first set of a design for the space.

Jo Reed: And when you do something like that, Carlton, do you bring the community in to look at the plans with you and is it a communitywide discussion?

Carlton Turner: Absolutely. Well, you know, with this particular piece, we’ve been looking at designs and engaging the community in conversation about this particular space since we started when we were able to acquire this building in 2018 and the community had said that this is the things that they needed from it, we began to work with our preliminary designs and put those up in the windows and invited the community to come by with grease pencils and to mark up the windows and say, “This is what works about this. This is what doesn’t work. These are the things that we need to see,” and so we, with the research work, we have a community advisory group that has advised on every step of the research project. All of our work is in community, so like I said, we’re working with the town of Utica, we’re working with the Jackson-Hinds Comprehensive Health Center, and we’re employing community members as well. Not just asking for volunteers, but we really value people’s time and their energy, so as much as possible we try to employ community members to do work.

Jo Reed: What about your own story? You were raised in Utica and you’re an artist. What is your art?

Carlton Turner: You know, I would say I’m primarily a writer, poet, but my brother and I, we had a music group, and we performed for about 15 years, touring. I’ve been working with theater companies. I’ve worked with dance companies. I’ve worked on film projects. I’m more of a multidiscipline artist where I think about what is the thing that I’m trying to convey and what is the best way for me to convey that? So I do photography, I do film work. But to me it’s more about just the art of communication more than it is about seeking virtuosity in any type of discipline.

Jo Reed: Well, what made you decide to tie your art to community?

Carlton Turner: I think it was just a kind of natural evolution of growing up in the community that I grew up in. You know, my mother’s from Utica, Mississippi. My father’s from Harlem. He, you know, jazz head and he brought all the jazz music and his records and stuff to Mississippi when we moved back here in ’77. And my grandparents, you know, my grandfather grew food and made sure that people in the community had access to fresh food. In the fall, in the wintertime, he would cut wood and make sure all the elders had access to wood for their fireplaces because they could no longer get out there and do it themselves. You know, raised in the church, in Paige Grove Missionary Baptist Church, which is literally in the front yard of my grandparents’ home, and we would spend a lot of time thinking about “What is the role of the church and the role of us in engaging community and being a part of a community practice?” so I think it was just kind of like it was always a part of the way that I thought about my work but it wasn’t until running into Alternate ROOTS in 2001 that I really understood that it could be more than just my practice, but that there was an entire world of this practice the existed that we’re helping each other to learn more about how to deepen the work, how to strengthen the work and to be connected to other artists and practitioners who were doing this work across the region but also across the nation, and I would say that ROOTS acted as a, really a PhD program for me to understand community-based arts, and I continue to uplift that organization as one of the most important learning spaces for me as an adult, as an artist.

Jo Reed: I wonder what changes about processes when you develop art in a community, as part of a community?

Carlton Turner: I think a lot about who is the art for, and if I’m just creating for myself, you know, I starkly know the difference between when I’m creating something that is for me, that has value to me as an expression of my own identity, and when I’m creating something that is part of a community need or a community expression. And I think those two things can be connected quite often and they’re very different. And I think often what drives our society is the former, is this idea that I’m creating something for me or for my personal gain, and I think what ROOTS kind of like created this window of learning for me is that there’s this other process about community development that art can be created in that can be just as powerful as the art that is done in these silos or in these spaces where we’re just creating for ourselves.

Jo Reed: I wonder if doing this work has changed the way you think about art, and artists and creativity?

Carlton Turner: I have kind of a controversial take on this. I don’t think artists are anything special. Artists, you know, we’re all born with that creativity. It’s inside of us. It’s just part of human development. I think when we go through life, that life kind of beats <laughs> the creativity out of you. It ways, it starts in early education where we’re taught to think a particular way. We only learn with the top halves of our bodies because we sit in chairs behind desks all day, and so we’re training <laughs> corporate kids, but we learn with our entire bodies. And I think what artists are for me are the people who were able to make it through their young lives and come out on the other side still connected to their creativity. We all have access to it, but often the systems that we’re engaged in in life actually orients us away from our creativity because creativity isn’t always safe. The whole idea of creating is that you’re creating something that doesn’t exist or is a new thing. And there’s a lot of folks that are afraid of change and systems in ways are afraid of change, and so that creativity is not what we look to be the center of our learning spaces. So when we talk about creativity in terms of community, we’re not leaning on artists as the experts, we’re leaning on artists as people who can help folks reconnect to that center of creativity that exists in all of us.

Jo Reed: And do you find that people in the community are open to that? That they’re seeing themselves and their work as creative

Carlton Turner: Yeah, I think once you start talking to people and start listening to people, you realize that people are practicing and engaging in the consumption and creation of art every day, but they’re not looking at it in that sense. And I think when we begin to kind of commandeer the idea or the definition of art back from performance and presentation and back into the everyday pieces of life that we all engage in, then people begin to acknowledge their own creativity. They begin to acknowledge that the art that they produce and create is just as valid as the art that they seek to consume. So I think it was-- I can’t even remember the year. I think it was 2009 or 2010, I got a chance to come to the NEA and speak on the survey about participation in the arts. In it I talk about the fact that this idea that we’re only looking at ballet and orchestra and jazz and dance and that these are the ways that we’re gauging whether or not the society is engaged in arts and in the consumption of arts, that it’s a flawed practice of research because it doesn’t count the ways in which we engage it every day. It doesn’t count when you go to church and you participate in the church choir or you’re out at a night club and you’re dancing to music. It doesn’t count those things as practicing art, and I think those the ways that we can kind of demystify creativity, demystify cultural engagement and put that back into the bodies of everyday people.

Jo Reed: Right. It doesn’t count what you’re doing in the kitchen or what you’re doing in your yard, for example, the way you plant a garden.

Carlton Turner: That’s right.

Jo Reed: Now as I said, Sipp Culture is a new organization. Man, you’ve done a lot in five years, <laughs> but you’re also just getting started, and from the way you’re speaking, clearly this is generational work. I mean, this is work your kids will carry on, or somebody’s kids.

Carlton Turner: Yeah.

Jo Reed: So tell me what you see as the next steps, and I don’t mean long-- just the next steps.

Carlton Turner: Sure. So I’ve been thinking about this work since we started it as a 20-year start. It’s going to take 20 years to begin to see the changes in our community that have happened over 20 years. So it took us more than 20 years to get here to this place in which our community members don’t recognize the community that they’re living in, and it will take us 20 years to make it again unrecognizable to the community that we’re living in currently. And so for us the next steps are to just open up more opportunities for the community to create the type of programming and spaces that they need to thrive, and that looks like the opening of the community center, the cultural center, and engaging in more production of food, training more local producers, and engaging in the presentation of more work. So we’re wanting to present more artists and engage in support of the creation of more work. So helping to support more artists in our region come through Utica as a conduit and helping more artists in and around the Utica area to see that their experience is valuable and valid and that there’s a space to cultivate that into work that they can make a life from.

Jo Reed: And is Utica a place that had been losing population too? Is having younger people stay there a challenge?

Carlton Turner: Absolutely. I think it’s a challenge for every rural community throughout the South and probably across the country. You know, the migration to cities and to urban areas and metropolitan areas has been, you know, that’s been the thing, you know, for the last probably coming up on 80 years, and so I think Utica has suffered from that. I think there’s also this remigration, you know, that we lost a lot of people in the Great Migration, but there’s a lot of elders that are coming back to the south, that are coming back to Mississippi, that are looking for places like Utica to settle, because one, their retirement dollars are going to go a lot further in a place like Utica than it does in a place like Chicago or Detroit or New York, and so you have that happening. I think the work about shifting the way that people see their communities is as important as creating amenities. So, you know, people say that, “Well, we’re going to the city because we can’t find X here.” Well, how do we create X here or create an equivalent that allows us to feel the comfort in the spaces that we live? And I feel like we’re running from something or running to something. One of the things that we say to our young people that we work with is that we’re not trying to tell you to not leave Utica. We want you to get out and get experiences. That should be everybody’s mission in life is to explore and engage the world, but we don’t want you to leave because you feel like there’s nothing here for you, and that’s a very different connotation. We want people to see the value in their community -- especially in a place like Utica where there’s so many generations of history, and often we’re leaving because we don’t see the things there that our forefathers and our foremothers saw, and part of the storytelling is about kind of uncovering that and saying, “Hey, this was done on this land by these people who share the same name as you, share the same blood as you, that share the same space as you, and there’s something here for us to uncover and unpack and have this conversation. Don’t think that there’s nothing here for you because this is you.”

Jo Reed: What have been the biggest challenges so far?

Carlton Turner: COVID. <laughs> You know, so we start our community conversations in 2017, 2018, and that was expected to be a year and a half process to begin to design and develop the kind of approach and spaces that we needed as a community, and just as we were beginning to hit a stride in that, COVID hits in, you know, in early 2020, and so the last two years have been really difficult for a practice that is about bringing the community together in collective space to tell community stories, and so that has been really challenged. So we’re really just now thinking about how we can adapt the current moment to being safe for our seniors, safe for our vulnerable populations, and also create spaces for people to feel comfortable to come back into community spaces together. So that’s been a huge challenge.

Jo Reed: What did you do during the height of the pandemic?

Carlton Turner: Well, the first thing we did was focused on making sure that people who had already been challenged in our community with finding groceries and having food, that were suffering from food insecurity, that we could do whatever we could do to make sure that we were participating and creating space for food to happen. So whatever that took for our community. The second thing that we did was we organized with a number of organizations that we work with and collaborate with nationally, including Alternate ROOTS, the National Association of Latino Arts and Culture in San Antonio, First Peoples Fund in South Dakota, and the PA’I foundation in Hawaii, and we organized to raise about six million dollars to make sure that artists, independent artists in small arts organizations, could receive some funding through the pandemic because artists lost so much work, and one of the things that Sipp Culture was able to do was to disperse about a half a million dollars in our five-state region, most of which went to the state of Mississippi, to artists in rural communities.

Jo Reed: And what do you think for you, and I know it’s not just your vision of what success will look like, but for Utica, what will success look like?

Carlton Turner: I think there are definitely some very specific metrics that we can look at. You know, we can look at the number of businesses that come back online. We can look at the numbers in population as they change over the course of the next cycle of census, those are things that I think we can point to. I think one of the early successes that we found is that as we’ve been doing this organic, regenerative, sustainable farming, we’ve seen an increase in the quality of the soil, and that’s like, when we’re dealing with climate change, when we’re dealing with issues of soil erosion and contaminates in the soil, to see soil go from being fairly decent to being good soil, we can see that over the next 15 years, if we continue this practice, that we will create rich soil that is really built for growing and strong in nutrients, and these are small successes, but if we think about that compounded over the same number of years and this idea of production beginning to emanate out of our community into other rural communities, we can see the measure of success being other communities being able to adapt the practices that we are shedding a light on. We’re not creating them, we’re not pioneering them, but we’re just shedding light on them and to see other communities pick that up and see this as a viable way towards developing a different type of rural future, to me those are the markers of success.

Jo Reed: What is your greatest delight? Where do you find the most delight in doing this work?

Carlton Turner: Well, I think that’s a very good question. I think it comes in a few different ways, but to me, to hear, to see a community member’s reaction when you reflect their story back to them or when you listen to their story or when they see their story reflected in the way that a space is developing or things are being shaped in community. You know, one of the measures of success for me is when we first began the conversations with our community and we asked them a question about “What does the community need?” and the first thing they say is a grocery store and the last thing they say is a grocery store, and then when we ask that same question, you know, now that we’re five years into the process, and to hear all of the different ideas of what people desire and want to see in their community, it has already began to shift the way that people see themselves and see their future. So to me those are the things that really bring me joy. Also not being on the road and being able to be home with my family, is also very joyous. So I’m very excited about that part too.

Jo Reed: I would think, honestly, so much of the work that you do is really deep listening, isn’t it?

Carlton Turner: Yeah, active listening. Deep listening. And what I’m listening for are the parts of myself that I’ve forgotten about, right. So that’s what I’m finding in the stories that also brings me joy is when I listen to a story and I remember those parts that people bring up about themselves that, “Oh, yeah, I remember. That’s a part of me too,” and that’s a very exciting part of this work.

Jo Reed: Is there anything else you want us to know about the work you’re doing with Sipp Culture?

Carlton Turner: You know, this is the type of work that I feel like has the potential to heal divides, to be a balm in these times that we’re facing that oftentimes seem very volatile and very violent, and I think our ability to hear each other and to see each other is essential to our ability to continue to develop as a human civilization, and it starts in our local community. It doesn’t start in Washington, although thank you for the work you all are doing in Washington at the NEA. It doesn’t start there. It starts at home in our small communities, and the more that we can practice that and demonstrate that I think we can be an example for the nation.

Jo Reed: Carlton, thank you so much. I really appreciate you giving me your time and deeply appreciate the work you’re doing. So thank you for that.

Carlton Turner: Thank you.

Jo Reed: That’s the big thank you.

Carlton Turner: Thank you for the opportunity.

Jo Reed: That was Carlton Turner he’s the co-founder and co- director of the Mississippi Center for Cultural Production—You can find out more about the work they do at You’ve been listening to Art Works—and the first show of its new monthly series Art at the Intersection where we’ll focus on the ways the arts are helping to shape and inspire work being done in so many areas of society. Follow Art Works wherever you get your podcasts and leave us a rating on Apple, it helps people to find us. For the National Endowment for the Arts, I’m Josephine Reed. Thanks for listening.



The new monthly series “Art at the Intersection” will explore the ways the arts are helping to shape and inspire work being done in many areas of society, such as in healthcare, city planning, infrastructure design, and public spaces. The list is long, varied, and sometimes unexpected. The Mississippi Center for Cultural Production (Sipp Culture) is a case in point. Co-founded by artist, researcher, and organizer Carlton Turner in 2016 in his hometown of Utica, Mississippi, Sipp Culture uses story to address food insecurity and to support community, cultural, and economic development. In fact, its motto is “Telling our story. Growing our future.” Their research program Equitable Food Futures—a collaboration with Imagining America—gathers stories about Utica from community members and uses that information to help create infrastructures that support the community’s needs, such as creating a community farm and a small farm apprenticeship program.

In this podcast, Turner talks about the connection between story and food, the dinner table as focus for storytelling and sharing history, and Sipp Culture’s artist residency program for rural artists in a five-state region. Turner also talks about creating purposeful art in, with, and for community; his growing up in Utica where his family goes back eight generations; and what Sipp Culture’s success in Utica will look like.

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