Open Table discussions at the OpenGrounds Corner Studio provide space for University professors, Charlottesville professionals, and visiting speakers to share their expertise and dialogue with the Charlottesville community. These conversations typically last about 1-2 hours, and stimulate interdisciplinary conversation beyond the university classroom. We have had several in the past weeks, including discussions Food Aid policy in American government, and Art, Contemplation and Wellness.
Stephen Nachmanovitch, author and improvisational musician, facilitated the discussion of Art, Contemplation and Wellness, drawing heavily his ideas of how music interacts with consciousness. “I’m a musician interested in an unfolding of a moment,” said Nachmanovitch. “Like James Joyce’ Ulysses – a sense of multi-layered reality, a sense of consciousness of multiple layers flowing over each other.”
Shaped by the research interests of university students and community members, the conversation turned to an in-depth discussion of synesthesia as a psychological phenomenon. “The world that we live in is multi-sensory. It’s sound and color,” Nachmanovitch explained. “When you hear the voice of someone you know, you can feel the blubber of their lip and the shape of their throat…all that is connected to the sound of [their] voice. Even our voices are multi-modal and multi-sensory. So synesthesia is multi-modal perception. It’s not a disorder. We very frequently decide that there is a way people are, and everyone who has a different experience ‘has a condition’ or ‘disorder’ or something like that.”
But “disorder” is a highly charged word. It implies something is wrong with that kind of sensory perception. The table continued to discuss the implications of non-normative sensory perception for health treatment, and explored how synesthesia alludes to “the musical reality of so many activities,” as Nachmanovitch puts it. “It’s how it’s done, and the intent with which it’s done; whether it’s art, academics, or the methods of different sciences.”
“From Local to Global: An Open Table Discussion on International Food Policy” manifested a different progression of conversation. Galen Fountain, former Chief of Staff to the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee for Agriculture, Rural Development, and Related Agencies and short course instructor for the Batten School, gave a presentation on Food Aid policy. Shelley Marcus, research coordinator for USAID Food Aid Quality Review at Tufts University, brought information to the table as well, explaining the history of U.S. Food Aid policy and complications facing policy makers today.
“It seems pretty simple,” said Marcus as she explained the political obstacles facing Food Aid policy makers within the American government. “People are hungry in the world. We want to help people suffering from hunger and natural disasters. But in terms of an actual food aid program…in the 20th century you saw a big change in farm policy in this country.”
Marcus passed around samples of the packaged, nutrition-filled food sent to countries in need and opened the table up to questions. Students were curious as to how countries qualify or disqualify for Food Aid, how developing countries are helped to be self-sustaining, and what prevents individuals from relapsing into malnutrition after they are cared for.