The Democratic Cup

Land of 10,000 Stories

Northern Clay Center invited The Democratic Cup to Minnesota to be a part of its In Service: Engaging and Connecting through Clay exhibition in conjunction with NCECA 2019 in Minneapolis. The exhibition underscored a growing trend in the craft field: creating opportunities for social engagement through the process of making. This Minnesota-based iteration of The Democratic Cup: Land of 10,000 Stories was a collaboration Northern Clay Center, Ayumi Horie, Nick Moen of the Bright Angle, and In Service curator Ursula Hargens.  NCC invited potters, illustrators, and ambassadors from around the state to collaboratively create cups that highlighted issues critical to Minnesotans. We travelled across the state of Minnesota to host community conversations and our stops included New London, Grand Rapids, Winona, and Northfield. Our conversations were led by ambassadors who were ceramic artists themselves: Bill Gossman, Nathan Bray, Lisa Truax, and Juliane Shibata. Conversations were sparked by imagery from custom ceramic cups, designed by four Minnesota potters — Linda Christianson, Brett Freund, Peter Jadoonath, and Elizabeth Pechacek — and illustrated with decal prompts that highlight current issues facing Minnesotans, created by four Minnesota illustrators — Jaime Anderson, Kim Bogeman, Ann Ryan, and Julie Van Grol. Our ambassadors invited people from across the socio-economic, racial, generational, professional, gender, and political spectrum to meet and discuss topics significant in their community. The cups traveled home with participants to serve as a catalyst for future interactions with friends, neighbors, and even strangers.

During the actual exhibition, visitors were provided the opportunity to connect with others in the gallery over coffee and pie, to discuss political and social issues of impact, civility, and its relevance, and the ways pottery can encourage connection.

Minnesota was, in many ways, a perfect location for the project given its strong support of functional pottery and its tradition of gathering with neighbors around a cup of coffee. Building on the assertion—long held in the ceramic community—that handmade objects help us notice and appreciate the world we inhabit, The Democratic Cup: Land of 10,000 Stories invested this sentiment with renewed urgency. It provided a vehicle for people to gather in fellowship, break down barriers, and discuss difficult topics in humane and thoughtful ways. It harnesses the power of a ceramic cup to stimulate social engagement.

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