Mural Arts public dinner stunt ’70×7′ to focus on agricultural biodiversity

 Joe Volpe, whose Cescaphe Event Group is providing the catering for the Mural Arts event on Independence Mall, speaks at a press conference Wednesday. (Nathaniel Hamilton/for NewsWorks)

Joe Volpe, whose Cescaphe Event Group is providing the catering for the Mural Arts event on Independence Mall, speaks at a press conference Wednesday. (Nathaniel Hamilton/for NewsWorks)

On Oct. 5, Market Street will be shut down at Independence National Historic Park to make room for a massive outdoor dinner party.

Nine hundred people will sit down to a meal on one long, continuous table laid across two lawns of Independence Mall, including the street between them.

Called “70×7,” the dinner will feature a locally sourced vegetarian menu by restauranteur Marc Vetri. The event is designed to engage its diners on issues surrounding food — its cultural traditions, its politics and its health effects. Artists, designers and activists will circulate among the eaters to foment discussions about what the meal means.

‘What we sow’

It will be the culmination of a series of acts that began last spring. The Mural Arts Program and its roster of partner organizations have been hosting tastings, discussions, workshops, and tours about local foodways and agriculture. Volunteers at farmers markets have been soliciting testimonials from farmers and buyers about food. Some of those video testimonials will be screened at the outdoor dinner.

Ben Wenk, an apple farmer in Adams County, Pa., was recorded at the Headhouse Farmer’s Market in Philadelphia talking about the importance of nurturing a diverse range of heirloom seeds.

“So many bananas in the store are derived from one single genetic parentage — the Cavendish banana. The moment there is any plague or affliction they are susceptible to, the world would be out of bananas,” said Wenk, who grows rare apple varieties like the Smokehouse and the Esopus Spitzenberg.

The whole project — including workshops, tours, and the public dinner — is called “What We Sow,” coordinated by the Mural Arts Program, an organization created 27 years ago to fight graffitti and visual blight.

Recently, Mural Arts’ projects have become increasingly conceptual.

This project will have very little in the way of visual art. While the plates and tablecloths will be hand-made by French artists Lucy and Jorge Orta, “70×7” and “What We Sow” are more about designing a communal experience.

“When Mural Arts contacted us three years ago, we envisaged we would be asked to create a mural for the city,” said Lucy Orta in a video shot by Mural Arts Program. “It was very exciting to hear that Mural Arts were thinking about staging a meal — that they would literally be taking art off the walls and putting it into a public space in the form of a table setting.”

Food for thought

Like a salad fork on a table setting, “What We Sow” is a multi-prong instrument, including participating restaurants, food pantries, and community gardens.

“It’s not just about visiting and delicious food,” said Mural Arts Program director Jane Golden. “It’s about helping people become aware of critical issues around the world, the relationships those issues have with art-making and food, and challenging people to think about how we collectively make the world better.”

“70×7” is similar in scale to the popular Dîner en Blanc summer event, but instead of participants clad in all white hauling their own furniture and food to a secret outdoor location in the city, the diners of “70×7” will be dressed casually, the food will be prepared for them, and the table settings designed by artists. Most of them will not pay for the experience.

Golden says just 60 of the 900 seats will sold as tickets to offset the costs of the event. All other seats, more than 90 percent, will be handed out for free through the Mural Arts Program’s partner organizations, and through a public lottery, which closes this weekend.

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