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May 26, 2016
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Benchmarking Utopia; The art and words of Francis Cape

Francis Cape made this bench, modeled after one in the meeting house of the Mt. Lebanon Shaker Society in New Lebanon, NY.
Photo by Luc Demers

In the book’s foreword, Arcadia University Art Gallery Director Richard Torchia explains that one of its objectives is to document American social movements that sought to present the importance of community and collective ownership as a counterpoint to capitalist-driven individualism. To help illustrate how the benches contained in the exhibition had contributed to these social movements, Cape stipulated that discussion groups must take place on the benches everywhere they’re exhibited—and that the benches must always face each other, not a stage or dais. When these conditions are met, discussion group participants can’t help but be acutely aware of each other as equals. All sit at the same height and in close proximity to one another, have unobstructed views of each other and can easily turn in any direction to face speakers. Discussion group participants also quickly realize that the benches are especially uncomfortable; they were designed that way. By discouraging complacency born of comfort, they promote alert listening and brief, constructive dialogue. A situation, Cape suggests, that could be useful today.

[A copy of “We Sit Together,” inscribed “To Narrowsburg,” can be found at the Tusten-Cochecton Branch of the Western Sullivan Public Library in Narrowsburg. For more information on the man and his work, see]