JOSHUA TREE — Bluegrass-style music floated over the courtyard as people ate mesquite flour muffins, made their own zines and learned about coming performances and workshops. It was a low-tech, high-creativity kick-off for Big Read Morongo Basin Saturday at Mojave Desert Land Trust in Joshua Tree.
Big Read is a month of activities based on a novel, “Station Eleven,” by Emily St. John Mandel. It is sponsored nationally by the National Endowment for the Arts and locally by San Bernardino County’s Arts Council.
The do-it-yourself ethos at the kick-off echoed some of the themes of the novel — making a community and making art after modern civilization fails.
“Survival is Insufficient,” proclaimed a hand-lettered banner draped in the courtyard. The sentiment is the motto of the Traveling Symphony, actors and musicians who roam from town to town after the modern world is destroyed by a flu pandemic. It’s tattooed on the arm of one of the main characters, Kirsten. And it is one of the central ideas of “Station Eleven”: Once you survive the end of the world, how do you make life worth living?
Stations at the kick-off event touched on themes of post-apocalyptic living. From Harrison House, a Joshua Tree facility, Eva Soltes and Janet Tucker presented examples of art made from trash left in the desert along with food made from native plants.
Soltes said “Station Eleven” resonates with the realities of life in the desert even without an apocalypse.
“Living in the desert, I think survival is an important theme,” she said.
“Four years ago, I thought to myself, ‘If there was a cataclysmic event, how would I feed myself?’”
Her response was to expand the mission of Harrison House from a music and arts residency to include ecology as well.
“This book and the whole program really dovetailed with what we’re doing,” Soltes said.
For the Big Read, Harrison House will host a workshop by the Chia Cafe Collective on making food from native plants on Sept. 29.
In a room tucked off the courtyard, Joshua Tree artist Jillian Sandell led short zine workshops, showing children and adults how to fold, write and illustrate their own small, homemade magazines. She advised them to make their zines as little instruction manuals — a perfect prompt for an event about making art and community after the end of the world.
The Mall siblings — Karina, 11, Marissa, 9, and Joseph Jr., 7, all from Yucca Valley — decided to make their zines about how to get ready for Halloween. They carefully penciled pictures of dinosaur costumes and candy.
Nearby, volunteers from the Morongo Basin educational nonprofit Spark Growth read aloud to children and helped them entwine strips of cloth around a spoked wheel to create a crowdsourced weaving project. Audrey and Cooper Reed, of Yucca Valley, joined in. The siblings both said they were enjoying the kick-off.
“I think it’s really cool how they have everything on display,” Audrey, 13, said.
“I love it,” added Cooper, 10. “I love all the art and activities, and I love the muffins!”