In 2011, Dan Colen decided to buy a farm. The 40-acre purchase in the heart of Hudson Valley was spontaneous, but soon grew into a career defining nonprofit, a vector for creative projects and an opportunity to make artwork accessible to new audiences. The organization is centered around combating food insecurity in New York, donating everything it produces to food banks and other distribution channels. They practice regenerative agriculture, defined as methods of farming that aren’t harmful to the environment, and are dedicated to modifying operations over time to improve their impact. In 2020, SHF partnered with Dover Street Market Paris to create Sky High Farms Workwear, inviting a number of artists to submit work to be printed on t-shirts, sweaters and other items. Billed as “Good goods for good,” the lighthearted collection is constructed from deadstock garments and other traceable materials, with 100 percent of its proceeds being used to finance the farm. The clothes are fun and intended to be well worn, providing an access point to contemporary art while doing their part to help curb a growing injustice.
Colen graduated with a BFA from the Rhode Island School of Design a decade prior to the farm’s establishment, soon moving to Greenwich Village to occupy a community populated by artists like Dash Snow, Agathe Aparru and Ryan McGinley. Taking a brazen, almost shock jock-like approach to self presentation with the substance to support it, he somewhat inadvertently found himself at the center of the New York art market. He showed at the Whitney Biennial and sold through a collection of paintings in the bathrooms at the Gagosian Gallery by 2007, going on to reach heights in his career that he neither set out for nor felt completely at ease with. His move in 2011 represented a desire to reset his practice through proximity to nature and the sense of freedom that can bring. Viewing the farm as an integral part of his practice, Colen participates in something larger than any one person, informing a multifaceted nature to his work that doesn’t take from any one thing. His devotion to food justice came about naturally, as did the decision to create clothing in support of it. Sky High Farm has donated over 70 tons of fruit, vegetables, dairy and meat since it began, lending Colen’s vocation a whole new meaning.