Mapping Our Fungible* Gift Economy

A Public Eco-Artwork

Richard Lowenberg

The Project

Unannounced and overnight, hundreds of small colorful Amanita-like mushrooms will sporadically appear around selected community public park grounds.  People walking there over the next days, will to their surprise, find, examine, pick up and take mushrooms away with them.


The glazed ceramic mushrooms will be found to have hollow stems containing an easily removable rolled up paper message. 

An online graph will geographically track all of the respondent gift mushrooms’ sporadic destinations.

Mushroom Economics is a simple conceptual public artwork.  As all communities struggle to anticipate their changing eco-social future, amid poorly understood global shifts, this artwork plays at the periphery of emergent ‘green’ economic questions and community-building actions.  

*Fungible: commodity exchange ‘function’; from the Latin fungibilis, from fungi, “to perform”.

Mushroom Economics

What determines economic value:  supply versus demand, what the market will bear, rarity ?  What about intangibles or externalities, irrational exuberance, increased knowledge, common pool resources or considerations of ecological sustainability ?

Current ‘green’ economic criticism of today’s powerful political-economic systems is growing ever louder and actively consequential in response to the accelerating global dominance of market capitalism, the tele-networking of local-global society, widening disparities and tensions between rich and poor, unsound and often corrupt financial practices, and recognition of complex ecological frailties, interdependencies and the impacts of unintended consequences.

Economics has long been referred to as “the dismal science” (T. Carlisle).   Can art add valued insight into our urgently needed new economic and ecological understandings and actions ?  

Mushroom Economics, in a small way, attempts to address eco-networks and relationships, creatively.  It is not politically motivated.   It does not promote a particular ideology.   It is not rooted in any economic school of thought.  Its purpose is to make people think, and to have fun thinking differently about the gift economy, the creative commons and about mushroom cultures. 

Mushroom Economics is being presented as part of Urban Ecologies in Santa Fe Railyard Park, from Earth Day, April 22, through Summer 2021, and in other selected Santa Fe public gathering areas.  Thank you to the Railyard Art Committee and to ArtPark21 for selection and support. 

Art + Economics

A Public Workshop

Mushroom Economics, in addition to the public artwork, will host a public “Art + Economics” workshop and discussion, attempting to make visible and visceral, economic understandings and practices for how to balance our local economy, in relationship to the Earth’s economy, and for re-inhabiting the original Greek radical root word ‘oikonomia’: care of home.   

A Public Workshop / Discussion

Saturday, July 17, 1:00 - 3:00
at the Santa Fe Railyard Park Meeting Room

To sporadically propagate possible new artworks and eco-cultural actions

Mushroom Economics

This project draws some far-fetched connections and analogies between the nature of mushrooms and our fundamental economic processes.  Mushroom Economics, as a public artwork, is meant to provoke discussion about economics generally, and of new ecological economic questions and understandings, including issues of property, value, exchange dynamics, risk, gifts, consideration of so-called intangibles and externalities, debt, climate change impacts and ecological overshoot.

Mushrooms and trees carry out a radically grounded economic relationship.  They trade fungibly processed minerals for photosynthesis-refined sugars, while also adding value to other goods, services, energy and information exchanges along extensive mitochondrial networks.

The economy and markets are a giant global mesh; a complex network with variously sized and interacting nodes that function like neural networks or like mitochondrial webs, providing a flow of energy and information that gives a unifying sensory value to all that they connect, exchange and communicate with.  This is an ecological economic fabric of life. 

Locate Your Mushroom

Economic / Geographic Areas