'Weathering Heights': Arts Afield Launches at MacLeish Field Station

The Arches, a tree sculpture by Dan Ladd, is part of a new Arts Afield initiative at Smith's MacLeish Field Station in Whately.

Arts Afield, a new initiative designed to promote the arts and humanities at Smith’s Ada and Archibald MacLeish Field Station, launches this week.

A project of the Center for the Environment, Ecological Design and Sustainability (CEEDS), the initiative opens Saturday, April 8, from 1 to 3:30 p.m. with “Weathering Heights,” a series of talks, performances and storytelling at MacLeish.

Since the field station’s founding in 2008, the 260-acre parcel of land in Whately has been a haven for the liberal arts, as well as for scientific research.

“In fact,” notes field station manager Reid Bertone-Johnson, “the station is named for an artist and poet, Ada and Archibald MacLeish, respectively. We have as much dance at MacLeish as we do geology and biology.”

Bertone-Johnson says the Arts Afield program took a common academic research station model, the Long-Term Ecological Research Program, and adapted it for Smith’s liberal arts mission. Ten “research plots” for the arts and humanities have been created at MacLeish where artists will be encouraged to create works.

“We call these reflection plots,” Bertone-Johnson says. “Each one has a survey marker and GIS coordinates. Just like a scientific research plot, we’ll follow these reflection plots for 200 years.”

Each plot was selected for a special characteristic, such as its topography, cultural history or view. Artists, writers, dancers, poets and other humanists will be encouraged to create works inspired by those sites.

Students will collect these works over time and add them to an online database in the form of a story map that will be available by the end of the semester, Bertone-Johnson says. Researchers will be able to click on a map of the field station and view paintings, read poems or even watch video of a dance performance.

An advisory committee of faculty and staff have been working on the initiative for about a year. Dean Flower, professor of English language and literature, suggested the name Arts Afield and also christened the April 8 launch event “Weathering Heights” when the committee was worrying over possible inclement weather.

Whitney Wilson ’17—a Smith MFA dance student who took the lead on planning the arts stroll portion of the event—says organizers hope to “inspire people to come to the field station, listen to the land and put that inspiration into their work.”

The afternoon will begin with talks by Dan Ladd, artist-in-residence at MacLeish, and Paul Wetzel, environmental research coordinator for the field station. Ladd, a botanic sculptor, will discuss his tree sculptures, and Wetzel will lead visitors to the American Chestnut research plot where he’ll talk about his study of blight-resistant hybrids. Visitors can also hear Dean Flower, professor of English language and literature, and Naila Moreira, writing instructor at the Jacobson Center, read poetry inspired by the field station.

At 1:45 p.m., visitors are invited to join the arts stroll featuring performances by Smith students and community members at various locations across the field station. Five dance pieces will be performed, including works by Wilson, Noli Rosen ’19, Rowan Salem ’17, Nicole DeWolfe ’17, Sofia Engelman ’19, and Stephanie Turner ’17. The stroll also will include music, storytelling and works by local artists.

What if the weather proves uncooperative?

Michele Wick, Smith lecturer in psychology and co-chair of the Arts Afield advisory committee, says guests can watch a livestream of events from the Bechtel Environmental Classroom at MacLeish.

“Whatever the weather, it’s part of the performance!” she says.

Students who wish to attend can take a first-come, first-served bus leaving from John M. Greene Hall at 12:30 p.m. on April 8, with a planned return to campus by 4:15 p.m.

On campus, the Nolen Art Lounge in the Campus Center will host a complementary exhibit of artwork created and inspired by the field station. The exhibit runs from April 1 to April 13.