LTER engages Arts and Humanities

Network News Fall 2010, Vol. 23 No. 2
Top Stories

A number of LTER sites and programs continue to cultivate relationships with the arts and humanities on several exciting fronts (see LTER Network News, vol. 20, no. 2, Fall 2007).

Over the past year four LTER programs, fueled by supplemental funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF), have engaged the arts and humanities in considering the future scenarios of land use and environmental change. Dubbed LTEArts (or LTEaRts), the media employed by these programs have been highly varied: visual arts featured at North Temperate Lakes (NTL) and Harvard Forest (HFR), performance at Bonanza Creek (BNZ), and humanities at Andrews Forest (AND).

The audiences for these engagements have similarly been diverse: lake associations and gallery patrons for the NTL visual arts in Wisconsin, and the larger Fairbanks community for the BNZ performance in Alaska. The outcomes of these activities are then shared across sites to deepen our understanding of these places and roles of humans in them.

These efforts have two dimensions:

  1. Outreach, to convey lessons from science to broad audiences
  2. Basic inquiry by practitioners of arts and humanities in the landscapes sampled by LTER science

An allied project is just getting underway by Freshwaters Illustrated (, a nonprofit organization dedicated to raising public awareness and understanding of aquatic ecosystems through photo, video, and film. The Freshwaters team has received NSF and other funding to produce a documentary media package to communicate the results of LTER research on past, present, and future ecological changes in rivers and watersheds.

The documentary will explore the effects of climate change and rural development on aquatic organisms and related issues across the LTER network. The products will include a 30-minute film designed for television, several short (3-5 minute) films suitable for web and social media, and curriculum materials targeting academic, conservation, planning/policymaking, and K-12 audiences. The Harvard Forest (HFR), North Temperate Lakes (NTL), Coweeta (CWT), and Andrews Forest (AND) comprise the first set of sites to participate in this initiative; other sites and programs are welcome to take part.

These developments have stimulated interest in encouraging development of similar programs at other LTER sites, and at non-LTER study sites with strong cultural roots, such as the Aldo Leopold Legacy Center near Baraboo, WI. With the development of such sites comes the notion of establishing a network of programs to share information about program development and conduct comparative studies -- just as we do in LTER. Thus, work at the interface of science, humanities, and the arts could become a cornerstone of the "broader impacts" of science supported by NSF, capitalizing on the long-term, site-based character of LTER to help advance the Network’s communication effort as envisaged in LTER’s Strategic Implementation Plan. Stay tuned--you’re likely to hear more about these developments in coming months.

For further information on arts and humanities collaborations at a small sampling of LTER sites, please see the respective sites for the North Temperate Lakes (, Bonanza Creek (, and Andrews Forest (