Arts and humanities flourishing at LTER sites

Network News Summer 2015, Vol. 28 No. 2
Site News

A recent review of the engagements of arts and humanities at Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) and related sites in the United States reveals that these collaborative adventures are underway at more than one hundred biological field stations, marine labs, LTER sites, National Park Service facilities, and the National Science Foundation’s Antarctic outpost (Swanson 2015 (PDF); the DOI for your paper will be once the paper is published). Moreover, a survey of LTER site leaders recently found that a great majority believe that arts and humanities deserve a significant place in their programs.

Manifestations of arts-humanities in LTER site programs are taking many forms. The new book from Harvard Forest, Hemlock: A Forest Giant on the Edge, for example, masterfully blends creative non-fiction, artistic photography, reflections from literary giants of the New England region, and emotive prose to tell the science-based story of the decline of eastern hemlock due to the invasive wooly adelgid. Multi-media performances on the theme “In a Time of Change” have been the hallmark of public outreach efforts for the Bonanza Creek LTER program, where LTER science staff and community members have been both performers and audiences in performances that reach a wide swath of Interior Alaska citizenry. The North Temperate Lakes LTER program has featured visual arts—initially on the theme “Paradise Lost?”—to recognize impacts of climate change in the northern lakes district of Wisconsin, and arts engagement continues through a residency program. Writer residencies in the Andrews Forest LTER program have now exceeded 50, and a book compiling highlights plus short essays providing science context is due out early in 2016. The diversity of arts-humanities media expressed at other LTER sites has also encouraged the Andrews Forest program to include artists and composers in its “Ecological Reflections” program.

Building on these activities, an NSF-sponsored workshop hosted by the Nevada Museum of Art in Reno June 19-21 brought together two dozen artists, arts funders, writers, neuroscientists, a philosopher, and a few scientists to brainstorm the convergence of arts-humanities-science at sites of long-term ecological work, including field stations, marine labs, and LTER sites. The workshop included a field trip to the Sagehen University of California Reserve and Experimental Forest in the foothills of the Sierras, highlighting potential high-impact synergies between major urban museums and remote field stations. Deliberations at the workshop contribute to preparation of an NSF Research Coordination Networking grant proposal to NSF with the intent of enhancing networking among sites to facilitate interdisciplinary teams that take on important societal problems to go beyond the “broader impacts” criterion for evaluation of NSF-sponsored work and contribute to the “intellectual merit” objective. These and related topics will be discussed in workshops at the forthcoming All Scientists Meeting in Estes Park, CO, this September.