What would it mean to merge the concept of urban ecology with a social justice analysis? How do questions of access, equity, and fairness apply to urban ecosystems? Is it possible to construct mutually symbiotic relationships between the human and non-human elements of a city? These are just some of the questions that are asked by the Urban Ecology Arts Exchange, one of Haverford’s Philadelphia Area Creative Collaborations (PACC) projects this fall.
Following on the successful nine-year-old Tri-Co Mellon Creative Residencies Program, PACC, a $750,000 Mellon Foundation initiative that launched this fall as one of the new initiatives out of the Visual Culture, Arts, and Media (VCAM) building, offers opportunities for students and faculty to join with area artists and activists as partners in dialogue, advocacy, and active creation. The Urban Ecology Arts Exchange, one of two PACC projects this fall, is connected to Assistant Professor of Anthropology and Environmental Studies Joshua Moses’ “Nature/ Culture: An Introduction to Environmental Anthropology” and Assistant Professor of Biology Jonathan Wilson’s “Place, People, and Collaborative Research in the Urban Environment” classes.
As a part of this collaboration, on Nov. 6, students gathered together at Stokes Bay to take a free van to a master workshop with Scott Kellogg, co-author of the book Toolbox for Sustainable City Living: A Do-it-Ourselves Guide and the primary teacher of The Regenerative Urban Sustainability Training, an intensive weekend workshop of skills for building ecologically and socially resilient cities. The trip was just one portion of the semester-long collaboration that is focused on the ways people engage and navigate the many dimensions of the 21st-century world—natural, industrial, digital, virtual—and how that ultimately shapes people’s impact on the planet. Besides Moses and Wilson, the collaborators have included artist Li Sumpter, Suku John from the East Park Revitalization Alliance, Tommy Joshua from the North Philly Peace Park, and Paulette Rhone from the Friends of Mount Moriah Cemetery.
“PACC is a big universe,” said Stephanie Bursese, the program’s manager. “PACC is ultimately a series of individual projects that all reside under the ‘PACC’ umbrella. These individual projects are all funded by a grant from the Mellon Foundation. The structure of these projects was conceived by Laura McGrane, who is the chair of the English Department and also the current director of VCAM, and it’s really built on the backs of other projects the Hurford Center (HCAH) has been working on since its inception.”
McGrane envisioned the program in collaboration with colleagues and Haverford President Kim Benston during her years as the director of the HCAH, which initiated programming with local artist and nonprofit partners within the Tri-Co Mellon Creative Residencies program. PACC was born, she said, as faculty and collaborators realized that those partners needed to be at the planning table from the beginning to build sustainable arts and activist collaborations with real and lasting impacts for the Philadelphia and campus communities.
“Liberal arts colleges think a lot about how to ‘reach out’ to their surrounding communities,” she said. “But how do we create the space for those communities to reach in—to teach us how better to teach and create curricula, how better to evolve an educational structure intimately connected to advocates for justice, to learn from their experiences making change, whether educational, environmental, prison reform, you name it? PACC envisions collaborative models that support those nonprofits and artists in the work they want to do, while creating interdisciplinary opportunities for students, faculty, and community members to be together in that work. And to carry that work forward beyond the temporal constraints of a single-semester class.” (Continued after the gallery.)
The Urban Ecology Arts Exchange project is one of two projects run by PACC this semester. The other is Sounding the Archive, a collaboration with the American Philosophical Society and artist Jeanine Oleson, that explores indigeneity, recording, and collective memory at the APS’s Center for Native American and Indigenous Research.
“It starts with a conversation between a single faculty member and myself,” said Bursese, who teases out ideas of partners both on-campus and off. The “collaboration” in PACC’s name refers to those partnerships, which include cross-disciplinary faculty partners and local artists and nonprofits. “The word ‘artist’ is really loose. It could be a chef, a poet, a visual artist, a dancer, a writer… [and the nonprofits] can vary in scale from a three-person organization in a small office to a large, densely staffed operation like the Village of Arts and Humanities.”
All aspects of the collaborations are in place before the related campus classes begin, so that elements of it can be incorporated into the syllabus, class discussions, and projects from their very first day.
“The outcome of these projects is designed to grow out of the collaborative conversations,” said Bursese. “Through the process of uncovering our shared interests, we learn what is at stake for the artists, nonprofits, faculty, and students—in this space the points of intersection and relevance calcify.”
So far, the two collaborations this semester have led to a mapping exercise with North Philly Peace Park, the Sensory Lab exhibition in the VCAM building, an artist talk with Jeanine Oleson, a site visit to Mount Moriah Cemetery, and more. And there’s even more where that came from. Next semester, PACC is sponsoring three projects across six courses, including “Citizenship, Migration, and Belonging” taught by Assistant Professor of Anthropology Zainab Saleh and “Visualizing the United States of Europe” taught by Assistant Professor of German Imke Brust.
Photos by Rae Yuan ’19, Alexandra Iglesia ’21, and Sarah Jennings ’21.