2009 LTER Network All Scientist Meeting: “Arts and Humanities Workshop” Report

Workshop Report

Arts and Humanities at LTER Sites

Long-Term Ecological Research All Scientists Meeting

Estes Park, CO.  September 15, 2009.

 Conveners:  Fred Swanson (AND), Tim Kratz (NTL), Mary Beth Leigh (BNZ)

The workshop addressed the engagement of environmental history, creative writing, art (painting, photography, sculpture), dance, theater, music, and philosophical and religious perspectives in programs at LTER sites.  Interesting examples of all of these media have been expressed at LTER sites, and the potential for further collaboration is immense.  The objectives of this engagement include enriching understanding of ecosystems through new forms of inquiry at LTER sites, extending outreach to the public, and having fun.  Interest in interactions among arts, humanities, and sciences is clearly growing, as indicated by frequent relevant stories in Science and Nature.  The LTER program offers this work the distinctive features of place-based, long-term perspectives in compelling landscapes.

The conveners Leigh, Kratz, and Swanson described the programs at the Bonanza Creek, North Temperate Lakes, and Andrews Forest LTER sites, which have brought together scientists, artists, and humanists in the field and other settings to confer about the nature of ecosystems and environmental change.  These programs involve a broad range of media, draw of participants (national vs. local), sources of funding (e.g., private foundation, US Forest Service, NSF), central themes, and forms of output (e.g., public performance, publications, webpages, K-12 education venues).

The 29 participants in the workshop (representing 13 LTER sites plus the incipient Chile and Japan LTER systems) discussed the status of engagement of the art/humanities in LTER sites.  A picture emerged that at least three sites have substantial programs underway and quite a few additional sites have budding engagements, such as a scientist or artist beginning a program of collaboration across the sciences, arts, and humanities.

The group discussed a new NSF-funded project to bring arts and humanities into consideration of future scenarios of land change in response to land use, endogenous ecosystem change, and environmental change.  The current plan for this project is capitalize on future scenarios work in the LTER science arena and hold regional/site-based workshops and then a larger, collective gathering to explore cross-site lessons.  Four funded sites are Bonanza creek, Andrews Forest, North Temperate Lakes, and Harvard Forest, representing an east-west transect and gradient of depths and degrees of European and indigenous peoples’ influences on the land.  A fifth site, Short Grass Steppe, expressed interest in participating.

Specific suggestions for future actions:

  1. LTER sites with worthy activities in this arena should develop sections of their site webpages that represent the work, so others in or outside the LTER network can tune in on the efforts, learn about the potentials, and note contact people for advice on how to do it.  (for sample offerings see: http://www.news.wisc.edu/12738.html and http://www.fsl.orst.edu/lter/research/related/writers.cfm?topnav=37)
  2. Bring the LTER-related arts and humanities work before the LTER community via poster session presentations (perhaps blocks of posters and small video offerings) and as part of the evening entertainment programs at future ASM meetings.  This can also be done at ESA meetings and other appropriate venues.
  3. Bring the arts and humanities work into the anticipated BioScience LTER 30th anniversary collection of papers in the form of a.) a single paper, b.) contributions to science-topic papers in the collection, c.) as part of a paper on the growth of the LTER program through engagement of social sciences, natural resource managers, and math/computer science/engineering (ecosystem informatics), as well as arts and humanities; d.) a paper on outreach in LTER, including education, arts/humanities, interactions with natural resource management and policy, etc.  One or more of these options could be implemented.
  4. Consider producing a book to highlight this engagement of arts/humanities – perhaps in the Oxford Press series.
  5. An option to a BioScience paper or book would be a review paper in an outlet like Frontiers.
  6. Greatly expand recognition of the accomplishments to date and place of environmental history in LTER work.  This has been a rich field of endeavor ranging across time scales and considering natural process and human roles.
  7. Seek NSF support for a study of how best to conduct outreach from LTER sites, including roles of arts and humanities.
  8. Several interesting examples of work deserve perusal: Glacier Bay history and reinvigoration of native peoples’ stories (mentioned by Gina Rumore, CDR); the work of the Center for Land Use Interpretation (Catherine Harris, SEV); Santa Barbara land history project funded by NEH (Anita Guerrini, SBC).
  9. Seek funding for a gathering of representatives of sites participating in the NSF-funded project on engaging arts and humanities in consideration of future scenarios – the current funding with supplemental funds to four sites is inadequate to bring participants together as a group and add representatives of other interested sites.