Leah Stein Dance Company – Of Grass and Gravel
Saturday, July 18th, 2009

Fifteen Years of Environmental Art at the Schuylkill Center

By Christina Catanese, Director of Environmental Art

In 2000, Mary Salvante had an idea that the Schuylkill Center could be the perfect place to showcase environmental art. Nearly 15 years later, I’ve been reflecting on the past decade-and-a-half of environmental art at the Schuylkill Center: 20 outdoor exhibitions, 11 artist residencies, and dozens of shows in our gallery. Over the years, artists have grappled with issues and wonders in our ecosystem and shared their responses in diverse media. This post shows just a smattering of highlights of the art program going back to our very first gallery show and first artist-in-residence.

This January, we are kicking off the Schuylkill Center’s 50th anniversary celebration and celebrating fifteen years of environmental art at the Schuylkill Center with our fourth Annual Richard L. James Lecture by artist Mary Mattingly. Along with an interdisciplinary panel, Mattingly will reflect on the role of environmental art in a changing environment. With ecological challenges growing in complexity and scope, 2015 presents the perfect opportunity to consider the relationship of art and environment, and what it might look like in the next 15 years, 50 years, and beyond.

LandLab Residency (2014-2015), Artists: Jake Beckman; Leslie Birch; WE THE WEEDS (a collaboration of artist Kaitlin Pomerantz and botanist Zya Levy); Marguerita Hagan, B.H. Mills, and Maggie Mills

LandLab is a unique artist residency program that integrates art, ecological restoration, and education. A joint project of the Schuylkill Center and the Center for Emerging Visual Artists (CFEVA), LandLab residencies will make innovative installations that prevent or remediate environmental damage while raising public awareness about ecology. LandLab artist Jake Beckman created this mind-map to depict his early conceptualizing of his work on the cycles of soil formation and decay in the forest. Continue reading

Hear from Our Team!

By Jenny Laden

Now it’s time to hear from our team !  Here they are, discussing our planning project, the art program’s goals, and what makes The Schuylkill Center unique. Our Advisory team is collectively committed to progressive collaboration in art and science, and after our time together have a sincere fondness for the site and the program.

Moving forward, we will be sharing some thoughts and ideas from the team members themselves in the coming weeks. In the meantime, watch these smart amazing people, and join in our Walk in the Woods.
Special thanks to Mangrove Media for their gorgeous filming.

What Makes the Schuylkill Center Unique

The Goals of this project

Advisory Team Meets at Schuylkill Center

By Jenny Laden

On August 16th and 17th, SCEE hosted seven Advisory Team Members to visit our center and assist in the re-visioning of the Art Program’s direction. As part of the Pew Philadelphia Exhibition Initiative’s Planning Grant, the Team was invited to convene over the two days to discuss the Center’s opportunities, challenges and help craft a clear vision for the direction of the Art department at SCEE. Learn about the team here. Visiting us over the meeting were Deenah Loeb, SCEE board member and Art Committee chair, and Mary Salvante, founder and former Director of the Art Program.

Over the two days, the team was introduced to the Center’s land with a long walk with staff members: Mike Weilbacher, Joanne Donohue, Gail Farmer and Jenny Laden.

We walked though Penn’s Native Acres and Joanne and Mike discussed the restoration efforts at SCEE, and the contrast between the “restored”/”managed” areas and the rest of our property – delving into the details of soil composition changing as a result of non-native earthworms, invasive plant species such as stilt grass and why it prevents forest growth.

We saw erroded paths – the result of stormwater runoff from our building which runs down our hill. This errosion prevents growth, and brings unwanted debris to ponds and streams.

Gail Farmer, Education Director at SCEE, discussed the importance of environmental education, and the experience city dwellers have when they visit us here. She mentioned this book, which is an interesting perspective on why kids are reticent to fully engage in nature.

The team discussed other projects where art served to restore, remediate, revive bruised broken down space. We created a list of goals for our new work – including the notion that our projects must make visitors/participants and users Think, Feel and Do;  provide well interpreted information, offer a moving/surprising/effective experience and clearly present ideas to bring home which might alter their behavior, or the world around them.

We discussed the value of collaboration, and the importance of experimentation, the problems with the term “sustainability,” using art to educate an urban community about nature, the relationship between art and science, on various levels (personal, institutional, national, global). The team felt strongly that our work here must consider multiple time frames (short, medium and large) – so that our art projects might have a variety of ways of becoming, being and remaining (or not). Nothing replaces the time spent in a place. Our most successful artist projects (like Jennie Thwing’s brolo hill project)  thus far have come from artists who spent significant time here and arrive at a deeper understanding of the complexities that exist on our site.

At the end of a long two days, we collaborated on the following mission statement, paving a new way forward for the Environmental Art Program: 

SchuylkillArt provides opportunities to investigate, innovate and interpret the nature of place

Stay tuned for team member interviews, blogposts and more.