UNM Ecology Arts Students Visit Arcosanti

Now that I have some spare time, I am going through my notes and pictures and posting some of the more notable experiences from my last few years at Arcosanti.

One of the memorable experiences for me was in September of last year students from the Land Arts of the American West Program at the University of New Mexico explored and engaged with Arcosanti and the surrounding site for two days in September of 2011. This was a chance for me to learn about the Land Arts movement and some radical ideas about artistic collaboration and co-creation.

On Sept 14 2011, 10 students and two instructors from the Ecology Arts Program at the University of New Mexico participated in a “synergy” at Arcosanti. The focus of their efforts was to help better organize the worm farming/vermiculture system at Arcosanti, which I was in charge of at the time. I am not sure this was the ideal project for them at Arcosanti, but I was impressed that they tackled it with such passion and dedication.

The UNM Land Arts Field Trip 

Their stop at Arcosanti was part of a larger exploration for the semester of the Land Arts class that Professor Katherine Harris (her official title: Assistant Professor of Art and Ecology of the Program at UNM). The trip was part of 6 week program that involves a tour of the South West. The trip’s theme was Utopian Architecture focusing on border issues, immigration, ecology, and community.  Part of the  student’s work includes a highly intensive and collaborative process in which they seek to creatively and thoughtfully incorporate art into the landscape. The group was mainly from an artist background, with the instructors having a landscape design background. In addition to volunteering at Arcosanti they  pitched in to assist Simparch at their project at the Center for Land Use Interpretation in Wendover Arizona, and the Biosphere 2 Project.

Early Discussions

About a year before the trip, Prof Harris had traveled with one of her students Ryan Hennel; an alum who lived at Arcosanti in 98 when I took my workshop.  After we met we continued communicating via email…

She expressed interest in helping us to design a process to better manage the site’s land resources and also to incorporate Arcosanti into the Land Arts Program at UNM. This led us to talk about the possibility of working her and her students on a some project that would aid the development of a more comprehensive planning and management process at Arcosanti that puts a holistic program for sustainable stewardship of the land into practice at Arcosanti.

One of the major concerns of several residents and staff at Arcosanti – land use – is that the land around Arcosanti has been put under stress both through construction of Arcosanti and cattle grazing. The outlying landscape is thus denuded in several areas with weeds and deep cuts in the land due to erosion. With consideration to the future needs and goals of the project and its stakeholders, I thought it might be a great opportunity to design land arts projects which could include trail building, erosion control – practical projects that would improve site management – while also providing a hands on experience for the students where they learn how to design multi-functional and holistic work projects. However they were not able to do the longer week long program that they had considered. Working on addressing the erosion control and land management issues around Arcosanti is definitely something to consider in the future.

The Arcosanti Worms Story

Adam Nordfors originally developed a vermiculture system in the early to mid 200-s. This was not carried forward, because of the transitional nature of the agricultural program in the past. In 2010 Bob Ransom (Bambu) successfully petitioned Community Council to provide funds for the purchase of some worms and special bin for growing them and composting kitchen scraps. He however left soon after starting the program and left it in my responsibility. I expanded and move the Vermiculture operation to Camp where we typically had composting operations in the past.

One of my challenges was that I often would do experiments with the mixing of the worm food (our waste = their food) and would often make quite a mess. Additionally was my working on several projects to expand the operation which in various stages of completion. So it was basically that they helped me clean up my mess and in the process we learned a bit about consensus based collaboration on art project, thanks to facilitation by the two instructors. The idea is that the not only cleaned up the site but they added some nice elements to the space which made my work more enjoyable.

Indeed I realized that if we are at Arcosanti could put such effort into the work we do, there would be a lot more sign of progress. So it definitely was an inspiration to me in that it made realize that we are really capable of much more than we think.

Thanks to all the students and the two teachers who taught me a lot that day about collaboration and doing things by consensus. A special thanks to Chris Galantis who took a lot of pictures and also provided some valuable research on Vermi-Composting and Vermi-Culture farming.

While most of work they did has faded away with time, Arcosanti’s transient nature and the harsh desert environment, I still remember. The collaboration to create that landscape down there by the Arcosanti Worm Pits inspired me for a long time after and still does to this day.

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