Connecting People, Ideas, and Resources

Submitted on January 27, 2017
graphic: people of all colors working around a table

The Graduate Center’s Interdisciplinary Collaborations Lecture Series begins Friday, January 27, 4:30 to 5:30 PM, in the Student Union Kachina Lounge (all lectures to take place Fridays at the same time and place). Professor Ellen McMahon and Eric Magrane will present Creating Intersections Across Communities: Institute of the Environment’s Arts, Environment and Humanities Network.

You are invited to share the experience and insights of participants in four initiatives that bring together diverse perspectives from the sciences, arts, humanities, social and behavioral sciences, and communities around the globe. In addition to discussing their innovative projects and synergies, experts will address best practices for creating, building, and maintaining collaborative initiatives.

The Institute of the Environment’s Arts, Environment, and Humanities Network (AEHN) instigates and fosters collaborations and conversations among artists, writers, humanities scholars, and environmental scientists. The network and its affiliates strive to find ways of understanding the world in which we live; they offer new ideas about how society might address environmental risks with a creative, humanistic approach.  Magrane and McMahon, affiliates of the AEHN from its inception, will discuss how they have helped build the network, examples of their interdisciplinary art-environment projects, and insights they have learned from doing this work.  One example is a recent project of Magrane’s: The Sonoran Desert: A Literary Field Guide. Published by the University of Arizona Press in 2016, the collection is a Southwestern Book of the Year. Magrane and his coeditor Christopher Cokinos collaborated with over fifty authors who wrote poems about species of the Sonoran Desert.  Magrane and Cokinos then composed scientifically accurate but playful field guide descriptions.  Finally, artist Paul Mirocha illustrated each entry. 

When asked about the process of collaboration, Eric Magrane suggested a parallel with jazz improvisation—each partner listening and creating in response to the other, bringing their perspectives and intellectual resources to the table.  “A collaboration is also a way for the participants to combine their respective disciplinary strengths and networks in order to address issues that are complicated and impossible to understand solely by one frame of knowledge,” said Magrane. He added that a “boundary object,” an idea or thing that focuses the attention of diverse disciplines and communities, can spark collaboration.  For example, in Ground/Water: The Art, Design, and Science of a Dry River, edited by Ellen McMahon (School of Art), Ander Monson (Creative Writing), and Beth Weinstein (College of Architecture), 20 contributors respond to the apparent paradox of the “dry” Rillito River.  Another example is McMahon’s 2015 Change Over Time. Her work displays 275 hemispherical photos taken by UA researchers David Breshears and Patrick Royer, documenting forest die-off due to drought.  Arranged as a disc, with the oldest photographs in the center, they were installed in the lobby of the Bryant Bannister Tree Ring Building where they faced the 10-foot disc of a Giant Sequoia trunk: two discs of rings, each testifying to change over time.

Other lectures in the Interdisciplinary Collaborations Series include Mobilizing Creativity and Expertise for Change: UA’s "Smart Villages" $100,000,000 Proposal (February 17); Managing Across Organizations and Aligning Missions: Green Streets in South Tucson, a project of the Agnese Nelms Haury Program in Environment and Social Justice (March 24); Building Coalitions and Celebrating Culture: The Southwest Folklife Alliance (April 21).  For more information about the series, please see this link.