In August, Sterling hosted “Sequestering Tradition?: A Cultural Sustainability Symposium” (co-sponsored by the Vermont Folklife Center and Goucher College’s MA program in Cultural Sustainability). Thirty-five scholars, students, practitioners, and community workers came together for three days to discuss the theory and practice of “cultural sustainability,” which grows out of the premise that “cultural vitality is as essential to a healthy and sustainable society as social equity, environmental responsibility and economic viability,” as articulated by Jon Hawkes in The Fourth Pillar of Sustainability: Culture’s Essential Role in Public Planning. In short, cultural sustainability considers the role that culture plays in environmental sustainability and the role that environmental sustainability plays in the understanding of cultural traditions and cultural change.
Presentations ranged from a workshop by Rosann Kent of the University of North Georgia on heirloom seed-saving and arts-based research to a discussion on preserving traditional Arab music by Hicham Chami of the University of Florida to Jamie Andrew’s story of engaging immigrant teens as cultural leaders at the Children’s Museum and Theater of Maine. In the evenings, conversations continued during a reception at President Matthew Derr’s house, informal music jams, and a contra dance featuring caller Peter Johnson discussing the history of contra dancing in New England.
A number of Sterling community members participated in the Symposium: Ecology faculty Farley Brown led a field session on “Exploring a Changing Rural Culture” with adjunct faculty members Ross Morgan and Mark Dunbar at the Dunbar Farm; Ecology faculty member Laura Beebe presented “A Berried Geography: Fruit from the Circumpolar North” via Skype from Denali National Park; and student Jesse Lee, Director of Sustainable Food Systems Anne Obelnicki, Assistant Librarian Leslie Rowell, and adjunct faculty member Stark Biddle all participated in sessions.
Participants left inspired—by the presentations, by Sterling’s program, and by our surroundings—to continue these conversations in their schools and communities. •