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“Sandbox” Project Promises Serious Interplay of the Arts and Sciences

  • Images from fall 2012 show students in Alex Castro's "Environmental and Public Art" class creating installa...
    Images from fall 2012 show students in Alex Castro's "Environmental and Public Art" class creating installations at Stepne Manor, a farm on the outskirts of Chestertown.
April 19, 2013
With a generous Mellon Foundation Grant, the Washington College Program for Creativity and the Environment will promote projects that put the environment at the center of creative research projects.

CHESTERTOWN, MD—Funded by a $575,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, a new interdisciplinary program at Washington College will explore relationships between aesthetics and the natural environment and invite artists and scientists to collaborate in fresh new ways. Called “Sandbox,” the new Washington College Program for Creativity and the Environment will enable faculty members and students from the natural and social sciences to work with those in the arts—music, art, dance and literature—and learn together through creative challenges.

“Sandbox will expose our students to the broadest field of creative possibilities and develop their skills in innovative thinking and problem solving,” says College President Mitchell B. Reiss. “It ties in perfectly with the goals of a liberal arts education—to liberate the mind and foster creative discovery. And it will move our curriculum forward in exciting ways that will set us apart from other colleges. We are deeply grateful for the funding from the Mellon Foundation and the confidence it expresses in our vision.”  

The Sandbox concept recognizes two important qualities in today’s students: concern for the environment, and a natural affinity for expressing themselves through new media. To complete a Sandbox course, students might use everything from shovels, guitars and paintbrushes to laptops, video cameras and smartphone apps.

The man who first conceived the project with consultation from colleagues in various disciplines within the College is artist and architect Alex Castro, who is adjunct professor of studio art and Architect, Exhibition and Book Designer in Residence at the College. Castro, whose resume includes the design of the American Visionary Art Museum, is an enthusiastic proponent of the relatively new field of “Earth Art,” using landscape installations to focus attention on the fragility of the planet and how we relate to it as individuals and as a society. 

Last fall Castro introduced a new studio course, “Environmental and Public Art,” that embodies the underlying principle of the Sandbox program. In addition to readings, research papers and class discussions, the course requires students to develop site-specific artworks at the College-owned Stepne Manor, a 77-acre farm on the edge of downtown Chestertown.  

Most of the students in the “Art and the Environment” course were not Art majors and didn’t think of themselves as artists. Yet they developed artistic responses to the cornfields, wetlands and forests of Stepne Manor and learned how to push their ambitious art visions into physical realities. That kind of crossover is key to Sandbox. 

The Sandbox program will include: 

  • Funding support for Washington College faculty members to create interdisciplinary courses that focus on the arts and the environment. 
  • Visiting visual or performing artists who will come to campus to work with students on environmental art projects. 
  • Annual Sandbox lectures. 
  • Smaller experimental events called “Sandstorms” that will bring together   seemingly disparate talents. An example might be to invite a structural engineer and an origami artist to collaborate on a project. 

Reiss says Chestertown is the perfect canvas for Sandbox. “Here in this quasi-rural environment on the Chester River, we have all these natural riches of space, land, air, water,” he says, “plus a community that fully supports the arts and is passionate about the environment. The Program for Creativity and the Environment couldn’t ask for a better location for its activities. And with this generous support from the Mellon Foundation, the College is perfectly positioned to use the study of the environment as a lens for teaching creative research and problem solving.”

Last modified on Mar. 3rd, 2014 at 2:10pm by .