Early last year, Olympia Mathiaparanam, Board Member, had the idea that we could harness the power of the humanities in inspiring connection to nature. The “It’s in Our Nature” open mic event held in the BioCommons in the Steenbock Library on Thursday, February 25 was the result of that idea. We asked Robin Chapman, poet, Emeritus faculty of the UW-Madison, and Friends member, to be the Master of Ceremony and featured poet. Robin has written ten books of nature-inspired poetry and has received recognition and honors for her work including the 2010 Appalachia Poetry Prize, and a Wisconsin Arts Board Literary Arts Fellowship. Robin, Olympia, and Lillian Tong, also a Board Member, met together to plan the details around this experimental initiative months in advance. Because of the need to reach a broader audience than our usual field trips, the team created and distributed posters around campus and in local coffee shops and establishments.
The event opened with a slideshow of 105 images of the Lakeshore Nature Preserve, selected by Lillian Tong and put into a PowerPoint presentation with the help of Linda Deith, Tom Yin, and Sarah Congdon. These images were among those taken by numerous photographers and pulled together by Gisela Kutzbach. The slideshow played for the 15 minutes prior to the Open Mic while performers were signing up for slots and choosing images that would be projected while they read their creative expression. Olympia welcomed the attendees and introduced Robin, who opened and closed the event with her excellent poetry. The poetry and prose of our 6 performers, together with the visual images, brought the beauty and power of nature into the space! In all, 23 people enjoyed the work of the performers, several of whom were new to the Lakeshore Preserve. After the presentations, attendees had an opportunity to visit and view the display table with materials about the Lakeshore Nature Preserve.
The BioCommons director and staff were very welcoming and helpful, and provided a perfect place for the event, for which we are so grateful. Refreshments were donated by Lillian Tong and the BioCommons offered coffee. The organizers, who had worried about results of this experiment, were happy with the response and hope to repeat the event, perhaps with ideas for improvements. Report by Lillian Tong and Olympia Mathiaparanam. Photos by Tom Yin and Olympia.