Sustainability in Place
by Erice Wheelerwww.ericawheeler.com
Singer/songwriter, workshop facilitator, speaker
Goal: To foster engagement in sustainability by engaging peoples hearts. This project generate stories of place through a series of “free” writing workshops, to be followed with a public presentation of the works created. “Free” writing workshops will be geared towards all residents from all walks of life, all ages, incomes and levels of experience.
My work is dedicated to connecting and re-connecting people with their sense of place. Songs I have written help to evoke a sense of place in the listener, while my hands-on writing workshops provide the opportunity for participants to uncover their own stories of place and belonging. I have significant experience in organizing, offering and promoting public events, having been a full time touring singer-songwriter for over 15 years and, for the past 8 years having presented my workshop “The Soulful Landscape” at conferences, events and learning centers across the country. In addition, I have a career as a keynote speaker, offering presentations focused on the importance of emotionally connecting people and place. I combine my background in the performing arts and my life-long interest in the environment and cultural history to offer relevant and inspiring presentations.
This current work has brought me full circle to when I was new to the valley, as a student at Hampshire College. The bulk of my work there was a project entitled “ A Sense of Self, A Sense of Place,” which focused on how we effect our environment and how our environment effects us. Living in the valley now for almost 25 years, I have lived here long enough to witness changes, both positive and negative. My most recent CD has songs about people and their relationship to place from different perspectives, and several are about the valley itself. “Good Summer Rain,” is a song, which tells the story of a valley farm sold and developed. “To Deep Water,” is a song I wrote about a lake near my home in Colrain, reflecting the beauty of this area and what it means to me.
I believe our current state of environmental degradation comes the disconnection we have between our surroundings and ourselves. When we get caught up in our individual needs and busy modern-day lives, we make choices that have immediate rewards with dire consequences for the future. Wendell Berry has written: “ You don’t know who you are if you don’t know where you are.” I believe we can reverse our course of disconnection in several ways. You can give people the information, skills and tools they need to make new choices, but we cannot create lasting change without first creating a change of heart. Our stories of connection from the heart are a crucial spoke in the wheel sustainability. As author Terry Tempest Willams wrote “Story bypasses rethoritc and pierces the heart.”
I teach “The Soulful Landscape” so people at any age, with any level of experience, can gain the skills needed to communicate effectively what it is they love most about their “place,” and what it means to them. These workshops help to generate memories, imagery, and metaphors, which can be crafted in, to song, stories, essays or poems. I would like to help others find and express their voice, so that everyone can be part of the sustainable conversation. Often the word “sustainability” conjures up ideas of elitism: being something only for those with the income, education or liberal leanings to create and enjoy. Our future demands our “whole community” participate. For those already engaged in sustainability, our stories will help keep us inspired and focused on the deeper meaning of the work we do. For those unfamiliar with sustainability we can give them the “how’ and “why”, but only they themselves can find the reason in their own hearts to change. The opportunity to find and give voice to our stories of place and belonging may be just the incentive some people need. Remembering what we love about the valley, we can make sustainable choices for its future.
Our imagination is the key to a sustainable future. To be able to know and communicate the relationship we have with our surroundings is foundational in our ability to re-imagine our future. We them can begin to embrace the notion in Aldo Leopold’ wrote about in “A Sand County Almanac” that “when we see the land as a community to which we belong, we can begin to use it with love and respect,”
My proposal is to offer “free” writing workshops for towns in the valley. This will attract people from all age groups, all levels of experience and all walks of life. This will generate songs, stories, essays and pomes, which will help us, understand the diversity of what we love about “our place.” An outcome of Sustainability in Place (proposed title) could also be open mics and potlucks at town meeting halls to create community and share our works.
An additional outcome or direction for my involvement in this project could be to produce a video/audio component, in collaboration with a videographer and/or photographer. This would highlight some different aspects of the valley and include a soundtrack of original songs. An outcome could be a video for PBS or a CD to benefit a local organization.
Ultimately, my project could go three directions or have three components:
1. A series of free writing workshops in valley towns to generate stories of how people lived in a sustainable way here before, and still do.
2. A video honoring of the ways people have lived sustainably off this land and still do.
3. A CD cycle of songs about the valley.
A public presentation of works generated from this project. The public will benefit from this project by a public showing of the work, be that a video on PBS, a CD, chapbook, concert or a reading.
This project will also involve partnership with another organization. Perhaps with The Trust for Public Land, who co-sponsored my current CD, or other organizations like CISA, HCI (Highlands Community Initiative) or the American Farmlands Trust.
Funding will be used for expenses such as: room rentals, publicity, production of concert, video or CD, and for personal income while creating the project and offering it to the public.
Click here to see video of Erica singing “Good Summer Rain”