Spencer Art Studio Meadow: In conversation with Pallavi Sen

If you’ve wandered around the Spencer Studio Art Building in recent months, you may have noticed the addition of a burgeoning meadow! Pallavi Sen, Assistant Professor of Art at the College, was behind the decision to create a meadow on the side of the building. Here, she talks to us about the meadow, why she pushed for it, and what it will bring to campus.

The meadow is made of native grasses, pollinators, flowers, shrubs, and plants that have adapted to this region. It’s a project for many seasons and years, and new life will be added to it as I learn more about the plants in this region.

The desire to create this meadow came from a feeling I had many years ago that as artists and designers talk more and more about the environment, and make work ‘about’ the environment, they are still using materials that cost the planet and will leave a toxic imprint, and a life in the landfill afterwards. I was tired of these works that didn’t actually help the environment and were very narrow in their impact (seen only by the converted / an art audience) and wanted to move beyond environment/activism as metaphor and work with something more real, like real soil and plants and plant relationships. I didn’t know how to go about it at first because I don’t own land, and no one in my family does either – but I realised that projects of a certain scale are possible institutionally and so I met with Mike and Amy at the Zilkha center.

Soon after I saw a call for proposals for capital improvements that were centered around sustainability, and applied with the meadow as a project. Luckily, it was approved and that meant that not only is it entirely funded by the college, but so many people from the college and region came together to plan it; Doug Schlaefer from the Facilities dept., Hank Art from Environmental Studies, Dan Lamontagne from Countryside (a landscaping firm), Evan Wright, a student who worked on the seed list, and now the whole landscaping team that’s planting the meadow. As for why – lawns are an abomination overall – they add very little and take so much and please only certain human societies. I believe land is for everyone, especially for the futures that plants and animals imagine for themselves, and this is an act of handing that over to them, while having some control over the initial years while it’s still being birthed and taking root.

What it brings to the area, is everything. You must have noticed how much more cheerful and noisier it is as one walks to the Zilkha Center, only because of the meadow next to it. This meadow, aside from what it does for people, will bring refuge and food to so many creatures, give us an opportunity to restore the land to what should be growing on it instead of a grass monoculture and asphalt, and will hopefully become an attractor for butterflies and bees and birds as it thrives.

From a human perspective, it’s a privilege to be in the company of vibrant life, that sustains itself, that grows, and that enriches its environment. In that way what it brings to us is an example of how to live, produce, design, procreate, give, flourish, and then also, disappear. (without creating tonnes of waste like humans do).