By Eryn Finnegan Editor-in-Chief
After months of anticipation and speculation, UMF professors, students and community members gathered in Emery Arts Center to learn which culturally significant works will be taught next school year as the next phase of the New Commons Project begins.
The project was initially met with 155 submissions from 12 counties across the state. From 155, the submissions were narrowed down to 25, and from there to the final 12. The final 12 submissions range from novels to television shows to albums and are meant to showcase cultural works that Farmington and the state of Maine in general finds important and that needs to be taught now.
The final 12 nominations are the American Canoe, Persuasion by Jane Austen, The Simpsons, poetry collection Dirt Road Home by Cheryl Savageau, jazz musician John Coltrane’s album Alabama, street artist Banksy, The Wire, Beethoven’s 6th Symphony, the FEDCO Seed Catalogue, rapper Kendrick Lamar’s album DAMN, James Baldwin’s essay The Fire Next Time, and the novel Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai.
Kristen Case, a UMF English professor and the head of the New Commons Project, commented that almost every selection had the aim of teaching the audience a lesson. From there, the submissions were narrowed down to two categories: those that teach us lessons such as raising awareness about a political or social issue, and those that teach us values such as love and especially empathy.
“You told us that these works should teach us how to empathize with one another,” Case said as she beamed at the audience. “You told us we should reflect on powerful social critiques, such as James Baldwin’s essay and Kendrick Lamar’s album, acknowledge works that were groundbreaking for their time, such as the canoe, or that they should be personally helpful.”
Astra Pierson, the student representative on the New Commons committee, also commented on some of the works, noting that many works held regional significance as well as personal beauty.
“You told us that we need these works because they teach us about the world, break traditional forms, exercise freedoms, and take risks,” Pierson said. “These nominations provide critiques, speak to this place [Maine] and landscape and people, and help us make it through the hard times.”
Christine Darrohn, another English professor, is optimistic about the works chosen and is thrilled about the broad range of mediums and people represented.
“I’m so excited to see so many different ethnicities and countries and orientations represented!” Darrohn said. “There are so many different pieces and the things you could teach about each of them are endless.”
Prior to the unveiling of the final 12, UMF hosted poet and essayist Lewis Hyde, who spoke “in defense of the cultural commons” and offered his insights into the project, noting that some of the works may run into copyright issues.
Starting in September, The New Commons Project will be taught amongst various entry level courses, as well as its own dedicated class: “Topics in Humanities: The New Commons,” listed as HUM-277H on the mycampus schedule planner under the category “humanities.” According to Case, the methods of teaching these works will range anywhere from writing essays to performing music in concerts based off of the material.
The New Commons Project is made possible by a grant from the Mellon Foundation and the Maine Humanities Council.
To learn more about The New Commons nominations, visit the website at http://newcommons.umf.maine.edu/.