By Charity Webster, Contributing Writer.
The New Commons Project in collaboration with the Maine Humanities Council is facing the end of its five year grant this spring, at which point the public humanities initiative will be forced to adapt or conclude. The New Commons Project is a humanities initiative that brings cultural works to UMF.
“At this point we don’t know what the post-grant future will look like, but I am very hopeful that someone will want to build on the success of the New Commons Project and apply for a follow-up grant,” Co-director and co-author for the grant Kristen Case said.
Case has been with the project from the beginning. The total budget for the grant which was provided by the Mellon Foundation was $500,000. The grant was used to hire project coordinators Dr. Stephen Grandchamp and Dr. Erika Rodriguez. Other expenses included paying visiting scholars and artists who come to campus events.
“Part of the intent of the grant is to bring world-class speakers and performers to the area, giving both students and community members opportunities to engage cultural works in ways they wouldn’t otherwise be able to in a small, rural town,” Case said. “We wanted to do something to foster the sense of the university as a resource not only for students but also for the wider community.”
The project has provided avenues for community engagement and opportunities for individuals to come together and have otherwise difficult conversations in a safe place. She said they are extremely proud specifically about the conversations the New Commons Project has fostered around race, immigration, and Indigenous history. Each month they feature one of the 24 cultural works that were proposed by students, faculty and members within the community.
“The hope is to continue it not exactly as it is but in some capacity when the grant runs out” said Co-Director, Stephen Grandchamp.
Currently with The New Common Project and Co-Sponsored with Emery Hall is a cultural work called Reimagining Real. UMF assistant professor of Visual Arts Ann Bartges and Emery director Kristen Case curate “a broad survey of artworks by local and nationally-recognized artists engaging the legacy of realism in the 21st century, continuing, complicating or contesting this tradition.” (Found on the Emery Community Arts Page). This exhibition is free and open to the public till October 21st. Also coming soon are workshops on artist Andrew Whyeth and his painting “Christina’s World”
All events are free and open to the public. https://newcommonsproject.org for more information.
Zion Hodgkin Contributing Writer
English professor Sabine Klein sits in the small chair in the corner of her office, going over the information she’ll be discussing in her upcoming talk at UMF. “It’s about Norridgewock, well, specifically the horrific massacre of Native Americans that happened there. My talk is about the way that we sort of keep the memory of Norridgewock alive and why we do it.”
Klein will be giving her talk at the Emery Arts Center, on Oct. 23 at 11:45 a.m. It will be hosted by the New Commons Project, a group dedicated to looking at culture, both of the past and the present. Professor of English Kristen Case, the head of the New Commons Project, will be introducing Klein and discussing some of her accolades.
“She is a scholar of early American literature, her area of expertise is pre-colonial literature of the Americas,” Case says, “she really is an expert in this time period and in this region. Even though she’s an English professor here, her work is very historically informed. A lot of uncovering, and re-reading historical texts of all kinds, in order to be aware of more than one narrative about a specific moment in time.”
In learning about historical events, locally or on a global scale, it is generally difficult to escape a one-sided view of the events that transpired. It harkens to the age old saying, “History is always written by the winners.” Klein wants to simultaneously explore that concept when thinking about the local tragedy, and expand upon the awareness that students have of the event.
“What I realized is that we have this place of a massacre. . .but what’s even more interesting is the way that different communities have used the massacre to talk about the past,” she said.
“I’m going to talk about some of the monuments and literature that were affiliated with or written about that particular place in the 19th century. But, what’s interesting,” She grins a little to herself before adding “again, is that what happens in the 1820’s and 1830’s is that there’s an attempt to solidify American identity.”
“But the way that it’s being done is by basically writing about Indians, but writing about Indians as sort of the people, well” she pauses for a second, collecting her thoughts, “it’s the vanishing Indian trope. So this is the idea where people at the time were like ‘oh my god it’s so sad,’ and so you have this nostalgia of all the bad stuff that happened, but that nostalgia is a way of celebrating the new nation.”
Klein wants to explore how the memorialization of the massacre “serves Americans of English descent, versus Americans of French descent, versus Native Americans.” Each of the groups’ ancestral lines were directly involved in the massacre, and Klein will analyze how each of these groups of people are subsequently benefitting from the way the event is remembered, or not remembered.
Cali Turner, a student and an active member of the New Commons Project, is interested to see what the event has to offer, and wants to learn more about how people are affected by the different ways in which a story is told and remembered.
“I’m excited just to be able to further my education on the area I’m in,” Turner says, “I’m from Maine, but I’m not from Farmington, and it seems like especially with the other things we’ve been doing in New Commons, I think it’s important to be learning about the history, like the land and the people, and to be aware of some of the darker parts about it, because I didn’t even know that the Norridgewock Massacre was a thing.”
Turner also speculated about how historical events are remembered, and the way details are made available about those events. “I think our generation has gotten a bit better at being able to see all sides of an event,” she says, “I think for a long time people were only really able to learn by what they read from one history book, and now, because of how we were raised and because of our access to the internet, more recent generations have developed their own opinions.”
She continued, “We’ve gotten to the point now that most of us understand what’s okay and what isn’t. Or at least to where we can see multiple sides of an event, and know that what one source is saying, isn’t always the entire story.”
This semester, the New Commons Project is focusing specifically on Native history and issues in the state of Maine, and Klein’s talk will target an incredibly important and defining moment in Native history, very close to home.
Case thinks this event will be a “great opportunity for people who are interested in the history of this region, particularly the Native history of this region, to learn about one of the pivotal moments in that colonial time period. Learning about that history is vitally important in efforts to recognize the presence of the Abenaki in this region, not only then but also today.”
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/.