Inspirations for Musketaquid’s Origins

March 27, 2015 by Jess

Musketaquid Arts And Environment: 25 Years of Celebrating the Confluence of Art and Nature

Blog 2 of 5

written by Deb Richardson

The year 1990 marked the 20th anniversary of National Earth Day. I approached Ellie Bemis with the idea of co-teaching a spring art class for children at the Emerson Umbrella to honor that event. After all, Concord has always been regarded as a “hotbed of environmentalism”, first springing from the pens of Emerson and Thoreau. Our town is characterized  by large tracts of conservation land with rivers that flow through those beautiful fields and woodlands. We wanted to raise awareness of and respect for our local wild animals and their habitats. We named this new class “The Critter Crusade” in homage to singer Bill Staines’ folk song, “All God’s Critters Got a Place in the Choir.” We taught our young group of 6-9 year olds how to papier-mache their animal masks and sculptures using recycled newspapers and paper bags. We discussed their habitats, some endangered, as we modeled and painted. When completed, we paraded around the building with our critters. The seeds for an annual Earth Day celebration had been planted.

Within the next 2 years, with the help of Mark Dannenhauer’s wonderful mastery of giant puppet making and parade production, we merged our efforts with C.C.King’s lovely Earth Float tributes to the river. All three visions led to an event that has played out for 25 years.

This spirit of collaboration and community outreach has continued to be the hallmark of this celebration that has come to be called “Musketaquid”, the Algonquin name for Concord, meaning “place where the waters flow through the grasses.” In 1995, the 25th anniversary of National Earth Day and the 125th anniversary of Thoreau’s stay at Walden, I  had the idea of  producing an Earth Day Environmental Expo at Monument Hall where the Concord community could gather and become familiar with the many local environmental groups and their missions, while viewing art and nature projects from Umbrella classes and local schools. Ellie and Dan Monahan, the town Natural Resources Director, joined rank as key organizers. Over time, this expo evolved into the environmental arts festival held on the lawn of the Umbrella each Spring. The art show has become an annual Earth Month Exhibit, originally organized by Ellie, and now carried forward by Pam Bracco.

Also in 1995,  Jeannie Abbott, a local artist and environmentalist, joined the MQ Steering Committee. Through the years she has contributed her poignant ideas, artful graphics, drawings and parade projects that have trumpeted our annual themes. She and Mark transformed our parading into artistic masterpieces.

The millennium celebration was augmented by the insinuation of the entire Alcott elementary school into the parade. Ellie and I had met with the principal, Phil Benincasa, who enthusiastically  rallied the faculty’s support for the idea. I worked with Bob Fardy, the science coordinator for the elementary schools, to come up with art projects that could be used in the Earth Day parade while teaching aspects of the spring earth science curriclulum such as the metamorphosis of a butterfly and pollination by bees. We had swarms of bees, skittering beetles, fields of sunflowers and colorful butterflies flitting through the parade. There were painted banners of local habitats splashing more  color into the tide of children and their families. At the festival the 5th grade chorus enthusiastically sang Tom Chapin’s signature song, “This Pretty Planet.” Within the next few years, we embraced this same anthem after forming our own MQ chorus, Voices of the Earth.

Today, Musketaquid is a year round program of the Umbrella offering a multitude of classes, workshops and solstice celebrations as well. Musketaquid continues to be a confluence of ideas flowing from enthusiastic steering committee members, inspiring teachers, a creative and dedicated Coordinator, Nancy Lippe, and a broad range of participants. With awareness of climate change, we all share the sense of urgency in protecting the wild and ourselves by acting locally and thinking globally. Art provides such a wonderful platform for this message. Awareness is now translating into action. As so succinctly put by H.D. Thoreau,“In wildness is the preservation of the world”.

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