By Scott Merzbach for the Daily Hampshire Gazette
AMHERST – An aerial view of the Connecticut River and surrounding watershed in Massachusetts will be a focal point for visitors as they proceed through the new 9,000-square-foot living building being constructed for the Hitchcock Center for the Environment on the Hampshire College campus.
The image — to be painted onto the concrete floor over the next three weeks by Asheville, North Carolina artist Tom Schulz — will provide an element of art and nature intersecting inside the $5.8 million building that will use net zero water and net zero energy and produce net zero waste.
This piece and other artwork are being supported by a $148,586 federal grant from the Institute for Museum and Library Services. The grant will cover half the costs of “Learning from Nature,” a plan designed to take ecological concepts taught at the Hitchcock Center and render them in a series of interpretative and interactive displays.
U.S. Congressman James McGovern, who visited the 845 West St. site Wednesday morning to announce the award, said the Hitchcock Center submitted an exceptional application and gave federal officials with the agency, the primary source of federal support for the 123,000 libraries and 35,000 museums across the country, an understanding about how complicated ecological topics are brought to life.
“What a wonderful concept this is,” McGovern said.
The new center, McGovern said, will provide a powerful way to educate the next generation on pressing environmental and energy issues, observing that more than 8,000 children and adults participate in its programs, with about one third coming from low-income families.
“I hope it will also be a learning tool for politicians who might come through the area,” McGovern said.
The latest award comes after an additional $500,000 was committed for the building project by the state’s Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs in May. That state agency has provided $1.33 million for the project.
Hitchcock Center Executive Director Julie Johnson said the grant will help create an interface between art — including photography, painting and poetry — and a traditional focus on nature, transforming the building into an active teaching tool.
“It’s our first federal grant for the project,” Johnson said. And, she said, “it’s a significant grant.”
The Building for Future fundraising campaign will be used to match the federal grant dollar for dollar, Johnson said.
She said she hopes the federal agency will offer more funding in the future. “Given the bigger vision we have we hope they will continue to support a growing program around exhibits.”
Johnson said the Hitchcock Center intends to be part of the cultural village at Hampshire that includes the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art and the Yiddish Book Center. The Hitchcock Center has already pledged to be a host site for a portion of a traveling exhibit from the Carle.
Schulz, who runs EnnisArt, said the to-scale watershed illustration will be on the floor in a room where several large tanks represent a portion of the roof rain-capture system that includes a 7,500-gallon on-site reservoir.
Applying his work to the floor will be challenging, since painting concrete doesn’t always match artwork done on a canvas, Schulz said. “We want the true spirit, the authentic spirit, of what the original painting is.”
Daniel de Wit, design associate for EnnisArt, said the illustration will created using Prosoco, a concrete dye that is eco-friendly, rather than an acid stain that wouldn’t meet the requirements of the living building.
McGovern, who got a tour of the under-construction building after previously visiting the current site at 525 South Pleasant St. said that he was happy to be in his congressional district, but quipped that he shouldn’t be misunderstood.
“It’s not as a big a compliment as it seems,” said McGovern, who recently participated in a sit-in related to a Democratic push for gun control at the U.S. Capital. “A root canal is preferable to being in Washington.”
Scott Merzbach can be reached at email@example.com
Original article here.