‘Earth! One’ Makes Appearance Near Campus Pond

“Earth! One”
“Earth! One”

As Earth Day 2021 approached, a peculiar object began to take shape on the campus of UMass Amherst. The timing was apt, as the structure, a 24-foot-diameter art installation called “Earth! One,” is also a message about the imminent dangers of climate change and the hope it can inspire to combat it.

A multidisciplinary effort, “Earth! One” brought together students from the department of theater in the College of Humanities and Fine Arts; the School of Public Policy; College of Social and Behavioral Sciences; the department of environmental conservation; and the School of Earth and Sustainability– students who may not normally collaborate on academic projects.

About a year and a half ago, Charlie Schweik, professor of public policy and environmental conservation, and Michael Cottom, senior lecturer of technical theater, met at one of the UMass Amherst All-Campus Makerspace locations. These spaces allow for cross-collaborative DIY projects.

Cottom approached Schweik about teaming up to create a kind of pop-up art performance to commemorate Earth Day. They brought together their students and they ultimately conceptualized the idea of “Earth! One.”

Then the pandemic hit. Unable to do anything in person, the instructors and students spent the better part of last semester fine tuning their ideas. The theater tech students were tasked with designing, fabricating and installing “Earth! One” as part of its outdoor production of “The Rights of Spring.” The public policy students were charged with creating the messaging. The student-researched slide show presented approximately forty “public problems” related to climate change and the environment more generally, each followed with hopeful messages on what humans are doing to address them.

“Part of what we’re trying to convey is environmental policy and a piece of that is agenda setting, and so this piece is a communication piece to explain both the bad things that are happening with climate change, and the other message on this is hope,” said Schweik. “Ultimately what we’re doing in the piece is, we have four data projectors internal to the piece, and in each one of those projectors we have slideshows that each student has produced -- a bad slide about a particular environmental problem, and then a good slide.”

“Earth! One” is not intended to be alarmist. Its goals are to expeditiously devise and relay solutions to climate change, to generate new ideas by connecting seemingly unrelated disciplines and to inspire students who have endured a tumultuous year.

“Having Professor Charlie’s class come in and say what if we do it this way, what if we represent it this way, has been a breath of fresh air,” said Tomasz Dvorak, a political science major.

“The idea that we have a project like this coming out in spring time when we’ve got a little hope about the pandemic, this project I think, my sense is, has given students energy and something positive to do during the semester,” added Schweik. “I hope people that view this will take a sense of awe in what our students can achieve at UMass. And I hope viewers of this see the importance and exciting opportunities of cross-disciplinary collaboration.”

Keeping in line with its overall message, once “Earth! One” is dismantled, it will be recycled. “We have plans for pretty much all the material once we’ve taken it down that we’re going to reuse in various projects,” said Schweik. But Schweik hopes this won’t mark the end of “Earth! One;” rather, he hopes new iterations will pop up here in the Connecticut River Valley and beyond.

“I’d love to see ‘Earth! One’ go to Amherst College for ‘Earth! Two,’ and move to Smith College for ‘Earth! Three,’ with students adding new ideas to the project and letting it evolve,” said Schweik.