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Wilsonart and Interlochen Center for the Arts Celebrate the Transformation of The Riley Woods Forest through Art, Song, Dance and Planting Hundreds of Trees


TEMPLE, Texas, May 07 /CSRwire/ - For a week in April, high school students from Interlochen Center for the Arts joined filmmaker and Interlochen artist-in-residence Lydia Hicks to highlight progress in the transformation of Riley Woods, a 10-acre red pine plantation forest located right on the Interlochen campus. The Riley Woods transformation is part of Ecology classes at Interlochen Arts Academy where students learn not only about biodiversity and the critical importance of maintaining healthy ecosystems, but also how to express these complicated issues through art. Wilsonart, a world-leading creator of beautiful engineered surfaces, provided funding for this one-of-a-kind class as part of the company’s commitment to escalate awareness of global forestry issues and end the use of endangered woods in architecture and design.  

“Forests may be the lungs of the Earth, but they have been choking and shutting down for decades,” noted Mary Ellen Newport, PhD and Director of the R.B. Annis Science Division and Ecology teacher at Interlochen. “The pine plantation forest on Interlochen’s campus is basically a tree farm. Planted after it was timbered 100 years ago, tree farms are a monoculture which create a vulnerability for the forest and require thinning. Without thinning, the trees eventually fall and decay, releasing their carbon back out into the atmosphere. The pines need to be thoughtfully harvested to allow healthy trees to continue to stand. The next step is planting new native trees and ground cover to support the forest regeneration and ultimately a more biodiverse habitat for mammals and birds.” The grant from Wilsonart has provided funding for the necessary thinning, for tree replanting and given Dr. Newport’s students an opportunity to express complex issues of carbon capture, biodiversity, deforestation and habitat destruction through their art. 

This year, the students’ expressed what they learned out in the woods through music, writing, filmmaking and dance, all intended to kickstart a conversation about an issue which is not just important – it’s urgent. Students have woven their understanding of local forestry issues with the global concerns around climate change. Ecology students presented their new-found understandings with the entire Interlochen Arts Academy student body. They created new and unique collaborative works of art to communicate to their arts colleagues the imperative of care-taking natural ecosystems. “Science and art aren’t as different as we often think they are,” noted guest artist Lydia Hicks who worked with the students on their projects. “The crux of being a scientist is to go through the world and wonder and come up with questions. It’s the same process for artists. These students have asked themselves very difficult environmental questions and expressed answers and a point of view as only artists can.”         

For the second year, students also planted hundreds of native tree saplings and ground cover throughout the various sections of Riley Woods where trees have been thinned. They planted local genotypes of shagbark hickory, tulip poplar, American chestnut, American hazelnut and witch hazel. In some of the sandier, unstable areas, highbush blueberry and American beachgrass have been introduced to stabilize soil and encourage soil production.

“The Interlochen partnership is an important component of Understanding Wood: Sourcing Against the Grain,” noted Tammy Weadock, Marketing Communications Manager at Wilsonart. “This next generation of architects, artists and designers can play an enormous role in changing public attitudes and encouraging action on critical issues. High school students have already shown how their young voices can capture public attention and inspire change. We are thrilled that they are doing this for an issue Wilsonart is committed to.”

The transformation of the Riley Woods forest is being chronicled on video and on blog posts created by the students and teachers. Visit back and watch how the forest is transforming and for new works of art created by the students. Phase three will commence in September 2019, when the students return to Interlochen for another school year. 

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