Our History

Appendix A
The Creating Landscapes Idea:
A Process of Questioning, Collaborating, and Leveraging Resources
The aesthetic dimension of human life extends across a wide range of human activities: and we ought to regard it as an inalienable human potentiality, as fundamental as the capacity for language.  If a society cannot provide a facilitating environment within which the aesthetic potential of all of its members can find appropriate expression, then that society has failed.
Peter Fuller



Reflection is the active, persistent, and careful consideration of any belief or supposed form of knowledge in the light of the grounds that support it and the further conclusions to which it tends.

John Dewey (1933) How We Think:

A restatement of the relation of reflective thinking to the educative process.


This paper is a reflection.  It documents almost thirty year exploration into what ultimately has become The Creating Landscapes Idea.


Early in the inquiry process a long awaited interview with Maxine Greene, Foundations of Education Professor at Teachers College was at hand.  In preparation I had spent more than a year immersed in the philosophical writings of William James and John Dewey.  Less than 5 minutes into our conversation Maxine said: “Don’t tell me what you know, I know all that! Tell me what you want to know, then, I’ll know what you know.” 


And with that, the world of inquiry shifted!


Questions began to guide a quarter-century journey into the animating and mystifying realm of aesthetic experience—What is it?  What does it mean?  Why does it matter?




… all possibilities reach us through the imagination.

Dewey 1934/62, p.43


Creating Landscapes is the overarching name given to six distinct educational programs.  Four extend into the community of Northwest Pennsylvania from the Dance and Movement Studies Program of Allegheny College (Creating Landscapes at Allegheny College) and two are grounded in the needs of the Meadville Community (Creating Landscapes Learning Center, Inc.).   The six programs work in close collaboration with one another, each serving as a practical example of participant imaginative agency at work.  Wasn’t it Walter Isaacson who told us that imagination without reflection is just hallucination?


The evolving vision for Creating Landscapes is collaborative; it began in 1990 from the perceived need of Allegheny dance students to have an opportunity to apply insights generated by their studies in the studio to real life educational venues.  The scope of the vision now extends to include the aesthetic potential of local intergenerational groups of infants, children, young and older adults, parents and grandparents.


A single question inspired the original Creating Landscapes Summer Program in 1990:


  • As we age, what happens to the songs and dances we all so readily created in early childhood?


Even as that program began to take shape, two other essential questions became clear:


  • Is the human appetite for original song, dance, and story a cultivatable and sustainable capacity for us all?
  • How best to investigate? 


These questions inspired an inquiry path along which the following markers emerged. First the  belief that song, dance and story are indeed aspects of the human endowment.  Second, that the serious play of art making provides imaginative expressive form while generating ideas, accessing feelings, appreciating individual uniqueness, establishing community and deepening personal capacity for aesthetic experience, wonder and joy.  And third, within these activities, neural connections are being formed that underlie gross and fine motor skills, sensory and perceptual processing, basic learning and problem solving skills, and higher order thinking—both critical and intuitive/imaginative.


Over the next twenty-four years those very questions drove all Landscapes programs to design learning encounters in the arts and sciences that go beyond traditional dualisms, distinctions, and separations.  Landscapes curriculum and pedagogic practices encourage interconnections: feeling and reason; action and perception; theory and practice; expression and reflection; self and community; personal insights and large ideas; town and gown.  And while our thinking and programming have evolved, our commitment to joyful, intergenerational, interdisciplinary, and active learning in the arts and sciences has not wavered.  Each of our six programs leverages the resource of our liberal arts heritage of strong and passionate teachers working in small groups with excited students. Each of our six programs provides a venue for piloting fresh insights and imaginative ideas about teaching, learning, thinking, creating, relationship, aesthetic aliveness, collaboration, and community building.


Each of our six programs is also collaborative.  As a matter of fact, collaboration and the capacity to leverage resources are essential to the sustainability of the Creating Landscapes Idea.  Allegheny College, home of the original Summer Landscapes Program also hosts Landscapes collaborations with The Pennsylvania Department of Education Intermediate Unit # 5 (IU#5), three public school districts of Northwest Pennsylvania (Crawford Central School District, Conneaut and PENNCREST).  In addition, the off campus programs have received funds in their pilot phases from the Allegheny College/Schools Collaborative, Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, Arts Erie, The Department of Human Services and area churches, businesses and community members. In 2017 Landscapes satellite programs include:


1)    Teachers Intensives in Aesthetic Education have been offered in collaboration with IU#5 and area school districts.  Participants receive Pennsylvania Department of Education Graduate Credits;

2)     The Gifted/Talented Collaboration, now in its 19th year, brings more than 400 middle and high school students from three local school districts to the Allegheny College Campus twelve times each academic year to participate in enrichment experiences. 

3)    The Adult Learning Force has provided the gifted/talented program with an intergenerational dimension since 2008 by leveraging the student enrichment experiences to provide new fields of adventure and growth for participating life long adult learners. 

4)    Creating Landscapes for Families (2009) is made up of two inter-related programs.  From October through April, participating families meet twice weekly at the Unitarian Universalist Church for after school enrichment and nutritional education by together preparing, serving and sharing supper.  Following are ‘need to know’ evening programs initiated by family members.  In 2010, from May through September, Families began gardening at the Ackerman farm where they learned ways of nature by planting, nurturing, and harvesting the vegetables, fruits and flowers of their choice in order to nourish their fall/winter/spring program.  After three years, with the encouragement of the local Re-development Authority, Families moved their garden into their home neighborhood.

5)    The Learning Center (2011) is a state licensed, independent, K-8 elementary school (which began as K-2) comprised of non-traditional multi-aged classrooms that offer interdisciplinary thematic units as well as explorations of unique hands on aesthetic learning.


Each of these five Creating Landscapes learning programs has its own story.  This paper, however, tells the story of the original Summer Landscapes program, the questions that defined its direction, and the lessons that guide its life in the world.


Summer Landscapes, our learning laboratory, is a three-week problem based program for children and teens focused on creating both statements of science and expressions of art.  Interdisciplinary explorations are focused toward forming questions, making connections, and finding expression.  Our program of serious play is grounded in the belief that processes of thinking and making meaning are active, whole body-mind experiences.  Learning happens within a mutually supportive diverse and intergenerational community of more than 150 participants.  The program also supports up to 10 Allegheny student interns each summer who come to us not only from the dance studio but also from other disciplines: for example psychology, political science, and environmental studies.


Five goals focus our energy as each day our faculty of artist/scientist/educators: 1) strive to support individual curiosity and expression; 2) help each other learn to think in more connected and critical ways; 3) guide learning processes that include problem solving, critiquing, sharing, editing, presenting, and meaning making;  4) cultivate individual capacities for aesthetic aliveness and response and 5) support a diverse learning environment.  We are inspired by three large ideas.  Among them, John Dewey’s belief that: “No one has ever watched a child intent in his play without being made aware of the complete merging of playfulness with seriousness”. Then, from Maxine Greene, the charge to “… interpret from as many vantage points as possible lived experience, the ways there are of being in the world.” And finally neuroscientist Antonio Damasio tells us that feeling is integral to the processes of reasoning, meaning making, and aesthetic aliveness.


To provide context, when we began in 1990 we called ourselves Children’s Creative Arts.  In our first summer a single dance student who shared our interest in arts education joined us.  We called her an Allegheny student intern. Together, with 30 children, between the ages of 5 and 10 years old, we explored ways children express feelings and relationships at the interface of writing, rhythm, and creative dance.


We all grew together on multiple levels as each succeeding summer we added another expressive area to our curriculum and another year of age to our student population.  We added  visual art, creative drama/story telling, and vocal music, in that order.  In the summer of 1994, the year we added the vocal music component, we discovered an overarching theme of inquiry.  The theme, ‘Listen, here it comes again’ was chosen to remind ourselves that while we introduce new ideas each year, we also return to old ideas with ever-deepening appreciation. We delighted in noting our spiral like evolution. Themes over past summers have been selected and implemented with an emphasis on their accessibility from multiple and interdisciplinary perspectives.  Popular themes have included:  making connections, transitions, tension, opposites, darkness/light/shadow, time, and rhythm/patterns/cycles.


Our pedagogic style also evolved.  One rhythm faculty member in particular insisted: “its summer after all; we have to have fun!”  To insure compliance, from time to time his imaginary friend Stan visited the closing event of the day, the reflecting circle, to complain about ‘lessons’ that involved too much talking and not enough doing.  Stan’s presence encouraged the other children to tell about ‘fun’ and ‘not so fun’ experiences.  Faculty listened, and we learned about learning.  John Dewey’s insight about serious play helped a lot.  We dedicated ourselves to hands-on, child-centered problem solving learning activities and to working in durational time; which to us came to mean-- “It takes as long as it takes.”  And so, very early on in our own way, we were addressing the point made in Time Magazines August 2, 2010 cover story by David Von Drehle:


            As our modern-day reformers strive to civilize summer as an educational resource,

            the trick is to seize the opportunity without destroying what’s best about the season:

            the possibility of fun and freedom and play.

p. 38


That same summer we noticed a growing number of 11-and 12-year olds among our student population (‘landscapers’ were growing older and the majority of them returned each summer), so we divided the group into Novices (five-seven year olds) and Players (eight-twelve year olds).   Creating two distinct groups of learners, with their own faculty and teaching schedules, made a significant difference in the quality of each program.  We could not have been stronger! We discovered that we could have two learning groups and maintain program coherence if we began and ended the four-hour learning day together.  First thing in the morning we gathered to sing together - creating and crafting original songs inspired by our theme. This also led to the introduction of “Landscapes vocabulary”—accumulative collection of words and/or phrases that captured various components of the ongoing experience.  These were kept posted in a common space and used as touch points throughout the session.  To compliment the morning meeting, at the end of each day the children, faculty and staff gathered together with the opportunity to share and reflect upon memorable moments.   They could, by volunteering,  present for each other those aspects of their creative work that had been particularly meaningful.  In these opening and closing rituals, the emphasis was on encouraging student voices to emerge.  In between the ritual opening and closing events students in small groups explored the potential for creative expression through various arts disciplines with the guidance of established artist-educators. 


In this early context a sense of coherence marked our investigations and eloquence marked student expression.  Highly imaginative, well crafted, and meaningful work emerged from an enthusiastic community of 50 students, five faculty, and six Allegheny student interns.  At our culminating exhibition/performance of original song, dance, story and visual art there was a standing ovation. We were euphoric because we thought, in this our fifth year, we had figured it out!


Our fields of experience have no more definite boundaries than have our fields of view. Both are fringed forever by a ‘more’ that continuously develops, and that continuously supersedes them as life proceeds.


William James, A World of Pure Experience. (1904/1996 p. 71)


Question – Second Round


Our enthusiasm was short lived. When our faculty gathered for evaluating and planning, we heard ourselves wondering:


·       Isn’t there more?


We were concerned that our arts faculty did not have a rich enough understanding of the physical processes of the natural world to responsibly guide meaningful explorations into many of the ‘why’ and ‘how’ questions our students were asking.  For instance, in music class students were asking about sound.  In dance class they were asking about gravity and momentum; in art class others questioned the relationship between light and color--and so on.  Also missing was an understanding of physiological and neural processes activated within the learning that occurs.  We began to look to the ‘discipline’ of neuroscience to validate the inclusion of feeling in our process of learning.


Clearly, our habitual meanings for ‘interdisciplinary’ and ‘aesthetic’ were confining.  So anxious were we to make certain that interdisciplinary inquiry included the arts in general and dance in particular, that we had created our own exclusions.  With that realization in mind we came back to Maxine Greene’s insistence that we “… interpret from as many vantage points as possible lived experience, the ways there are of being in the world”


Program Evolution and Implementation


Evolving from Maxine’s powerful perspective outlined in her text Landscapes of Learning (1978]  we added Math/Science to our curriculum in 1995 and we choose Rhythms, Patterns, and Cycles as our first truly interdisciplinary theme.  That year we also added two new programs, one at each end of the age spectrum.  Our families told us we needed to begin our work with children before they had a school experience, so we inaugurated the Pre-Kindergarten Program for three, four, and five year-olds.  Because we found it hard to say good-by to our twelve year olds we also began an Apprentice Program for middle school students who had attended Creating Landscapes in previous years.  While apprentices had their own program in the afternoon, in the morning they worked with faculty to support Pre-Kindergarten, Novice, and Player students.  We called this morning experience a ‘work-study’ position because working apprentices earned a 33% tuition remission.  For most it was a first “job”.


Sad to report, the year we added math and science to our inquiry we lost the ‘dance’!  In the final share of their work the children’s movement was mechanical and obviously more about remembering than expressing—thus dis-embodied. In losing the dance, however, we learned a really important lesson—that there is a radical difference between a bodily-kinesthetic exploration of an idea, and, ‘dance’.  Dance is the art and craft of movement, and making dances is about making critical choices at the interface of thinking and feeling (Dale, Hollerman, Hyatt).  The dance was lost when we failed to remember that the ‘why’ at the heart of children’s dance--of all impulse to dance--is feeling!


For the next 10 years we continued to refine a structure to support our evolution of “serious play” as a holistic strategy for learning and teaching that included the math and science curriculum while also seeking ways to incorporate the richness of feeling.  In some respects we were for-shadowing our twenty-first century quest for animating STEM with STEAM.


Questions – Third Round


Our 1995 quest was daunting!  Our questions formed around How, is it possible and even if interdisciplinary themes, large ideas, and inter-age learning is do-able?  Questions that emerged from our summer inclusion of math and science were three in number and they were huge:


·       How can the essential nature and integrity of each discipline be honored in an interdisciplinary learning environment?

·       Is it even possible to simultaneously construct a shared inquiry (and by shared inquiry, we mean carefully listening to each other, the children and ourselves) and still find expressive and authentic form for ideas and feelings, at all—let along within a three-week time frame?

·       If individual aesthetic perspectives need to be negotiated in the service of collaboration--what happens to integrity?


The perceived hegemony of mathematical and scientific certainty was overwhelming our enterprise of holistic inquiry through serious play.  There was no room for the vulnerability, chaos, and ambiguity of the art-making process.  We understood that such a division did not need to exist and felt our work might be able to bridge the rift with our emphasis on aesthetic experience.


Neuroscientist Antonio Damasio offered hope and his words began to guide us through the maze.


Contrary to traditional scientific opinion, feelings are just as cognitive as other percepts.  They are the result of a most curious physiological arrangement that has turned the brain into the body’s captive audience.  1994.pg xv


Over the next ten years we evolved a format that met our needs.   Each aspect of our program played a significant role in the fulfillment of our goals.   Orientation developed to familiarize program participants and their parents with the physical geography of Creating Landscapes, its faculty, and overarching navigation guidelines.  Daily classes (45 hours over the three week period) became laboratories of exploration where students found questions, investigated, created expressive forms, critically reflected, edited, and learned how to experience presence. The 30 minute share each day not only developed presence in performance, it let parents in on our processes. Exhibition and performance as culminating experiences helped students understand the roles craft, reflection and editing played in preparation for presentation of creative and scientific work.  Our production of the CD of original music illuminated recording processes and provided ‘hard copy’ of creative musical work.  The same was true of our CD of student visual art and book of student writing. Weekly improvisations provided opportunities for dancers and musicians to become mindful of the ways individual moment-by-moment choices contribute to group expressive experiences. Finally, our family picnic had become an invitation to alumni, parents, siblings, and friends to “join the dance”.  All came, and together all danced!


We were also affirmed by findings reported in Champions of Change: the Impact of the Arts on learning (2002).  Creating Landscapes more than fulfilled almost every one of the criteria articulated in the report for quality arts learning experiences: direct involvement with artists, self-directed learning opportunities, and sustained engagement with the processes of art making, challenging and complex learning experiences--we were doing it all.  And, by walking the walk of creating an educational program where new and different ideas about teaching and learning were always being explored, our faculty development was built in and on going.  For example: when the children, with the guidance of the teacher who was also a neuroscientist, explored ‘the dance of inhibitory neurons’ the faculty began to buzz.  They noticed that inhibition was active; that it required action.  They made the connection between nutrition, energy, and a student’s ability to focus.  They also considered the connection between fatigue, and ‘acting-out’ and that perhaps the inability to inhibit anti-social and unproductive behavior was not always a choice…and seeds for our nutrition program were planted.    


A more than 60% return rate among students and the fact that increasingly many of our apprentices had begun as Pre-K participants offered still more evidence that we were on the right track.  Our rapidly increasing student population and the level of sophistication of student work in the collection of student books and CDs offered additional evidence.  Finally, we took suggestions for program improvement from all concerned populations, solicited and unsolicited, very, very seriously and those suggestions contributed mightily to our ongoing program evaluation, and, as a result, our evolution.   For example: we asked the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts for help.  As a result, Nancy Pistone, a PCA arts education consultant/evaluator based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and Beth Cornel, Pennsylvania Department of Education Fine Arts and Humanities Advisor, provided significant guidance, particularly around the role of collaboration.


Learning Satellites


By 2004 we could also observe measured success in the development of Summer Landscapes ‘satellite’ programs. These programs began with Aesthetic Experiences for Teachers in 1990 that evolved into two separate opportunities for area educators to experience and explore aesthetic education.  For each of these opportunities, educators can receive graduate continuing education credits through Pennsylvania Department of Education Intermediate Unit #5 (iu5).  One of these, Thinking as a Whole Body Experience became a summer program that offered the work of Summer Creating Landscapes theme based interdisciplinary learning and teaching as it applies to academic instruction in school.  Teams of K-12 teachers and administrators design and develop interdisciplinary curricular plans for implementation in their home schools after they have spent five days (usually the middle week of the 3 week summer landscapes program) actively participating in the Summer Landscapes laboratory.  The second offering is Allegheny Arts Experiences for Teachers in which participants attend four arts events (i.e., plays, lectures, gallery openings, dance performances, concerts etc.)  at Allegheny College over the course of an academic year.  To culminate their experience teachers write curriculum for their own classrooms and students inspired by one or more of the arts occasions. Over a 25 year period more than 150 area teachers have participated in these programs, and their innovative curricular ideas have significantly enlivened K-12 learning here in Northwest Pennsylvania.  For example, the Meadville Area Middle School now offers an annual spring event that grew our of teachers participation in Aesthetic Education for Teachers.  This event, the Mamseum, transforms the school into a museum venue exhibiting student choices of intriguing cultural artifacts revealed during their study of world cultures.


Another satellite program is The Gifted/Talented Collaboration.  In fall 1999 Allegheny College’s Creating Landscapes Summer program model was extended into the academic year through the initiative of an Allegheny College fifth year intern student who had served two summers as an Allegheny Summer Landscapes student intern.  The G/T Collaboration has evolved to become Critical Thinking Immersion Programs in the Arts and Sciences.  Teams of Allegheny faculty and community professionals now annually engage more than 400 middle and high school students from three area school districts.   These are students who have either applied to the program with an essay of request and have generated recommendations from their classroom teachers or are students the school district has designated as ‘gifted’.  The designated student population participate in learning programs that emphasize the ‘landscapes’ of interdisciplinarity, large ideas, critical thinking, finding expression, aesthetic experience, and community building.  This program is an important example of the collaborative nature of the Creating Landscapes Idea: Allegheny college provided the facility (at no charge) and the school districts provide funding.


Over time, three factors have helped insure the interaction and stability of these three satellite programs.  First, all three programs are located on the Allegheny College campus.   Second, many faculty teach in all three programs.  Our many failures and successes resulted in yet another ecstatic moment.   In 2004 we believed we really had figured it out!  Our satellites were thriving, we were reaching regional educators as well as middle and high school students during the academic year.  And in our summer learning laboratory students from 3 to 16 years old were singing their original music, dancing their personal and group dances, telling their authentic stories, discovering answers to their questions, sharing insights, and learning to become present in their performances and in their lives.  Each summer they produced a CD of original music, a book of student writing, and an exhibition of visual art and science.  Each year we noted their growing confidence in their ability to engage large ideas, to solve problems, to critically reflect, and to collaborate.



Question—Fourth Round


Consequently, in 2005 we once again confidently expanded the structure of Summer Creating Landscapes--this time in three directions.   We added Co-Motion for babies, toddlers, and their caregivers.  By including babies and sometimes their grandparents (as caregivers), we extended the age range at both ends of the spectrum.


We also added an afternoon component to our Players Program (8-12 year olds), which made it possible to add a multicultural dimension to our ‘landscape.’  Called PM Players, this in-depth experience of a single area of inquiry (30 hours over three weeks) offered opportunities for exploration, experience and discussion of the rituals and ceremonies of cultures.  Drawing upon local expertise, the first three years were devoted to an in depth study of Japanese Tea Ceremony while more recently students have been exploring French Afro/Caribbean Language and Culture.  In another expansion of standard definitions, the culture of mathematics has been explored in a PM Players offering titled Mystery, Mathematics and Myth.  The afternoon program encourages students to compare and contrast ways in which communities and disciplines are both generated and celebrated.  It also makes our Summer Landscapes experience more meaningful to working families because their children were able to be with us for the entire day.


In addition, at this time we were noticing a critical number of tenth and eleventh grade students among our apprentices, we differentiated our Apprentice Program into two age groups (12-14 years old and 15-18).  Each group has their own schedule of classes, learning experiences, and work-study responsibilities.  As it turned out, however, our challenge in 2005 was not the addition of Co-Motion, or the PM Players or the Senior High Apprentices: it was to find a way to successfully integrate students with special needs. 


  • How to recognize individual gifts children bring to the learning circle?


Over the years visitors to our program always asked: “Where did all these gifted students come from?”  We answered, “These children have the gift of parents who see to it that they get to Summer Landscapes—that’s it”!  That is until 2005, when the local Child to Family Agency asked if they could send us 10 children who were in transition to foster care and/or adoption.  Most of these children were the ages of our Players.  Many required the company of a Technical Supervisory Staff person (TSS).  Many had been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder, and many required medication.  Our evolution over the past 10 years gave us both confidence and hubris. We welcomed these children because on some level we understood that the enrichment we offered our traditional Landscapes students would provide a learning environment in which  these students could thrive.


Actually it wasn’t the additional 10 students but the attending TSS staff that overwhelmed the Players.  To everyone’s dismay in the summer 2005 we again lost the grace and flow of our inquiring dance.   We attribute that to our oversight.  We did not prepare the TSS staff for our radically different learning environment with its emphasis on active, discovery learning and on the aesthetics of relationships--so critical to The Landscapes Idea.


Questions – Fifth Round: The Aesthetic of Relationships


Our failure to establish effective working relationships with the population of TSS’s who came to our learning circle was clearly a problem.  Recognition of this fact caused us to focus on the aesthetic of relationship--one important aspect being, it’s not serious play unless all participants are having fun!


  • How does the aesthetics of relationship inform and enhance our intergenerational work?
  • What exactly do we mean by learning community?
  • How can we support the explorations and expressions of students with special needs while at the same time continuing to inspire and challenge our more traditional learners?
  • Where is the best place to go for the help we need?


We happened upon a solution during a faculty exchange when one individual asked, “How many special needs kids and TSS’s were there?”  Another faculty member did a count and then quickly raised the number by two, stating she had forgotten two special needs children who had been participating in our program for several years without TSS’s.


There it was! 


Two Allegheny student interns had partnered those two children who carried a “special” diagnosis.  The interns had come from the dance studies program were the vulnerability inherent in deep listening was integral to the learning processes inherent in dance-making.  Both children and interns benefitted from the mutual respect that evolved out of their collaborations.  Most particularly, the support had been in place before the children needed it.  As a result, the two special students were easily integrated into our community of learners.  Because they produced and shared their astonishingly sophisticated work so successfully we were able to appreciate the uniqueness of their perspective rather than become distracted by their particular needs.


We believe aesthetic relationships are transformative because as we come to know another, we better know ourselves.   Dewey’s definition of “transaction” applies here. In transaction, we are aware that when we touch another, we are also being touched, quite a different experience from mere interaction.


With this realization we reconsidered the responsibilities assigned to support staff.  College interns were made aware of their potential role in evolving supportive partnerships with special needs students.  In so doing, we became aware that we were fulfilling the final criterion cited for quality arts learning experiences—“rather than see themselves as ‘at risk,’ students became managers of risk who can make decisions concerning artistic outcomes and even their lives”.  (Champions of Change: The Impact of the Arts on Learning, p.xi).

Finding Community


We identified ourselves as a community of intergenerational and very diverse and lively learners--all striving toward the goal of becoming more considerate, respectful, responsible, mutually supportive learners.  Each element of our population has a specific and clearly defined role in the evolution, shaping, and forming processes that surround our inquiries and our creative work.  Students provide questions, inspiration, and creative energy; artists, scientists, educators, instructors provide guidance; Allegheny interns provide support and partnering for students with special needs as well as contributing critical programmatic feedback; and apprentice work-study students provide modeling and develop leadership skills by interacting in a supervised situation with younger students.  Landscapes parents provide excited and exciting students, Allegheny College provides our physical home, and the Allegheny Dance and Movement Studies Program not only provides the laboratory space in which our philosophy of learning and teaching continues to evolve, but also provides the structure to support student interns.  Finally, financial support for our extensive student scholarship program now came in ever increasing amounts from the extended Meadville community, our Allegheny Dance Studies alumni, and our growing list of collaborators. 



Questions – Sixth Round


Increased support for our scholarship program resulted in an ability to offer full scholarship support for more than one third of our summer landscapes students, many of whom qualify for free and reduced school lunch during the academic year.  This population of students was invited into the summer Landscapes program because their first grade teacher understood the value of aesthetic experience in the lives of rural underserved children of poverty.  However, we had not fully addressed the role of nutrition in the evolution of personal empowerment, and that became a crucial issue. In summer 2010, the same faculty member who brought ‘Stan’ to the talking circle announced at a staff meeting, “If you are going to bring full scholarship students into the program, you need to be prepared to really feed them more than a mid-morning snack.  Kids who arrive hungry can’t focus!”  Concern for the potential success of these students brought us to another set of critical questions:


  • How will we physically feed the many children who come to us hungry?
  • What structures do we need to enable us to feed these children breakfast, snack, and lunch?
  • Who will emerge as our collaborators as we attempt to meet the challenge of hunger?


We certainly knew by now that when questions are formed, insights emerge. An Allegheny  Creating Landscapes summer intern rose to the challenge and invented the parameters of a successful nutrition program. In her words:


Although I danced for most of my life, the pressure of selecting and overload of courses each semester kept me from enrolling in a dance class until the second semester of my senior year. This modern (dance) class began to shift my perception of what dance meant for me, and I was intrigued to explore my occasional discomfort and newfound expression in a group-choreographed Bob Dylan Suite…  My dance experiences at Allegheny had been primarily technical jazz and ballet to that point, and I knew that participating in an improvisational, durational time piece would be challenging. Struggling through the first few practices, I felt my understanding of movement being disrupted by our facilitators’ challenge to be open and available, essentially requesting that we relinquish control and respond to our own and others’ inclinations and spontaneous yet mindful movement choices. My learned expectation for defined limitations to dance gave way to a newfound desire to explore my relationship with the music, other dancers, and myself through the tones of Dylan’s chords. I discovered the possibilities were endless when I allowed myself to be vulnerable and open to the unknown, and my body responded in a way I had not found in my technical training before.


Two months after the culminating performance of the Dylan Suite, I found myself in an intern position with a pilot community garden project, based on the mission to offer an aesthetically chosen plot of land for low income families to grow their own produce and find a sense of community. [I was invited] to take this position with Creating Landscapes one week before graduation, and without knowing where it would lead me, I plunged ahead into the unknown. That summer was my first dance navigating the world as a college graduate. I could not have conceived when I first joined the Dylan Suite that I would be making a life in my college town, taking risks and learning to collaborate with community partners, much in the same vein that I had done with my fellow performers in the Suite. Now in my second year of work with Creating Landscapes as an AmeriCorps VISTA, I have been given the awesome opportunity to help the children and families from the garden find their own dances, interacting and improvising as they discover and make choices about how they want to grow and build strong families and a community among themselves.

ES -- Allegheny College Class of 2010

October 2011


This young woman’s story clearly demonstrates the role of deep aesthetic experience in the development of a young adult.  One more clear illustration that such experiences significantly contribute to one’s own sense of self, self in relation to others, and to one’s work in the world.


Her work with ‘Food for Thought’ not only fed our hungry summer landscapes students it became one of the educational goals for Creating Landscapes for Families.  At the end of summer 2009 a parent of one of our scholarship students was overheard to say after the final share: “This seems like so much fun, why can’t we have Creating Landscapes for Families?”


Questions - Seventh Round


With the addition of a fifth goal for the Creating Landscapes Program (see page 3): Offer a diverse learning population questions surfaced that transformed Creating Landscapes as we had come to know it.


How can children and their families become inspired to acquire, prepare, and eat nutritious foods?


How can the questions and insights generated by the evolving Creating Landscapes Idea serve the needs of Families in the Greater Community of Meadville Pennsylvania?


Intergenerational learning programs in critical thinking, imaginative expression and aesthetic experience became the foundational quest for a non-profit corporation formed that now supports Creating Landscapes for Families in the garden at and at the Unitarian Universalist Church.  Additionally the Creating Landscapes Learning Center(s) Inc. The Learning Center: An Independent K-8 Elementary School.  And herein lies another story with its own set of formulating questions…




After almost 30 years we have a clearer understanding that:

·       our work is differentiated by absolute commitment to quality, simplicity, authenticity, integrity, justice and fun;

·       processes of finding expressive form have the potential to be transformative for individuals, relationships and communities; 

·       aesthetic experience depends on vulnerability and availability--to notice more, to listen carefully, to feel deeply, to reflect critically;

·       success relies on finding the courage to take risks, to choose collaborators carefully and to leverage resources;

·       challenging answers is as important as forming questions.


The aims and ideals that move us are generated through imagination.  But they are not made out of imaginary stuff.  They are made out of the hard stuff of the world of physical and social experience.

The new vision does not arise out of nothing, but emerges through seeing, in terms of possibilities, that is, of imagination, old things in new relations serving a new end which the new end aids in creating.


John Dewey, A Common Faith, 1934, pg. 48