… all possibilities reach us through the imagination.
- John Dewey
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. 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.
Inspiration for the original Creating Landscapes Summer Program in 1990 was the single question:
What happens to the songs and dances of early childhood as we age?
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 2013 Landscapes satellite programs include
Teachers Intensives in Aesthetic Education offered over the past twenty-four years in collaboration with IU#5 and area school districts. Participants receive Pennsylvania Department of Education Graduate Credits; The Gifted/Talented Collaboration, now in its 15th 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.
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.
Creating Landscapes for Families 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. From May through September, family meetings move to their garden where they learn 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.
The Learning Center is a state licensed, independent, K-4 (soon to be K-6) elementary school comprised of non-traditional multi-aged classrooms that offer interdisciplinary thematic units as well as explorations of unique hands on aesthetic learning.