INSCAPES: Place-Based Poems About the Berkshires
INSCAPES is a regional campaign presented by The Mastheads and the Institute for the Arts and Humanities at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts designed to highlight the creativity of all residents across the Berkshires through public poetry prompts and text-based art installations. In this blog post, MCLA staff Erica Barreto and MCLA students Brianna Christie and Odiase Williamson write about their experience as both organizers and engaged participants of this humanities project.
An “inscape” is a term used to define the unique essence of a place. It is essentially the unique inner nature of a person or object as shown in a work of art, especially a poem. Drawing influence from this word, The Mastheads and the Institute for the Arts and Humanities partnered to create INSCAPES, a creative campaign that invited people across the county to reflect and write about What defines the Berkshires for those who live here? In June 2021, architect Tessa Kelly and poet Sarah Trudgeon of The Mastheads launched the INSCAPES campaign with an experiential poetry workshop for participants who were attending the Institute’s annual Summer Symposium, which is a series of events featuring guest speakers and community partners exploring the intersections of art, humanities, and accountability.
The workshop engaged participants to think about the place where they live and to discover creative ways to express what they love, endure, or enjoy about it. Participants wrote couplets, or two-line poems, and submitted those on The Mastheads website for a chance to be selected and featured on billboards throughout the Berkshires. Other couplets were also included in an original video at the Pittsfield Common before a live screening of “Tanglewood in the City” on July 17, 2021.
Nearly 188 residents submitted couplets, which detailed appreciation for the land, praise for local businesses, and other place-based memories. Following the success of INSCAPES over the summer, the Institute for the Arts and Humanities planned to re-launch the campaign with a focus on the MCLA community. Starting in fall 2021, MCLA students were invited to not only write about places on campus or in the county that have personal significance to them, but to also participate in the planning, engagement, and design elements of the project.
On November 4th, 2021, students enrolled in the Community Engagement Capstone course gathered outdoors in The Quad, which is the heart of the MCLA campus. They invited their classmates and professors to join in and participate in the campaign. Those who attended the event had the opportunity to learn about INSCAPES and write a couplet with the help of a “cheat sheet” that guided them through the creative process. The “cheat sheet,” designed by students for students, was especially intended for those who may not consider themselves poets; it positioned INSCAPES as an opportunity for us to understand that we are all members of this community and that each and every one of us has a story to tell, a story worth listening to.
Cool day, reluctant students, field full of games
Win or lose, we have hot coco
Townhouse 88 holds a place
Where three roommates share a loving space
At this event, students also set up a variety of lawn games as a way to celebrate community and build connections within MCLA—and this celebration was something students felt was desperately needed as we continue to wrestle with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. As the campus reopened, students were hungry to connect but many were unsure of how to navigate forming those bonds. The INSCAPES event in The Quad provided that much needed opportunity to engage with one another, build those connections, and strengthen our sense of community, all through the power of place-based poetry.
Coming this spring, the Institute for the Arts and Humanities will continue to build opportunities to highlight student voices. There will be an INSCAPES gallery exhibition at the start of the semester, and all students who submitted a couplet will receive an INSCAPES booklet. To read more INSCAPES couplets and discover what we appreciate about the Berkshires, make sure to connect with the MCLA Institute for the Arts and Humanities on Facebook and Instagram (@mcla.iah) as we plan to share more couplets in the coming months.
About MCLA Institute for the Arts and Humanities (MCLA-IAH)
The MCLA Institute for the Arts and Humanities (IAH), with support from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, is a grant-funded initiative which works to promote equity-centered change on campus and in the community by expanding access to area arts and humanities resources, catalyzing opportunities for interdisciplinary engagements, and advancing experiential teaching and learning practices in higher education. For more information, go to www.mcla.edu.
About The Mastheads
The Mastheads is a public arts and humanities project in Pittsfield, Massachusetts that seeks to connect residents to the literary history of the region, create a forum for thinking about place, and support the production of new creative work. Founded in 2016, its projects include architectural studios, a writers’ residency, community poetry-writing workshops, public text installation, and free humanities programming. For more, go to www.themastheads.org.
Brianna Christie is a senior at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts. There, she is studying English and Communications. She currently interns for the Institute for the Arts and Humanities as their Strategic Communications and Engagement Manager.
Erica Barreto (she/hers) is a multicultural educator, arts administrator, and creative placemaker interested in producing experiential spaces for education, dialogue, and action. Throughout each of her roles, Erica’s work focuses on using the arts and human-centered design to catalyze social change and structural transformation. She is employed at the Institute for the Arts and Humanities at Mass. College of Liberal Arts, and she is the youngest appointed member serving on the board of directors for WAM Theatre (Where Arts Meet Activism) and for BRIDGE (Berkshire Resources for Integration of Diverse Groups through Education).
Odiase Williamson (he/they) is a senior at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, studying Arts Management. He focuses on museum studies and performing arts to positively impact the community and create access, inclusion, and diversity within nonprofit organizations. Odiase currently interns for the Institute for the Arts and Humanities as their Program Manager.