Environment festival celebrates Earth Day

During the week leading up to Earth Day 2013, Rensselaer presents the Sensing Environments Festival, an array of performances, lectures, films, exhibits, and workshops that showcase the theme of environmental sustainability.

The festival is a joint initiative of Rensselaer’s task force on Interdisciplinary Excellence in Sustainability Studies and the Department of the Arts. The task force brings together scientists, engineers, humanities scholars, and artists to promote new ways of understanding, experiencing, and promoting environmental sustainability. The festival spotlights renowned experts from Rensselaer’s own faculty as well as leading figures in the arts and sciences internationally. It culminates on Earth Day with a performance of world drumming and a newly commissioned composition by Susie Ibarra inspired by the festival theme.

The festival started with a film screening of A Fierce Green Fire: The Battle for a Living Planet on Sunday, April 14. Presentations continue throughout the week on campus, hosted by diverse departments and organizations. Rensselaer’s Igor Vamos, renowned for his work with The Yes Men, was on the program, as was composer Pauline Oliveros, historian of science Mike Fortun, and micropaleontologist Mimi Katz. Guest lectures will be given by Chuck Haas, Professor of Environmental Engineering at Drexel University, Karen Pinkus, Professor of Italian and Romance Languages at Cornell University, and philosopher-composer David Rothenberg of New Jersey Institute of Technology. Katherine Hayles, Professor of Literature at Duke University, is also speaking during the festival, presented in EMPAC’s Observer Effects series.

A poster session beginning on Friday, April 19 will showcase the range of sustainability-focused research underway at Rensselaer, across disciplines. An afternoon panel focused on Rensselaer’s sustainability research will be followed by a lecture by NASA Goddard climatologist Gavin Schmidt. Friday will conclude with a 7 pm film screening of Reach of Resonance, which explores the creative paths taken by contemporary composers using music to interact with the environment.

This Saturday, April 20, the program will include presentations by media artist Marina Zurkow, whose work explores how humans relate to animals, plants, and the weather; Andrea Polli, a sound artist who has collaborated with atmospheric scientists to help people sense climate change; and David Dunn, a pioneer of environmental music.

Sunday, April 21, begins with drum and mask making workshops. The festival concludes with an afternoon performance that begins in Troy’s Prospect Park, and then moves as a procession to Rensselaer’s EMPAC Concert Hall. Rensselaer’s own percussion and Afro-Cuban ensembles will be joined by those from Troy High School, the Empire State Youth Orchestra, Bennington, Williams and Union Colleges, the Troy Samba Group, and the Woodstock Dayschool Guinean Drummers. Then follows the world premiere of a commissioned concert work “Circadian Rhythms,” by Susie Ibarra, featuring the ensembles as well as prominent soloists from various world music traditions.

Festival events will be free, and open to the general public. For a full schedule, see The sponsors of the festival include The Bank of America, New York State Council of the Arts, Rensselaer’s Office of the President, the Jaffe Fund for Experimental Media and Performing Arts, Albany Times Union, and the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences.

Editor’s Note: “Sustainability” is a column granted to the Student Sustainability Task Force by the Editorial Board to discuss issues of sustainability on the Rensselaer campus and around the nation.