FES puts a unique touch on its new home

The vibrant sounds of Klezmer music, the pungent scent of burning sage used as a ceremonial offering and the power of aboriginal drumming provided the dynamic backdrop for festivities on  Sept. 28 to mark the move of the Faculty of Environmental Studies (FES) to its new offices in the Health, Nursing & Environmental Studies Building (HNES). The event presented a colourful and symbolic postcard of the Faculty.

Right: FES Dean Joni Seager welcomes guests to the Faculty’s official “moving in” celebration

“Welcome, welcome, welcome!” said Joni Seager, the new dean of FES (see the June 16 YFile). “We thank you for joining us to help FES make this space into our place. Our arrival in this building opens up unbounded opportunities for teaching, research, community-building and place building. We couldn’t be happier to be here and to have you here with us.”

Clearly delighted with the turnout, Seager encouraged guests to tour the new facilities and take in the artwork and entertainment. She turned the opening over to FES faculty member Robin Cavanagh who performed a traditional smudging ceremony to cleanse the new space. A symbolic pouch of tobacco had been presented to Cavanagh prior to the ceremony by Mora Campbell, associate dean of FES.

Left and below: FES Professor Robin Cavanagh performs a traditional smudging ceremony

Smudging is a ceremony for cleansing that has been used in many traditions throughout history. Widely varying cultures and religions from all over the world have discovered power in working with the smoke from burning herbs and incense. To its adherents, the smudging ceremony adds a dimension of ritual and respect for the many diverse parts of Creation (the universe).

The purpose of smudging is to cleanse a person, object or space. In his ceremony, Cavanagh cleansed the new FES space and the guests, giving thanks for the space, for the talent of faculty, staff and students, and for the new students and unborn children who would eventually use the facility. “I give thanks to the Creator for this new building, I give thanks to the Creator for the people who work here, I thank the Creator for the children and the unborn who are yet to come,” said Cavanagh.

After Cavanagh completed the smuding ceremony, four members of the Chippewa Travellers, an Ojibway drum group, performed a number of ceremonial songs. The group was led by Mark Lavellee, a second-year student in the Bachelor of Environmental Studies Program at York. 

Guests were then treated to the music of Ann Lederman, playing a five-string violin, with Colleen Allen playing the clarinet and soprano saxophone, Brian Katz on guitar and Debashis Sinah on percussion. The musicians, who frequently jam together, dubbed themselves for the occasion as “Klezmer for the Environment”.

Added to the festivities was an exhibition of artwork created by the faculty and staff of FES. The exhibition featured a number of quilts and several unique Earthworks projects. To kick off the exhibit and commemorate the opening, FES Professor Peter Timmerman wrapped the enclosed nature space on the north side of the building with yellow Danger tape. The wrapping was part of a larger installation curated for the opening titled “Danger: Nature at Work”.

“This work is one of the initial attempts to reconsider our new space both inside and out as well as to comment on, warp and connect with the ongoing construction across the Keele campus,” said Timmerman. “Suggestions are already being made as to the design possibilities of the exterior space, including gardens, ecological restoration and other artwork.”

Left: The Chippewa Travellers drum group

The exhibit also consisted of the installation of a variety of pieces including hanging quilts and visuals created by faculty, students and alumni of the program. Allison Goodings, a student in the masters program, integrated images of food and agriculture in Dufferin county into a quilt. A mural created by a group of students in the program under the direction of Mexican muralist Checo Valdez during a three-day workshop in 2003 was displayed for guests. FES alumni Karen Abel also contributed a canvas she created during her field placement at the Walpole Island Heritage Centre. A quilt celebrating the memory of former FES professor and visual artist dian marino on the 10th anniversary of her death was also included in the exhibit.

The work will remain on display for the month of October and all members of the York community are invited to the new FES space to view the exhibition.