Sustainability comes to Amherst

  • Helena Burguemo constructing the Climate Transformer 1.0 Submitted Photo

  • Volunteers building the Climate Transformer 1.0 Submitted Photo

Staff Writer
Published: 4/20/2017 11:28:04 PM

AMHERST — A pop-up public art installation designed to showcase the perils of climate change and allow people interacting with it to become emotionally impacted and inspired to find solutions will be prominently featured at Saturday’s Amherst Sustainability Festival.

Known as the Climate Transformer 1.0, and the brainchild of Mothers Out Front member Alisa Pearson, its components have been under construction in recent weeks in an Amherst College studio.

Pearson said she hopes people who come to the festival, which runs from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on the Town Common, are changed through experiencing the first iteration of the Climate Transformer, which is being funded by an Amherst College Arts at Amherst grant.

“The thought is, if we state it, we can begin to dismantle the threat,” said Pearson, who works as the college’s manager of concert programming, production and publicity for the Department of Music. “If we don’t get conversations about climate change out in the open, there is no hope.”

Fellow Mothers Out Front member Madeleine Charney, sustainability studies librarian at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, said the experiential exhibit will show the graveness of the climate change threat alongside the natural beauty of the world. The hope, Charney said, is that this emotional impact will help visitors better engage with the 100 or so vendors who set up at the fair.

These vendors will feature renewable energy and energy efficiency products and sustainable crafts and showcase advocacy groups.

The Climate Transformer has five sections that will give people a visual and aural experience, as well an opportunity to write down their thoughts about climate change and to build a greenhouse that will later be put to use.

The first section is called “the world we love” and will feature photos from Amherst College student Amanda Wright’s year abroad and photos by 1998 graduate Greg Brown.

In the second section, known as “the chamber of horrors/ data and solutions,” Amherst College senior David Ruth uses music to bring listeners toward compassion for the environment and solutions to problems.

“Is this how you feel/ UMass Talking Truth Booth” is the third section, where people will be encouraged to write what they think about the threats to the Earth. Charney said these notes will be posted and eventually join other handwritten documents at the university archives.

“Performance art/ art space” will include musical selections performed by Amherst College students and a new choral work by composer Geoffrey Hudson called “Wake Up.”

The final section is the “community/ social component” where people will have the chance to construct plastic bottle greenhouses, which are expected to be donated to the UMass Gardenshare program and the Common School in Amherst.

Charney said the Climate Transformer shows a collaboration between members of the community and the college campuses.

Amherst College student Helena Burgueno, for instance, was one of the main builders in the college scene shop with Jonathan Doyle, technical director for the college’s Department of Theater and Dance this month. Plans for the transformer were designed by UMass American Institute of Architecture Students led by Randy Crandon and Kevin McManus, alongside sustainable community development student Ezra Marcus.

Amherst College student Kelley Baumann helped with the drawings of the Climate Transformer so that the final section would have space for building the greenhouses.

Pearson said she would like to see the Climate Transformer succeed and then be improved in future versions so that it could be set up at various events and festivals.

The Sustainability Festival will also have a series of demonstrations and musical performers on stage.

Demonstrations begin at 11 a.m. with David Lovler showing how to grow, save and eat beans, continue at noon with Megan Brockelbank talking about gluten free and sugar alternatives in cooking and at 1 p.m. with Shoshona King explaining how to make plarn, and conclude at 2 p.m. with Emma Hayes showing how to grow wine caps and ally with fungal kingdom.

Stage performers include Chris Scanlon and the Other Guys, Under the Tree Music, Tuff Riddim International, Valley Women Drummers and Luke DeRoy Trio, as well as the Piti Theatre Company.

The festival is being held in memory of late musician Art Steele, who provided sound for the event since it started in 2009, and its predecessor, the Renewable Energy Fair.

“Art was very supportive of this event and understood that it was about the community coming together to celebrate the planet and to learn how to lessen our impact on it,” Sustainability Coordinator Stephanie Ciccarello said in a statement.

Other activities include face painting by Marcy Gregoire of Under the Tree Arts and a recycling station for pellet bags, Styrofoam chunks and clothing, rags, electronics and single-use plastic bags.

For more information, go to the festival website:

Scott Merzbach can be reached at


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