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Among the Trees: Reflections from the Creative Team

SEP 1, 2021

Artists behind The Arboretum Experience share thoughts on their personal connections to the Arnold Arboretum, and the inspiration behind their work on the project.

Members of The Arboretum Experience creative team.

Summer L. Williams

Director

I’ve always enjoyed the Arboretum, but I never knew how much it had to offer until we were in the early days of the pandemic—forced apart and stuck inside our homes by such a scary unknown. I was the most anxious I’d ever been and knew that I needed to work that anxiety out. The Arboretum became the place that absorbed my feelings, my worries. It held me—and so many of us—up, refreshing us with its brisk winter air, the lush green moss, the vibrancy of new budding flowers and bushes. The Arboretum helped me to breathe again. It’s a masterclass.

Kirsten Greenidge

Writer Chair

I first visited the Arboretum as a young child on a school field trip. What I remember about that experience is being surrounded by nature in a way that made me feel, simultaneously, very small, because the space itself felt enormous to me, and then also much larger than myself, expansive. The Arboretum has inspired my work on this project in that an ethos of one of the Arboretum’s designers, Frederick Law Olmsted, was to curate public green space accessible to the public. One aspect I took to heart as I began working on this project is that the Arboretum has many different gates by which to enter the space. What I love about this is that to me, it speaks to the idea that there are many different ways to realize what the Arboretum has to offer; there exists a multiplicity of experience that speaks to the diversity of Boston’s residents. While conceiving this piece, the creative team worked hard to create an experience that is inviting and inclusive, as well as meaningful during this extremely challenging time of global pandemic.

Tim Hall

Music Chair

My first time experiencing the Arboretum was within my first few weeks of moving to Boston in May of 2013. A friend showed me around Jamaica Plain, and upon arrival at the park I was blown away at its size and beauty. Since then it’s been a place that’s created opportunities for me to connect with friends, work on cool artistic projects, and be with myself in the space. The team set an intention to include the Arboretum in the creative process—from taking walks together to conceptualize the experience, to capturing live sound from the environment. It’s exciting to see the experience come to life.

Jill Johnson

Choreographer

Beauty, chaos, conflict, determination, resiliency, solace, and joy. Nature and life share these things. The Arnold Arboretum provides nature theater through every season and on an epic scale. Its invitation to commune with nature affords the chance to take time to wrestle with and celebrate life’s ups and downs. Including multiple pandemics—COVID, systemic and societal racism, inequities and injustices, climate change, and the interconnectedness of all of these things. The hope is that, in some small way, The Arboretum Experience is a responsive artistic antidote to these catastrophic challenges. May the experience replenish visitors’ minds and spirits in unique ways. May connecting with nature through art provide visitors with kindness, tenderness, and time: three things that might also be paid forward in care for fellow humans and the planet.

Melinda Lopez

Contributing Writer

I lived in Jamaica Plain, Idyll of Happiness—
New to the area, I picked up a copy of Running in Boston and there were a few routes through the Arboretum. I quickly made them my only routes.
I ran through the Beech Forest, under Japanese Pines, up and down hills, on and off pavement, and always—a visit to the Bonsai greenhouse.
Through heat and snow, I ran—sweat and scent mingling with my growing sense of independence, strength, and that oh-so-short moment-in-your-20’s where you feel invincible. Like a tree.
When I think of the Arboretum, I feel strong, I feel beautiful, I feel like the trees breathe on me and into me, and nothing matters except being there.

Sam Marks

Contributing Writer

I went to the Arboretum for the first time ever the day before we met as writers for the production. And I saw the single most beautiful tree I had ever seen (the dogwood tree). It was a really great day and one that inspired me through the sheer force of its size and vividness. I was also struck driving home by how affluent the adjacent neighborhood is, so it’s a true privilege to live near the Arboretum, and unfortunately not everyone in Boston feels welcome!

Mwalim*7)

Contributing Writer

As a member of the Mashpee Wampanoag community, all land and flora reserves and preserves are special places to me. As a student at BU in the 1980s and later as a young professional living in Boston, the Arboretum was a quick fix for the days that I was missing the woods and trails in Mashpee and Plymouth and didn’t have time to drive home. I’m literally a tree hugger, so being able to tell stories about talking trees and young people seeing the Arboretum as a place of escape were themes and notions that resonated with me greatly.

Eliana Pipes

Contributing Writer

When I was invited to come on to The Arboretum Experience project I was so excited, and then immediately panicked—because I’ve actually never visited the Arboretum.

It’s my shameful secret, but in my two years living in Boston, I never seemed to be able to make the time. But since I knew I would be writing a play set there, I knew I had to dive into research and learn more about it. I pored over the Arboretum’s digital resources: the virtual tours with Arboretum Director Ned Friedman, the catalogued map of every tree, the incredible history.

Now, the Arboretum is the reason that I’m excited to return to Boston again. When I return in the fall for my (COVID-delayed) MFA Thesis production, the Arboretum will be the destination I won’t miss.

Lonnie Anela O’kalani Neff Stanton

Movement Artist

I found and fell for the Arboretum after moving to Jamaica Plain immediately after graduating from the Boston Conservatory. Having grown up in rural Northern California, I was ecstatic to discover outside the back patio of this apartment an entrance to the Arboretum and a quick pathway to tall pines! I would seek solace up on a hill amongst the pines when feeling homesick or seeking the inner peace I find when surrounded by nature. Since moving from this JP abode, the Arboretum has become a favored location to visit with my pup Kaia.

Lonnie Stanton’s dog Kaia on a research trip to the Arboretum in July 2021.
Image Credits
Creative team members of The Arboretum Experience in the Arboretum. L-R: Daniel Callahan, Tim Hall, Summer L. Williams, Jill Johnson, and Kirsten Greenidge.
Lonnie Stanton’s dog Kaia on a research trip to the Arboretum in July 2021. Photo: Lonnie Stanton

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