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Arctic Journey

What do a Belgian filmmaker, a Greek podcaster and British poet have in common? They all learned about Boxerwood’s mission of community-based environmental stewardship, while aboard a 3-masted schooner plying the icy coast of the very far North last spring.


The artists and scientists, thirty in all, were part of a 3-week expedition along the coast of Svalbard, an archipelago north of Norway. Sponsored by a New York-based arts organization called The Arctic Circle, the program in its own words is “a nexus where art intersects science, architecture, and activism--an incubator for thought and experimentation for artists and innovators who seek out areas of collaboration to engage in the central issues of our time.”

Each year this floating residency selects thirty adventurers to spend three weeks together exploring the glacial coastline of Svalbard while sharing ideas, icy hikes, and wide-ranging conversation. Last April, Boxerwood education director Elise Sheffield was among them.


“There’s not a set goal,” explains Elise, “it’s more like a creative experiment. Some participants arrive with plans for climate essays, films, or projects already in mind.” Struck by the elemental beauty and peril of one of the world’s fastest warming regions, others return home still figuring out how to incorporate such a life-changing experience into their lives and work. “I’m one of those,” says Elise, although she’s started thinking about how to connect local classrooms with the artists on future trips.


Elise was drawn to the opportunity by the remote otherness of the opportunity. “I’m Rockbridge born and bred,” she explained, “yet, there’s something to be said about catapulting yourself elsewhere from time to time.” Reflecting on next steps, she added, “I’m not sure how this experience will directly translate into the Boxerwood world, but I do know I returned home with a renewed conviction about the value of rooting your vision locally.”


“Most of my fellow adventurers were talented global urbanites,” she said, “moving from place to place, anxious about the ecological state of the world.” Many marveled at Boxerwood’s homespun story – of building community, relationships, and working collaboratively, long term, from one patch of Earth. “That community-based work is not as flashy as an art installation in Berlin,” said Elise, “but it’s real, and bears real fruit for places and people we love. This Thanksgiving I’m grateful we have a place like Boxerwood that helps all us transform community dreams into actions, that make a difference where we live.”

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