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August Director's Journal

August 24, 2020

                  Oregon silverspot butterflies depend on one flower - the early blue violet (Viola adunca) - to complete its life cycle.

There is a bookmark tucked into the pages in the field guide on my desk where the endangered Oregon silverspot butterfly lives. I have seen the early blue violets upon which the silverspot depends to complete its life cycle in our coastal prairies, but have not yet sighted the butterfly. Once common in coastal Oregon grasslands, due to decades of habitat loss and degradation, speryeria zerene hippolyta's future is precarious. While adaptive restoration projects have been underway for decades, a sustained shift has not yet been achieved, and the silverspot's outlook remains fragile.

Our work is not done.

The metaphor of an endangered butterfly is uncomfortably fitting as, over the past six months, we have witnessed the pandemic's impacts on Oregon's arts and cultural ecosystem. Also apt is the metaphor of adaptive restoration in the context of today's systemic imbalances. The need to imagine new ways to see, interpret and inhabit the natural world together is paramount.

While this summer at Sitka is not the summer we planned, we are adapting and using our time and resources to support the creation of new work on the edges of social and environmental progress.

With workshops cancelled due to Covid-19, Sitka is expanding our residency season. This summer we are offering our full campus as a resource to social practice artists and collaborators exploring issues of race, power, privilege, equity and access. These first invitational residencies, offered in real-time response to emergent calls to action, will serve as a model for Grass Mountain and new kinds of experiences we intend to host as the site is developed to support collaborative work year-round.


Ceramic/performance artist and co-founder of Ori Gallery Maya Vivas is one of ten artists and collaborators working in residence at Sitka this summer.

Moving our Mingle & Muse speaker series online allows us to host more readings and discussions this year and to help these artists reach more people. This week over 150 Sitka community members heard Sitka writer-in-residence Ellen Waterston read from her new work, Walking the High Desert: Encounters with Rural America along the Oregon Desert Trail. Next month, journalist and author Lee van der Voo will read from her highly anticipated new book, As the World Burns, which looks at climate change through the lens of a landmark lawsuit brought by 21 young plaintiffs against the U.S. government.

Essential to the next 50 years of creative endeavor at Sitka is collaboration among voices from the broadest possible spectrum of backgrounds and experiences and the inclusion of those who have historically been excluded from and underrepresented by white and western art and ecology institutions, platforms and funding.

Also essential is the voice of the land itself, listening to those species and ecosystems most at risk with greatest urgency.

Today's pandemic circumstances reaffirm our belief in the preciousness and power of nature and placed-based experiences . They also expand our thinking about virtual sharing as a way to amplify the reach and impact of the artists and scientists Sitka serves.

I am in awe of my colleagues, and of the Sitka community's creative and impactful responses to this year's challenges. As we mark our 50th year, a year filled with so much uncertainty, this much is clear:

Sitka is just getting started.


Alison Dennis

Executive Director