Above, MCLA and BYU faculty and students work to clean and help restore the Great Salt Lake’s Spiral Jetty. Below, from left, Samantha Bedel ’17, Katrina Staaf ’17, Gillian Fournier ’20, Alexandra David ’17, Guy Francois ’17 with Melanie Mowinski, associate professor of visual art, and Josh Ostraff, art instructor.

Students Visit Utah for ‘Land and Identity’ Arts Project


Last fall, students and faculty from Brigham Young University (BYU) in Utah came to MCLA to learn about art in the Berkshires and to participate in an intensive exploration of Susan B. Anthony and the Suffragist movement. In May, BYU hosted MCLA for the “Land and Identity” project.

The experience included visits to the Rochester Rock Art Panel to observe petroglyphs – rock art figures created by ancient Native Americans more than 2,000 years ago – and Cassidy Arch in Capital Reef National Park.

The group, led by Melanie Mowinski, associate professor of visual art, and art instructor Josh Ostraff, also went on a challenging hike in Maple Canyon. The trek – which involved scaling boulders and climbing ropes – led to a waterfall, where they observed and recorded sounds as part of a sound art project.

In addition, they explored the Spiral Jetty in the Great Salt Lake. Created by American sculptor Robert Smithson in April 1970, the Spiral Jetty is an earthwork sculpture and the only man-made creation that can be viewed via satellite.

“We visited some of the most amazing canyons the great state of Utah has to share. I can now say the closest I have been to Mars is Utah; it is like Mars on Earth,” said recent arts management graduate Guy Francois ’17. “I visited sites I never would have seen were it not for this wonderful trip. I walked on the Spiral Jetty, saw the Jupiter train at the Golden Spike, and made some wonderful friendships.”

After they participated in BYU’s visit to MCLA last fall, Gillian Fournier ’20, an art major from Amesbury, Mass., and Alexandra David ’17, a recent graduate of the arts management program, wanted to continue the collaboration in Utah.

“This was an absolutely incredible experience, because we had the opportunity to explore and learn with people who come from a totally different part of our country,” Fournier said. “We were able to build off of the knowledge that these new people had, and it was such an incredible opportunity to work with them, side-by-side.”

“The people we met last fall were so friendly and so excited to learn from us that I wanted to be in their shoes,” David said. “I feel like I have this little artistic family because we just had so many connections, all surrounded around our love for the arts.”

The highlight of the trip for both Fournier and David was the hike to Cassidy Arch.

“I had never been out West or traveled anywhere with a landscape different than that of New England, so going to a place with red rock … and minimal trees was an out-of-this-world experience,” Fournier said.  

Katrina Staaf ’17, another recent arts management graduate, said the opportunity was the perfect fit with one of her academic interests – community development through arts and culture.

“This trip was the best imaginable synthesis of skills and interests that I developed throughout my time in the arts management program at MCLA,” Staaf said. “Experiential learning is powerful, and in this case, it broadened my perspective on the work I hope to do in my arts management career.”

Mowinski expects the relationship between the universities to continue for the long term.

“Although it can’t be the same students every time, this idea of being able to work with people who are very different than you, who live in a different part of the country, and believe different things is a really great opportunity for our students and for faculty,” she said.