Wesleyan University, Feet to the Fire
Role of the Jonah Center
The Jonah Center for Earth and Art is an environmental action non-profit located in Middletown, CT whose mission is “to foster sustainable relationships between people, other creatures, energy resources, and the environment and to promote collaboration among scientific, artistic and other cultural endeavors.” The Jonah Center was a key partner in the mounting of the Feet to the Fire Festival. Professor Barry Chernoff, co-creator of Feet to the Fire, is president of the Jonah Center’s Board of Directors, providing a natural link to the organization. Chief Executive Officer John C. Hall, who is also Senior Minister of First Church of Christ, Congregational in Middletown, provided leadership and vision for the festival as well as a strong link to the local community. The Jonah Center’s hope had been to collaborate on the design of a festival that would bring attention to Middletown’s landfill; a site they had identified for possible reclamation as a place for environmental conservation, education, and recreation, but when the city withdrew its permission to use the landfill, the Jonah Center creatively helped identify Veteran’s Park as a site. The Jonah Center had multiple representatives on the Festival Planning Committee, advised on sustainable practices for the festival, organized the environmental exhibitors and provided a large number of volunteers. For the festival, they adapted Wesleyan’s Climate Change Commitment, translating it into a Community Climate Change Commitment, and launched a campaign to sign up community members. Artist Jerry Zinser designed a scavenger hunt for families with a series of sculptural installations, each of which represented one of the actions people should commit to, and all festival-goers were given the commitment as a part of the festival map.
Reverend Hall also served on the University Planning Committee from the planning phase onward, integrating the Jonah Center into all aspects of Feet to the Fire. As a result, the Jonah Center was involved even beyond their large role in the Feet to the Fire Festival, providing volunteers for the opening act of the Common Moment for first-year students, audiences for Feet to the Fire events on campus, and volunteer support for The Rice Show.
Feedback from the Jonah Center
From the August 13, 2008 Report by John C. Hall, Executive Director, Jonah Center
“I could go on and on with thoughts and observations about how the festival worked, but most of it boils down to community building and networking. There was a sense of local community building between Wesleyan, the City of Middletown, and many local nonprofits and eco-friendly businesses. The scale of the festival was a signal that it was part of a larger movement. Visitors kept asking me if there would be a festival next year.”
“…the festival gave the Jonah Center for Earth and Art significant visibility in the community and region. Our coordination of the exhibitors and product vendors signaled that we were real working partners carrying part of the load and not just participants for the day or co-sponsors in name only.”
“Perhaps most important from the Jonah Center’s perspective is this. The Feet to the Fire Festival was like a mini-prototype of a permanent but evolving Jonah Center for Earth and Art facility. The whole experience sharpened and enriched our vision.”