Jessica Setiwam-Staff Writer
At 2:30 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 30, just 20 minutes before the start of the event, students and employees received an email from Dr. John MacInnis with news that the 3rd annual “Arts in the Prairie” event would be happening despite the gloomy weather. Although the rainy start brought a portion of the performances and activities inside the Campus center, it failed to deter both families with little children and elderly community members from attending.
Within half an hour after a poetry reading by Prof. Schaap and his poetry students, plus a jazz trio performance, the rain subsided and the prairie quickly became filled with peaceful hymns from a bass quartet, vocal performances and a classical guitar, among others.
The prairie’s trademark yellow Maximilian sunflowers—a vibrant contrast in the midst of thick grey clouds and overcast skies—danced left and right in the wind.
The hymn “It is well with my soul,” sung by Dordt student Mary Van Wyk, captivated a small audience during their route along the trail. Entertainment from kindermusic, art activities, face painting and juggling stations also lightened up the somber atmosphere.
But, “Arts in the Prairie” is more than just a celebration of the natural beauty of the prairie through art, music, poetry and theater arts; it also has an educational purpose. Identifiable in the 15 different grasses are more than 75 different wildflowers and a number of species of insect which call Dordt’s prairie home.
The insect ID and seed collection station, fully equipped with large nets and two botany student assistants, was especially crowded with children curiously peeking at Prof. Hummel’s glass-cased insect collection. They drew furiously with crayons in little booklets they had to complete to earn their “prairie explorer” status, complete with certificates and “I love the prairie” pins. Arts in the Prairie promotes the stewardship of nature in even the youngest members of the community.
“It’s nice to have the community involved; we get a lot out of community enjoyment out of the prairie. Look at how many people ride their bikes, jog, and take pictures there. Think of the number of senior pictures, engagement pictures, and wedding pictures… It’s fun to have it used that way,” said Environmental Science professor Robert De Haan.
However, Dordt’s prairie hasn’t always been this way. The prairie was first planted 10 years ago in 2007-2008. De Haan, one of the professors at Dordt who maintains the land, said the 20-acres used to be filled with corn and soybean.
For many years, Northwest Iowa had fewer and fewer acres of tall grass prairie. Dordt campus stands in former tall prairie grounds from the 1800s. However, 99.9% of the native tall grass prairie in Iowa has been converted to other uses, making it one of the most endangered ecosystems on earth.
Prof. Schaap said that, according to legend, “The tall grass prairies were so tall, they were over 6-8 feet high, you had to stand on a horse to see over it.”
However, in recent years there has been a movement to reclaim the prairie grounds, and “Arts in the Prairie” serves to continue that trend.