Art, but in the prairie

Elise Wennberg—Staff Writer

Photo Credit: Elise Wennberg

At 3:00 p.m. on an overcast Saturday, the Dordt University campus community gathered in the Dordt prairie for Arts in the Prairie: a celebration and cultivation of nature and the arts brought together by the theatre, visual arts, environmental studies, and biology departments of the university.

Lael Bervig, a junior music major, helped organize the event by positioning musicians throughout the 20-acre prairie. A jazz band of seven played outside the theatre building and a bluegrass trio plucked and fiddled in the prairie. Those who gathered around these musicians danced and clapped to the afternoon tunes. 

The theatre department hosted a bake sale and a face painting booth to fund patio furniture for their Theatre Arts Center. Here, an assortment of prairie flowers, insects, and animals covered the faces of children and students. Nearby, others listened to a mix of poetry. Zac VanderLey, a senior English secondary education major, read his “Propinquity” and played guitar.. 

In the Van Klaveren Prayer Garden, the arts department set up six easels with canvases and encouraged passersby to incorporate their own strokes and interpretations of the prairie to the painting-in-progress.

And, for the prairie itself, Jeff Ploegstra, professor of biology, distributed stickers of the prairie’s various grasses and flowers. He encouraged attendees to collect seeds in a small envelope so they could plant a prairie of their own.  

Sophia Marcus, a junior environmental science major, helped with the setup of the event. She remembers her sister participating in the event before attending Dordt herself.

“I’ve always thought that it was like a super unique and fun event,” Marcus said. “I think it’s one of the best ways to get individuals outside, in the prairie, appreciating their environment.” 

Photo Credit: Elise Wennberg

In 2005, Robert De Haan, professor of environmental studies, led a research project on the prairie. Dordt purchased the land in 2002. He put together a plan to restore some of Sioux Center’s natural plant and wildlife.

The prairie came to life in 2008 when De Haan planted a mix of over 80 species of wildflowers and grasses. Some of these plants include Grey-headed Coneflowers (ratibida pinnata), White Wild Indigo (baptisia alba), Common Milkweed (asclepias syriaca), Smooth Blue Aster (aster laevis), Maximillian Sunflowers (helianthus maximilani), and New England Aster (symphyotruchum novaeangliae). 

In addition to plant life, a variety of insects have also made the prairie their home. Though some are large, including the two-inch female cicada killer, most are not dangerous to humans. Some of the insects include monarch butterflies (danaus plexippus), white-lined sphinx moths (hyles lineata), goldenrod soldier beetles (chauliognathus pensylvanicus), snowberry clearwings (hemaris diffinis), and various milkweed beetles. 

At Arts in the Prairie, some of these bugs were displayed for people to learn about and bug nets were available for those who wanted to try their hand at bug catching. 

For the past 13 years, the prairie has functioned as a space for natural science students to engage with a Midwestern habitat. Humanities majors have also used the prairie as a source of artistic inspiration. 

“It’s a space for people to come and enjoy the arts alongside nature and explore together the beauty of a cultivated and beautiful creation,” Bervig said. “Whether that’s the cultivation of the earth or talents and manmade images used to glorify God.”

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