Reimagining a winter campus during Winterfest 2014

February 19, 2014
Herminia Din

Herminia Din with recycled material sculpture, Flow of Color. Students will be invited to add to the 12-foot installation during Winter Design @ Winterfest. Philip Hall/University of Alaska Anchorage

Bring your marshmallows, they’re lighting up the Cuddy Quad. This year’s Winterfest crew welcomed innovative new ideas for using winter outdoor spaces on campus during the weeklong celebration and things are about to get toasty warm, not to mention tasty.

All your favorite Winterfest activities are back this year: the mustache and beard contest, music, Banff Film Festival and broomball. Joining the roster of activities are musical performances on handmade ice instruments, over a hundred snowmen (!), ice sculptures and warming fire barrels around Cuddy Quad. There’s also a treasure hunt that could lead you straight to your very own never-before-seen UAA Dining Services creation, the Wolf-Paw cinnamon roll and peppermint hot chocolate.

Herminia Din, professor of art education, and Bree Kessler, assistant professor of health sciences, are two of the visionaries behind the Winter Design Project, a Center for Community Engagement and Learning (CCEL) effort, that will transfigure the Cuddy Quad from Feb. 21 to March 1. Both have recent stamps in the their passports from visits to other northern countries—Finland, Iceland, Sweden, Denmark—to check out their innovative use of winter outdoor spaces.

Winter Design Project 2014 logoDin visited Finland and Iceland in the past two years for a University of the Arctic Thematic Network on Arctic Sustainable Arts and Design conference and was inspired by their public art installations like burning riverbank sculptures and giant lanterns made from sheer materials.

“It just makes you smile and encourages you to go outdoors,” she said. Her thoughts turned to the UAA campus. Why couldn’t we do something like that here?

Kessler had similar ideas. As an environmental psychologist, she’s interested in the way the built environment shapes people’s behavior. And with that, what ways could it be improved so people are happier?

“Last year I taught in Eugene Short Hall and my classroom looked out on Cuddy Quad and all winter I’d look out and see that it wasn’t utilized in any sort of way,” said Kessler. “Really, I just wanted to put a fire barrel out and see if people would sit there.”

For Din, it was important to see students engaged throughout the week of winter design activities, so she put out a request to UAA faculty. Anyone else willing to fold a winter design project into their spring semester syllabus? She got a better response than she expected.

Joining her art appreciation students on the quad making lanterns, snowmen and a 12-foot display of color using recycled materials will be math students showing off their Cantor ice dust, engineering students who’ve created a rolling, illuminated ice structure and Alaska Native music students playing ice instruments, including a handmade ice drum.

Giving people a way to warm up seemed like the simplest of Din’s and Kessler’s ideas, but it may have actually taken the longest to come to fruition.

Now, with approval from all the right safety folks and the assistance of UAA’s facilities team, there will be six fire barrels around the quad ready to warm you up in the evening as you enjoy the dancing, art and music and learn a little about the science of snow through an Anchorage Museum collaboration.

Beyond seeing the underused space come alive during the colorful week of Winterfest and Fur Rondy, Kessler also has an academic interest in the outcome of this winter design project.

She’ll be taking some time-lapse video to document use of the space.

“The real test to me is, when everything ends, is there a lasting effect?” Kessler asked. “Will having that stuff up for a week help a student rethink what could happen here? Five days later will they think, actually this is a cool space to hang out.”

Special international guests from Norway will also be in attendance to see how we do things here in Alaska, so make a little room for them around the fire!

For a complete list of Winter Design @ Winterfest activities and displays, click here: Winter Design at Winterfest Master Calendar (PDF). Detailed listings of the Feb. 21–March 1 Winterfest activities are posted here.


Written by Jamie Gonzales, UAA Office of University Advancement. 

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