Pollinator Garden Grows a Habitat in Arts at the Palace Parking Lot

Rose Corcoran, Maroon-News Staff

Outdoor space has never been more important. Students are looking for new outdoor places to explore due to its comparative safety in the pandemic. Beginning this fall, the Arts at the Palace theater will add an additional incentive to venture outside by bringing together nature and art with the installation of a native pollinator garden in the parking lot adjacent to the heater. Working with naturalist Morgan Elmore, this 30’ by 6’ garden will draw on the beauty and functionality of local plants and the ecosystems they support. There will be a project web page that community members can follow to track the progress of the garden and a community Zoom discussion as well. 

Executive Director of Arts at the Palace Elizabeth Douglas shared the inspiration and goals behind the project.

“The idea came when I arrived one morning to work, early to pull some weeds from the parking lot planting strip, and I noticed a beautiful Monarch butterfly enjoying the wild carrot ‘weeds’ I had planned to pull out. Then I looked up at the trees and saw a bird’s nest, and I realized this area was in fact an existing habitat for wildlife,” Douglas said.

The incorporation of local plant life and the central location of the garden in town aim to foster a sense of “place” by promoting community involvement with the arts and nature. The project serves as an extension of the Palace’s initiative to explore the relationship between art and ecology by providing educational, creative and interactive experiences. 

Naturalist Morgan Elmor is spearheading the design of safe and educational activities that children can participate in, in addition to selecting the plants for the garden. She is a new Hamilton resident and collaborates with nonprofit organizations and homeowners to design landscapes that celebrate biodiversity and locality by utilizing native plants. To get children involved, Elmor is planning “grab-n-go” projects, such as printmaking with the plants, to provide children with a way to learn about the environment they inhabit while being creative and safe. Arts at the Palace hope that the spring planting of the garden can be a community affair, including a pop-up mini gallery by muralist Tim Rand. 

Rand has been commissioned to paint a mural on the side of the Palace Theater building to complement the garden. Rand’s mural will be part of his “Life is Sweet” series of murals and paintings throughout Central New York in which the bee is both the muse and the message. The bee is nature’s essential worker, with the survival of countless other organisms resting on its wings. Our society’s essential workers have been greatly burdened with the functioning and survival of our towns, cities and countries during the pandemic. Doctors and nurses are working around the clock to save lives and donning layers of safety gear as they do it. Factory workers are laboring to provide the food and necessities we need to make it from one day to the next. Delivery and grocery store workers are scrambling to make sure those necessities are in stores or at our doorsteps when we need them. These are just some of the essential workers that have kept our world afloat even as it has come crashing down around us, and Rand’s mural will pay homage to their work and sacrifice through the symbolic strength of the bee. 

Due to current New York state guidelines, the Arts at the Palace facilities are open only for office work, so community members and Colgate students are not yet able to participate in any physical aspects of the project. However, Douglas stated that a call will be put out this fall for students and Hamilton residents who have an interest in contributing to the design of project activities. 

Junior Tavy Alford shared her thoughts on ways Colgate students could partake in the project. 

“The sustainability groups on campus may want to take on some initiatives involving the garden. Students could tend to it in exchange for some of the plants, like local herbs if possible,” Alford said. 

Although the “new normal” amidst the pandemic has forced humans to remain socially distant, projects like this local pollinator garden are vital to maintaining a sense of togetherness. Institutions like Arts at the Palace are finding creative ways to bring community members together in spirit, even if they cannot be together in person, which makes projects like this all the more meaningful.