The Simons Foundation has announced that Erie Arts & Culture and a trio of partners including FEED Media Art Center, artist Alex “lonesav” Staley, and astrophysicist and folklorist Dr. Moiya McTier are among the recipients of a gift as part of the Foundation’s “In the Path of Totality” initiative. The $87,000 gift will allow the interdisciplinary partnership to create a new art experience that will inspire community members to think differently about science in the lead-up to the 2024 total solar eclipse.
On April 8, 2024, a total eclipse of the sun will traverse the United States from Texas through Maine. The City of Erie is the largest community in Pennsylvania within the path of totality. Co-founded in 1994 in New York City by Jim and Marilyn Simons, the Simons Foundation exists to support discovery-driven scientific research undertaken in the pursuit of understanding the phenomena of our world. “We believe this solar event provides a rare opportunity for artists, creative spaces, and communities to come together, create new experiences, and deepen engagement with science in the period leading up to [the eclipse],” said Kelsa Trom, Community Network Manager for Science, Society & Culture at the Simons Foundation. “The eclipse is coming to [Erie], and we are committed to supporting art organizations within the path of totality.”
“Erie Arts & Culture is honored to be given this extraordinary opportunity for an extraordinary event that holds great meaning for people. The Simons Foundation’s support is a testament to the phenomenal talent in Erie and the region that we work to nurture everyday, as well as recognition of Erie Arts & Culture as a connector of people, talent, and creativity,” said Anne O’Dell, Executive Director of Erie Arts & Culture. “The educational and cultural programming complimenting the exhibition will welcome members of the community to explore and share how science, art, and culture inform our lives.”
“This is an opportunity to demonstrate that Erie is not merely the only city in Pennsylvania that is in the eclipse’s path of totality, but as a community of artists, scientists, educators, enthusiasts, students, and families who will come together to explore what this celestial event means to us, and the unique cultural resources we can share with those visiting us to watch the eclipse,” said Ethan Hayden, EAC’s Program Officer of Arts & Learning. “This gift increases the capacity of the creative and cultural sector in our region, facilitating a collaboration between Alex Staley, an accomplished early career artist from Erie, FEED, a newly-established state-of-the-art venue, and Dr. Moiya McTier, a celebrated science communicator with roots in rural communities much like those in our own service area,” said Ethan Hayden, EAC’s Program Officer of Arts & Learning.
George Espy, EAC Board of Trustees Chair, shared that “Erie Arts and Culture is pleased to partner with the Simon's Foundation on this innovative project. We are excited to offer a multicultural lens through which to view this rare phenomenon; and we encourage residents of NW PA to take advantage of this opportunity to see the heavens in a creative new light.”
The planned artwork will consist of an immersive multimedia exhibit unfolding across several of FEED’s exhibit areas (each ranging in size from 1200 to 2400 square feet). The installation will consist of floor-to-ceiling 3D-animated projections and multichannel audio, at least one section of which will include a real-time interactive component, allowing users to engage directly with the material. Both Staley and McTier have interest in worldbuilding, Staley in creating simulated 3D-animated landscapes, and McTier in crafting believable science fictional settings. Together, their work will utilize this immersive environment to underscore the experience of solar eclipses.
The award is of incredible significance to the region, and to 23-year old Staley in particular. It is rare in Erie’s history for an artist-led project of this size to be awarded to a single artist from a national organization such as the Simons Foundation. “This is the biggest project that I've had the opportunity to work on as of yet,” Staley said, “I am excited for all of the new experiences that may come with it.” For a team led by two early-career BIPOC professionals, Erie-native Staley and McTier, who grew up in a log cabin in rural PA, are demonstrating new worlds of possibility that exist for students and young people growing up in Northwestern Pennsylvania, especially those for whom such opportunities may have seemed previously unattainable. “Astronomy isn’t reserved for people in ivory towers whose grandparents were physicists. If it were, eclipses would only happen over LA and New York,” Dr. McTier said. “Instead, they happen everywhere because the universe deserves to be studied by anyone who feels honored to experience it.”
The piece will be available for public viewing at FEED in February 2024, and will remain in place through Memorial Day. The opening of the exhibition will serve as a grand opening for the media art center, which was established in 2022, and has already hosted more than a dozen innovative exhibitions, performances, and lectures in its first year, often programming the work of established media artists alongside early-career artists and artists from historically-marginalized backgrounds. FEED's unparalleled technology and equipment collection, combined with the staff’s technical and curatorial expertise, make it perfectly suited to produce the rigorous and ambitious work planned. “On a last-minute whim I witnessed the 2017 Great American Eclipse in the parking lot of a Waffle House outside Nashville,” said Benton Bainbridge, FEED’s Founder. “As soon as the sun reappeared in the sky, I hatched plans to go home to Erie for the 2024 Totality. I found a spectacular site to celebrate the solar drama and launched FEED Media Art Center. We're thrilled to open FEED's doors for the total solar eclipse with the collaboration of artist Alex "lonesav" Staley and scientist Dr. Moiya McTier.”
In addition to producing the artwork itself, this partnership will also host a variety of community and educational programming centered on the eclipse. With her expertise in both science and folklore, McTier will lead programming based on the astronomical mechanics of eclipses as well as collaborations with regional tradition bearers to share understandings of Haudenosaunee and other Indigenous cosmologies. EAC and FEED are eager to bring a variety of community groups to the center to engage in a variety of arts/science programs—including a viewing party on the date of the eclipse itself.
The 2024 total solar eclipse will be an event of significant importance to the City of Erie and its surrounding areas, bringing a large number of tourists to our community. Erie Arts & Culture is confident this multi-faceted project that furthers the organization’s purpose in supporting artists’ professional and artistic development, connecting art and science through multi-disciplinary experiences, and providing educational opportunities and community dialogue through art and science, will fortify Erie’s identity as a place with an innovative arts and culture community. Through the generosity of the Simons Foundation, EAC, Alex Staley, Dr. Moiya McTier, and FEED are excited to connect with people with this immersive and memorable experience.