2023 Dewey Dialogues Created Space to Connect and Reflect about Nature

The 2023 Dewey Dialogues, hosted by the Edward Ginsberg Center in partnership with Matthaei Botanical Gardens & Nichols Arboretum with the University of Michigan Museum of Art, was held on April 8th, 2023.

The Ginsberg Center’s Dewey Series recognizes the enduring legacy of philosopher and educational reformer John Dewey, who taught at U of M in the 1890s and, later, went on to found the New School for Social Research. Chief among Dewey’s enduring ideas was that experience is the means through which we understand and connect with the world around us and that universal education is the key to democracy.

This year's theme of Unquestioned Beauty?: Negotiating Space, Power and Connection brought together a diverse audience of U-M staff, faculty, students, and Ann Arbor community members who were eager to explore important questions about natural beauty, conservation, cultivation, inclusion, and environmental justice. The event took place at the Matthaei Botanical Gardens & Nichols Arboretum, which provided the perfect setting for attendees to reflect on the role of natural spaces in our lives.

The MBGNA Conservatory served as the backdrop for the discussions, providing space for attendees to connect with each other and engage in meaningful dialogue. Posters were displayed throughout the three climatic houses showing art related to nature, agriculture, and gardens, as well as discussion questions focused on identity, usage of space, and sustainability. Click here to explore the images and discussion questions that were part of the event. In addition to the discussions, attendees had the opportunity to participate in garden tours and scavenger hunts, allowing them to explore the MBGNA and engage with the natural environment. 

As one participant shared: 

“You created a safe, welcoming environment for us to ‘play’ with ideas….[W]e were each encouraged to share our own personal interpretations of the art work and the Nature around us. You let us, at our own speed, put our toes in the water, encouraging  explorations both as individuals and voluntarily as groups. I really appreciated  the comfortable environment you created which was both reaffirming and gently stretched us, sparking our curiosity and deepening our humility, our reverence for life. We moved beyond ourselves to wondering about others, both human and the more-than-human worlds.”

Tony Kolenic, the Director of MBGNA noted that  “all collections - whether art or living ones like MBGNA’s - represent particular values, power dynamics, and identities. Working with the Ginsberg Center and UMMA to craft open, authentic dialogue about what these living collections represent offers such meaningful engagement to our broader community.” 

The event was a great success, bringing together a diverse group of people to explore how we can work to make natural spaces into catalysts for positive social change that are accessible and welcoming to all.  “This year’s Dewey Dialogue was a wonderful way to connect with campus and community members as we reflected on our collective responsibility to explore, cultivate and protect our relationship with the natural world. We are so grateful to UMMA and MBGNA for making this event such an engaging experience.” shared Neeraja Aravamudan, Director of the Ginsberg Center.