October 8, 2015

GUEST ROOM | What’s New at The Cornell Plantations?

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As the Ithaca landscape begins shifting from green to glowing orange and red; as summer wanes and fall approaches, some exciting changes are emerging at Cornell Plantations. We have embarked on a process to develop a new strategic plan and brand identity that will support and enhance the Engaged Cornell and Global Cornell initiatives.

It is a happy coincidence that, at a Spring meeting of the Employee Assembly, the issue of the appropriateness of our name was raised. The issues voiced at the E.A. further motivate our rebranding and provide us with information that will better inform our decisions and direction.

Our strategic planning and rebranding is the first major initiative in my tenure as Director of Cornell Plantations.  About 18 months ago, I accepted an exciting and challenging opportunity at Cornell University to serve as Director of the Plantations, which includes the arboretum, botanical garden and natural areas of Cornell University.

Being a botanist, conservation ecologist and a public garden professional, this was an opportunity I could not resist.  At the time, I was Director of the botanic garden and arboretum at the University of Hawaii.  Coming to Ithaca was a huge change in many ways, including  climate, lifestyle and the natural landscape. However, there is one key element that all botanic gardens have in common: celebrating, displaying and studying the rich diversity of the world’s plants. Yet to be truly effective, this celebration of natural diversity must also embrace human diversity.

During the last year, our staff and Advisory Council have been considering all aspects of our identity, our name, our mission and how our identity can best reflect what Cornell Plantations is ­— and does. We are dedicated to engaging as many people as possible in a greater appreciation of the beauty and necessity of healthy natural systems and our role in that context.

As our natural world is altered by deforestation, invasive species and climate change, there is a direct impact on humanity. When biological diversity is reduced, we see consequent losses in cultural and language diversity around the world.  We see indigenous populations, their language, cultural practices and knowledge disappear.  We see this in the Pacific islands, in northern Alaska and even here in central New York.

Our goal at Cornell Plantations is to engage faculty, students, the community and visitors so that we can all better appreciate the intimate link between natural diversity and human diversity.  To that end, our staff is developing new messages, engaging in diversity councils in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and at Plantations and we’re developing new programs and collaborations with our colleagues in the arts and humanities.

We will be working with the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and leaders across the University to better position ourselves as an integral and necessary aspect of what makes Cornell a great University, both in its appreciation of diversity in nature and in humanity.

Think of this rebranding as the next evolutionary step for Plantations as we look to the future to conserve our biological and cultural diversity and to cultivating a fuller appreciation of the natural world with you and the generations to come.

Christopher Dunn is the Director of Cornell Plantations. Responses can be sent to [email protected]. Guest Room appears periodically this semester.