Festival director Eileen Kunzman remembers when the City of Hoover and the neighborhood asked her in 2005 to help them create an event that would take advantage of the area’s natural beauty.
“We took a look at the site and fell in love with the design of the neighborhood and the way it related to nature,” says Kunzman, president of Fine Art Services in Birmingham. “The preserve, the water, the boulders and the trails were very important.”
Kunzman and members of the non-profit Freshwater Land Trust began brainstorming with city officials and neighborhood residents. “We came up with the idea that the festival would be about nature and eco-ideas but though art and design,” she says. “Be it an artist, a scientist, an architect -- everybody uses that creative energy to fashion new ways and solutions.”
Nowhere at the festival is this mission more in evidence than in the area called ETC.Spaces, which showcases designs and installations, many by sculptors and landscape architects, that give festival patrons insights into the creative use of outdoor space.
Each year, Moss Rock organizers give applicants for ETC.Spaces a special design challenge. The 2009 challenge is called “SGreening.” Participants in several categories, including “Strictly Design” and “Sculpture/Installation,” were asked to create screens from natural or recycled materials and use them, not as barriers to block out nature, but as ways to invite nature into a harmonious space for human activity.
Entries in the “Strictly Design” category feature designs or models rather than actual installations. Josh Lamberth and Tyler Smithson, graduate students in landscape architecture at Auburn University, will show renderings of their design, called “Versa.Tile.”
Lamberth and Smithson are proposing the use of a wall made of interchangeable panels in an alleyway in downtown Auburn. “It connects a parking lot to some downtown shops,” Lamberth says. “We’ve looked at ways to clean it up and add lighting to make it safer for pedestrians.”
According to Lamberth, their proposed wall would have aesthetic benefits because the alleyway would no longer be merely concrete and brick. Some of the panels could be backlit, helping to address the issue of pedestrian safety. There would also be an environmental benefit: “Certain panels in the wall could have vegetation that could be watered with drip irrigation or run-off from roofs,” Lamberth explains. “And having a vegetated wall -- with a partial overhead plane, a sheltered area -- could keep the area cooler.”
In the “Sculpture/Installation” category, Homewood landscape architect Tim Coughlin presents “Open Cage,” inspired by an open birdcage and built using chain-link fencing.
According to Coughlin’s artist statement, the piece “is meant to encourage visitors to be humble witnesses to nature, relax and interact with each other.” The artist hopes to attract birds (as well as humans) through the use of feeding stations, seed-coated pinecones and brightly colored paper cutouts of birds. In addition, tires and inner tubes will be used to furnish the space with a swing, seating and a toss-target game.
According to Coughlin, he was inspired by a quotation from playwright Tennessee Williams: “Caged birds accept each other, but flight is what they long for.” While the quotation suggests merely a grudging acceptance among the caged birds, Coughlin wants to achieve a greater level of harmony.
“I don't want people to come in just to tolerate each other but to enjoy each other and have fun,” he says.
Coughlin also wants children to be inspired by the installation’s simple construction and materials. “I want kids to realize they have the ability to be creative,” he says. “It doesn't take a $2,000 play set to have fun. Kids, and the parents, can see it and say, ‘Hey, I can do this at home.’”
According to Kunzman, ETC.Spaces has fewer entries this year because the festival was unable to offer cash prizes as they did in 2008. “Overall funding for non-profits was down, and we were no exception to that,” she says. “We had to see where could pull back a bit to keep the festival going”
However, even with fewer entries, Kunzman is glad that ETC. Spaces is back and feels that it is a crucial part of the festival.
“All those brilliant minds,” she says. “I just love the way they think.”
Moss Rock Festival admission will be free. The festival will be open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. each day. Patrons may park at Regions Park and take a free shuttle to the event. For more visit www.mossrockfestival.com. Sponsors of ETC.Space are Walter Schoel Engineering, inBham.com and Nature Scape, Inc.