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Ma Anand Sheela, spokesperson for the followers of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh who moved to Wasco County, Oregon in the early 1980s, shares her thoughts. The spiritual leaders attempted to found a new town, Rajneeshpuram, and drew hundreds of followers to the
Ma Anand Sheela, spokesperson for the followers of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh who moved to Wasco County, Oregon in the early 1980s, shares her thoughts. The spiritual leaders attempted to found a new town, Rajneeshpuram, and drew hundreds of followers to the
New High Desert Museum Exhibit Invites Visitors to Consider Concepts of Community (Photo) - 01/03/22

BEND, OR — The COVID-19 pandemic, which has shaped our lives in so many ways, has precipitated a moment of asking questions—about who we are and who we want to be as individuals and as a society. It has highlighted the importance of community, and perhaps prompted us to reflect on the communities we want to be a part of and create.

While these questions are relevant, they are not new.

In the new, original exhibit Imagine a World, opening Saturday, January 29, the High Desert Museum examines efforts over the decades to create ideal societies throughout the Western United States—and what we can learn from them. And through an interactive element, Imagine a World gives visitors the opportunity to articulate what kind of world we want to live in for the future.

For generations, people have journeyed to the High Desert and Western United States with visions of founding their own utopias, ranging from the Kaweah Co-Operative Colony in central California in the late 1800s to the artistic and back-to-the-land communes of the 1960s and 1970s, such as Drop City.

The exhibition looks at the ambitions, intentions and outcomes of utopian and intentional communities across the West, delving into approaches ranging from ecological to spiritual to political. Some groups focused on creating an ideal society, while others searched for an idyllic place already in existence to call home. 

“The intentional communities featured in the exhibit all pose interesting questions,” says Laura Ferguson, Ph.D., Museum senior curator of Western history and curator of Imagine a World. “By exploring the ideas that inspired each group, we're able to consider what we might learn from each society and imagine more possibilities. Ultimately, we hope the exhibition sparks conversations about what kind of world we want today.” 

Imagine a World explores philosophies around community and how they’ve been put into practice. One is ecological laboratories, such as Biosphere 2 in Arizona. In that instance, eight people in 1991 sealed themselves for more than two years into a vast structure of glass pyramids and buildings. They were attempting to thrive as a closed ecosystem that could create its own oxygen and grow enough food to support the inhabitants. It didn’t fully succeed in those aims, but the facility continues to be a hub of scientific research today.

The exhibit also explores spiritually oriented endeavors, such as Oregon’s most famous (or infamous) intentional community–Rajneeshpuram. In 1981, Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, a spiritual teacher with an international following, left India for the United States. The Bhagwan and his chief lieutenant, Ma Anand Sheela, selected a site in Wasco County, Oregon, for their planned community, embracing narratives about an “empty” American West. Just a few years later, in 1985, the community collapsed. Objects in the exhibition, including a Rolls Royce from the same time period, will offer a closer look at the Rajneeshees and the community they sought to create.

The communes of the 1960s and 1970s are featured, as well. One such community is Drop City in Colorado, where residents lived minimally and communally, sharing money, clothing and food. They embraced geodesic domes, advanced by the architect Buckminster Fuller, as the building style that would make up the community. They constructed the domes from salvaged wood and scrap metal, taking pride in living off other people’s trash. While Drop City dissolved by 1973, ideas that germinated there continue to flourish today.

In addition to examining physical settlements, Imagine a World will feature several Native artists who envision alternative worlds and recognize the ways that cosmology, science and futurism have long been part of Indigenous worldviews and oral traditions. Called Indigenous futurisms, the artists imagine Native people well into the future, including in the realms of science fiction and outer space.

As the culmination of the exhibit, visitors will be invited to contribute what they believe should be included in an ideal society through an interactive, immersive experience. 

“The history of Rajneeshpuram in Oregon’s High Desert led us to explore broader questions of communities,” said Museum Executive Director Dana Whitelaw, Ph.D. “Imagine a World examines different groups that have come to the High Desert inspiring visitors to ask their own questions about what can community look like and how do we work to create it.”

Imagine a World (highdesertmuseum.org/imagine-a-world) will be on display through September 25, 2022.

The exhibit is made possible by Bend Cultural Tourism Fund and KTVZ/KFXO with support from Bend Magazine, The Bulletin, CHUBB and the James F. and Marion L. Miller Foundation.

ABOUT THE MUSEUM:

THE HIGH DESERT MUSEUM opened in Bend, Oregon in 1982. It brings together wildlife, cultures, art, history and the natural world to convey the wonder of North America’s High Desert. The Museum is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization accredited by the American Alliance of Museums, is a Smithsonian Affiliate, was the 2019 recipient of the Western Museums Association’s Charles Redd Award for Exhibition Excellence and is a 2021 recipient of the National Medal for Museum and Library Service. To learn more, visit highdesertmuseum.org and follow us on FacebookInstagram and Twitter.

 

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Museum Announces Submission Opening Date for 2022 Waterston Desert Writing Prize - 12/27/21

BEND, OR — The High Desert Museum will begin accepting submissions for the 2022 Waterston Desert Writing Prize on Saturday, January 1.

The ninth annual Prize honors literary nonfiction that illustrates artistic excellence, sensitivity to place, and desert literacy with the desert as both subject and setting. Early, mid-career and established writers are invited to apply.

The Prize award grew to $3,000 this year. The winner also will be featured in a reception and awards ceremony at the Museum in Bend, Oregon in September 2022.

Inspired by author and poet Ellen Waterston’s love of the High Desert, a region that has been her muse for more than 30 years, the Prize recognizes the vital role deserts play worldwide in the ecosystem and human narrative. In 2020, the High Desert Museum—which has long hosted events for the Prize—adopted the program.

“The literary arts provide such a dynamic way to explore the depth and complexity of deserts,” said Museum Executive Director Dana Whitelaw, Ph.D. “And since its inception, the Waterston Desert Writing Prize awards ceremony has been a favorite event at the Museum. We’re excited to hear from writers near and far again in 2022.”

The winner of the 2021 Waterston Desert Writing Prize was Ceal Klingler (lookwhereyoulive.net) for “How We Live With Each Other.” Klingler’s submission addressed how animals, plants and other organisms have created livable places with each other at the hard edges of heat, cold, dehydration, floods and fires at the westernmost overlap of the Mojave and Great Basin deserts.

The 2021 finalists were Charles Hood (workman.com/authors/charles-hood) for “Deserts After Dark” and Joe Wilkins for “Desert Reckoning” (joewilkins.org).

To learn more about the Waterston Desert Writing Prize and how to submit an entry, visit highdesertmuseum.org/waterston-prize. Submissions will be accepted through Sunday, May 1 at 11:59 pm.

The High Desert Museum is excited to also announce the return of the Waterston Student Essay Competition, open to young writers from Crook, Deschutes, Harney, Jefferson and Lake counties. It’s open to students in grades nine through 12, in public or private school, or home-schooled. Submission is free. Students may submit essays of 750 to 1,000 words of nonfiction prose to ston@highdesertmuseum.org">waterston@highdesertmuseum.org from January 1, 2022 through May 1, 2022. The submissions will be judged on originality, clarity of expression, accuracy, and their contribution to the understanding and appreciation of desert regions. 

To learn more about the Waterston Student Essay Competition and how to submit an entry, visit highdesertmuseum.org/waterston-student-prize.

ABOUT THE MUSEUM:

THE HIGH DESERT MUSEUM opened in Bend, Oregon in 1982. It brings together wildlife, cultures, art, history and the natural world to convey the wonder of North America’s High Desert. The Museum is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization accredited by the American Alliance of Museums, is a Smithsonian Affiliate, is the 2019 recipient of the Western Museums Association’s Charles Redd Award for Exhibition Excellence and is a 2021 recipient of the National Medal for Museum and Library Service. To learn more, visit highdesertmuseum.org and follow us on FacebookInstagram and Twitter.

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