MacDowell Downtown kicks off with visual artist

The ancient Greeks had the Oracle at Delphi. And when Anna Schuleit Haber’s current program is unveiled, pilgrims to Beverly, Mass, will have access to The Beverly Oracle. In response to visitors’ questions, the oracle will respond with poetry, riddles, and thought fragments contributed by poets, writers, and artists from around the country, many of them MacDowell Colony fellows. To receive an answer, visitors to the oracle will speak their questions aloud; computer software will analyze the question to deliver a related response according to rules devised by the artist and her programming collaborators.

This post-modern oracle is the brainchild of visual artist and three-time MacDowell Fellow Anna Schuleit Haber, who will talk about the oracle and other current work at MacDowell Downtown on Friday, March 7 at The Monadnock Center for History and Culture in Peterborough.

The oracle will be a newly designed free-standing structure with frescoes and a single chair from which visitors will engage with the oracle. Scheduled to open in 2015 as a permanent structure on the Beverly (Mass.) Common, the oracle will be free and open to the public. It was commissioned as part of a National Endowment for the Arts Arts and Cultural District Public Art Competition.

“I’m collecting answers to questions that have not yet been asked,” says Schuleit Haber, who is currently working on the oracle’s physical design with a team of architects. “We are hoping to build a building that will be filled with poetry, which in turn, will fill the city with poetry.”

The artist, who was awarded MacDowell Fellowships in 2000, 2002, and 2005, and worked on the Landlines public art project for Medal Day in 2007, says that the idea for The Beverly Oracle was “influenced by my stays at MacDowell, since it was through the friendships that I forged with writers and poets at the Colony that I arrived at the idea for inviting them to be its main contributors – of poetry, fragments of text, idioms, and forms of speech.” Some of the artists who have already contributed include John Bisbee, Jane Brox, Brock Clarke, Susan Orlean, Meghan Daum, Joshua Wolf Shenk, Andrea Cohen, and Mark Wethli.

“Working with them adds to the element of collaboration that I often aim for in my large projects,” says Schuleit Haber. “To work with these amazing writers and artists on a nationwide scale is like a dream.” By the time it opens, the words of the oracle will come from every corner of the country, and the artist says she hopes the pool of answers will continue to grow every year.

“I’m thrilled and excited and also nervous,” says Schuleit Haber. “I want it to be all about these poets and writers across the country and not me. I want it to be owned by the city, by the people here, so they can feel very strongly about their home.”

Schuleit Haber studied painting at the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence and Rome. In 2006, she was named a MacArthur Fellow. The public is welcome to the artist’s presentation on Friday at 7:30 p.m. in Bass Hall at the Monadnock Center for History and Culture.

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