Nov 17, 2015
Ryan Ballman

2015 Rory Turner Prize in Cultural Sustainability

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Heidi Thomas Wins 2015 Rory Turner Prize in Cultural Sustainability
Rory Turner and 2015 Rory Turner Prize in Cultural Sustainability recipient Heidi Thomas.

The recipient of the 2015 Rory Turner Prize in Cultural Sustainability is Heidi Thomas for her Capstone entitled Urban Agriculture & the Co-Development of Environment, Culture, & Community.

Three finalists were selected and forwarded to Jon Hawkes, one of Australia’s leading commentators on cultural policy and author of the groundbreaking “Fourth Pillar of Sustainability.”

In his assessment, Hawkes wrote: “Heidi’s paper is engrossing; on the one hand, breathtakingly mundane, on the other sweepingly visionary. We all know that food production and consumption are economic, environmental and social issues. By introducing a cultural perspective, Heidi has simultaneously demonstrated how much meaning is inherent in what and how we feed ourselves and shown how useful and necessary cultural analysis is when addressing community development issues. I found all three finalists captivating, illuminating, challenging and admirable; and no one more so than the others. But, Heidi’s paper is likely to have the most profound repercussions. Urban agriculture is a global phenomenon in need of a comprehensive, rigorous and accessible rationale. Heidi has taken a big step in getting there.”

Reacting to the news of her award, Heidi Thomas said, “Honestly, receiving this year’s Rory Turner Prize was a surprising and humbling experience for me. My deep respect for Rory stems from my early days in the MACS program, in which I was fortunate enough to have him as a professor. Rory was so incredibly influential in helping me discover my interest in the culture of intentional communities. This direction laid the groundwork for my studies in subsequent semesters; with the guidance of many exceptional mentors and the brilliance of fellow MACsers serving as continual inspiration, my initial interest morphed into a true passion for exploring emergent forms of community aligned with sustainability.

This passion proved to align with my personal and professional intrigue with environmental justice and sustainability. My career in the fields of landscape architecture and urban design for years has focused on the environmental aspects of place, but my time in the MACS program has brought the all-important overlays of community and culture to the forefront of my work. Post-graduation, I see my professional role transitioning beyond that of designer into one that encompasses community engagement and activism. Through my project work I aspire to join cultural partnerships that serve to build social capital and foster community cohesion in urban settings.”

The Rory Turner Prize is named in honor of Dr. Rory Turner, Goucher faculty and founder of the Master of Arts program in Cultural Sustainability. Dr. Turner is nationally known for his innovative work with creative expression in cultural contexts. The award recognizes leadership and vision demonstrated through a student’s final capstone work. The award is granted on the basis of overall quality, significance of the research to the field of cultural sustainability, critical reflection, originality and creativity, and the potential outcomes and impact of the work. The award is given annually to a graduate whose Capstone best exemplifies the ideas and principles of the MACS program and of Dr. Turner’s work.


skillman-headshot1 Amy Skillman, M.A.
Academic Director
As a folklorist, Skillman works at the intersection of culture and tension, where paying attention to culture can serve to mediate social change. She advises artists and community-based organizations on the implementation of programs that honor and conserve cultural traditions, guides them to potential resources, and develops programs to help build their capacity to sustain these initiatives. Drawing on extensive research and documentation, Skillman has developed a variety of public programs that bring awareness to issues of importance in these communities. Her work has included an oral history/leadership empowerment initiative with immigrant and refugee women in Central Pennsylvania, a Grammy-nominated recording of old time fiddlers in Missouri, and a yearlong arts residency with alternative education high school students rooted in the ethnography of their lives. Skillman recently curated a major traveling exhibition that examines the role of folk arts as a catalyst for activism in communities throughout Pennsylvania. She received her Masters degree in Folklore and Folklife from the University of California, Los Angeles and her Bachelor of Arts from St. Lawrence University in a self-designed major in Cultural Minorities and the Immigrant Experience.
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