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Coastal Conservatory

Listening for Coastal Futures

The Coastal Futures Conservatory (CFC) integrates arts and humanities into the investigation of coastal change. Working with scientists at the Virginia Coast Reserve, an NSF-supported Long-Term Ecological Research site, the Conservatory aims to deepen understanding and stimulate imagination by opening ways to listen to the dynamics reshaping coasts. The Mellon Foundation supported the first years of the Coastal Conservatory, through a grant to the Institute for the Humanities and Global Cultures (IHGC). Mellon created the video below about our work. In addition, listen to an interview with Coastal Conservatory directors in this NPR profile.


The Coastal Conservatory is a member of the North American Environmental Humanities Observatory. We pivot from the ocular metaphor of the observatory to the aural metaphor of conservatory in order to emphasize our focus on listening. Sharing a semantic root with “conservation,” a conservatory usually means a school of music or a greenhouse. The Coastal Futures Conservatory draws on all meanings: a school of music that teaches participants how to listen to and compose with the living world, a school of science that connects conservation with culture, and a school of living that cultivates a wide range of cultural capacities to respond to changing Earth.


Listening is a form of inquiry that can immerse hearers in a living environment and connect people across boundaries. The Conservatory organizes collaborative inquiry around listening in three ways:

  • to environmental sound through field recordings and designed listening stations

  • to the sciences of coastal change, by sonifying data, composing with it, and creating public events in which audiences can interact with research

  • to one another, across disciplines and cultures, as we seek to understand coastal futures from multiple ways of knowing

To learn about our research efforts, Coastal Futures Festival, and team, visit

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