A typical Wednesday morning class at Colby turned extraordinary April 20 when Maya Lin—renowned artist, architect, and environmental activist—joined the class Environmental Studies 118, Environment and Society, for a conversation with students. Lin spent two days on campus meeting with students and delivering the Miles and Katharine Culbertson Prentice Distinguished Lecture in a packed Lorimer Chapel as Colby’s first artist in residence in a series initiated by President David A. Greene.

“Talk to me,” she beckoned students in the introductory-level course as she fielded questions and asked some of her own. With the website from her project What Is Missing? projected on a large screen, Lin touched on a wide range of topics, from biodiversity to environmental activism to using art as an educational tool.


Sophia Ozburn ’16 on Maya Lin’s inspiration

Many of the pages on Lin’s website had been updated the night before, so students were able to view them for the first time and explore with Lin how the site builds timelines to tell in-depth ecological histories of species, habitats, or waterways.

“We’re ready to bring volunteers in,” Lin said, noting her interest in working with Colby on building an ecological timeline of the state of Maine on the site. “We don’t ever ask for anything from you other than a story, a memory, or to help a group,” Lin said.

What is Missing? is what Lin calls her last memorial, which aims to create awareness about the sixth mass extinction of species through science-based art, her website says. The project includes permanent sculptures, traveling exhibits, and the website, whatismissing.net.

Lin emphasized that most of What is Missing? is a memorial dematerialized into a website. “It’s also a memorial that’s all about you and about engaging you—you have to build the memorial,” she said. “It’s really the question: if we can accurately remember our past, if we can realize what we’re doing, how can we shape a better future?”

Lin’s project aligns with the goals and content of Associate Professor of Environmental Studies Philip Nyhus’s course, where students undertake an interdisciplinary study of human relationships with and impacts on the environment. By welcoming an artist into an environmental studies class, Nyhus and Lin demonstrate the ability to connect environmental concerns with the arts and humanities.