Artist in Residence

About the Artist in Residence Program at UBC Botanical Garden

The position of Artist in Residence at UBC Botanical Garden bolsters the Garden’s mission to advance plant and biodiversity conservation, research, education, display and outreach. This program is designed to provide unique opportunites for the public to more deeply engage and see the interconnections between plants and people. Our goal is to support individuals to explore their practice in the Garden while increasing our communication and celebration of plants, biodiversity, ecology and human-nature interactions.

Currently, applications for the Artist in Residence program are accepted by invitation-only.

Current Artist in Residence: Erin Despard (2020-2022)

Erin Despard

Photo credit: KK Law

Erin is a writer, researcher and creative practitioner specializing in gardens, landscape and visual media and has taught as a lecturer at UBC School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture. Her research makes use of innovative, site-specific methods, drawing from practices in media arts, performance studies and creative writing. Past artistic projects include other gardens, an on- and offline multimedia installation (with Oliver Kellhammer), a contribution to Soil & City (with Open Jar Collective), and, most recently, a playful neighbourhood intervention called Jardin Adoptif. Her writing about plants and gardens has been published in literary as well as journalistic and academic venues. Prior to graduate school, she worked for many years as a gardener.

At UBC Botanical Garden, Erin will explore processes of plant reproduction as a means of drawing attention to the multitude of natural, social and cultural relationships in which garden plants participate. Erin is particularly interested in the intentional propagation of plants and how this makes it easier to see, and potentially experiment with, the relationships between plants and humans.

Erin aims to explore these relations in traditional and experimental ways and to share her findings with the UBC Botanical Garden community.

Erin Despard: Artist’s Statement

My creative and academic work on gardens draws on a love of plants that I first developed as a working gardener in my teens and early-twenties, and have nurtured since as a nomadic home gardener, either growing in pots on balconies or leaving my gardens behind every few years. Much of my work has focused on neglected gardens and landscapes—the places that have been forgotten and the plants that, lacking a “right place”, make the best of it where they can reproduce unnoticed. While these plants sometimes become ecologically detrimental, they can also be beautiful in their decadence and lack of restraint. I see plant reproduction as a creative process that—particularly where it causes unintended changes in the urban landscape—also provides an occasion for investigating those human actions (and inactions) that contribute to it.

The intentional reproduction of plants, through propagation, is another moment when it is possible to see the intersection of plant lives with those of humans and human technologies, as well as insects, animals, environmental conditions, and so on. As part of my residency at UBC Botanical Garden, I am embarking on a wide-ranging education in propagation—how it is done at the garden, where and by whom, as well as how it has been taught in propagation manuals since the 1950s (which marks the beginning of its popularization for home gardeners). I will share these explorations through my own writing and collaborations with other artists, bringing to light in the process some of the underappreciated aesthetic, social and cultural dimensions of plant lives, and the relationships in which they are embedded at the botanical garden. I will also explore strategies for cultivating experimental relations between people and plants. What might different approaches to propagation produce, in addition to plants? Food? Pleasure? Pollinators? New social connections?

Here is a collection of some of Erin’s work during her residency:

Grow Plants, Change your Life: A Series of Postcards

Plant Propagation for the People: A Community Design Process and online workshop (view the recording)

Two new Propagation Zines

Erin Despard: Final Artist in Residence update

The zine The Tomatoes Between Us: Notes from a long, slow ride through a socially distanced city. Go on her journey by reading the zine and discover her thoughts on community, social media and finding friends by sharing plants during the pandemic.

Illustrations by Hannah Myers (@hananabread)

Previous Artist in Residence: Celeste Snowber (2016-2018)

Photo: Garden, by Tamar Haytayan


Artist in Residence Statement

I am delighted to serve as the Artist in Residence in the UBC Botanical Garden. As a dancer and poet, my artistic practice and research has a focus of site-specific performance. As an arts-based researcher I integrate embodied and poetic ways of inquiry to explore new knowledge and understanding through the arts. My vision is to explore how a visceral and expressive relationship to the natural world has the capacity to shift an understanding to ourselves and the earth. The garden is a microcosm of a diverse and ecological place which holds both indigenous plants and trees and ones from around the world. Through creating a series of site-specific performances of dance and poetry in the garden over the next two years I explore the microcosm of the garden as a pedagogy of place. Here the garden truly becomes a partner in creation and in a performance. It is my hope that through these performances the public can more deeply see the interconnections to the diversity of the garden and with their expressive selves, sustainability and to the world. The UBC Botanical Garden continues to be a muse and growth chamber for artistic creation through the integration of natural processes and artistic practices.

Incarnata Performances in the David Lam Asian Garden

I have created seasonal performances of dance and poetry in the David C. Lam Asian Garden over the last year. Fall Incarnata, Spring Incarnata, Winter Incarnata, Summer Incarnata and a Magnolia Incarnata. Through immersion in the garden, consultation with curators and educators, and my own research these full-length site-specific works become not only a place for artistic creation, but a container to share with the public.  These site-specific works bring the audience on an hour and a half walk which includes dance and poetry that emerges out of the particulars of the flora, botany and changing seasons. There is also opportunity to share with undergraduate and graduate classes as well as integrate workshops on place, writing and creation.

Left: Cedar, by Tamar Haytayan; Right: Liana, by Sally Whitehead


Celeste Snowber, PhD is a dancer, educator and poet/writer who is an Associate Professor in the Faculty of Education at Simon Fraser University. Author of Embodied prayer and co-author of Landscapes of aesthetic education and her most recent book of poetry is Wild tourist: Instructions to a wild tourist from the divine feminine and her book. Her book, Embodied inquiry:Writing, living and being through the body was released in 2016. Celeste is the Artist in Residence in the UBC Botanical Garden creating site-specific performances of dance and poetry out of each season. Her website can be found at

Fertile Voice
Let your senses teach
what catches you in the garden
Here is the place to bring
the lens of your eyes and heart
sounds and silences,
textures and terrain to the earth.
Plants and trees, birds and branches
leaves and moss, flora and forest
have a language unto their own.
Ancient before breath,
they have a fertile voice.
Our task is to listen
to the linguistics of creation
in a garden of wonder.

-Celeste Snowber


Previous Artist in Residence: Dana Cromie (2012-2014)

Artist Statement

As a mature emerging artist, I am fascinated with representing what is familiar to me, whether a plant, a landscape or a concept. I am most attracted to light, colour, and rhythm. I am intrigued with performance, particularly musical composition, and how the process of narrative through time differs from the static expression of two-dimensional work. I have a deep interest in nature and am concerned with man’s impact on the environment. My art is an extension of my life interests.

Artist’s website

Rhododendron Ririei