Brace Fellow Erica Nork ’16 Explores Abbot Academy’s Artistic Influence on Andover

Surrounded by colorful class flags representing multiple generations of Abbot Academy alums, Erica Nork ’16 discussed Abbot Academy’s artistic and cultural influence on Andover during her Brace Fellowship presentation last Saturday.

Held in McKeen Hall on Abbot campus, Nork’s presentation attracted current students as well as many Abbot alumnae.

Nork wrote in an email to The Phillipian, “When I began my project, I wasn’t sure what angle I was going to take in focusing on Abbot Academy. I knew that ‘The Courant’ and Fidelio are reminiscent of Abbot, but I didn’t know much else. Eventually, in reading Abbot school-newspaper articles, I noticed just how incredibly prevalent the arts were there, and began to see how that culture of creativity permeated the school’s atmosphere.”

During her presentation, Nork discussed Abbot Academy prior to its merger with Andover, second-wave feminism in the context of Abbot Academy, and the transition of Abbot Academy’s artistic legacy into Andover culture.

Nork, who is a four-year member of Chorus, a Producer for the DramaLabs, and a member of Andover Dance Group, said, “Much like my project focuses on Abbot Academy through the lens of the arts, my whole Andover experience has developed through that same lens… My experience has definitely honed me as an unapologetic advocate for empirical creativity and pursuit of the arts in the context of our strictly academic education. I think that’s what I do in the dance, theater, and music departments complements and gives more meaning to my academic work, and vice versa.”

Nancy Donnelly Bliss AA ’54 found the merger between Abbot Academy and Phillips Academy to be stronger than ever after its 40th anniversary. During Bliss’s time at Abbot, she was involved with the arts, singing in Fidelio and assisting in the Senior play. She is on the Abbot Alumnae Engagement Initiative and is also the Class of 1954 Secretary.

“It was not easy to have one’s school change so radically and lose its identity, but it has been great that the Abbot Academy Association is so strong and that the Brace Center for Gender Studies is thriving. I believe the administration is supportive of the Abbot alums and understands the importance of keeping the Abbot name and spirit alive,” wrote Bliss in an email to The Phillipian.

In addition to Bliss, Nork also had the opportunity to speak to other Abbot alumnae who had varying impacts on Nork and her presentation.

“I thoroughly enjoyed getting to talk to [Abbot alumnae]. All of the alumnae I talked to were incredibly smart and inspiring women. I only got to meet one alumna in person prior to my presentation, but I talked to a few on the phone and emailed many. The alumna I did get to meet in person, Sandy Rollins ’71, let me come and interview her at her house in Boston, and I had so much fun talking with her both about Abbot [Academy] and about her life as a curator of historical collections across the state,” said Nork in an email to The Phillipian.

Through her research, Nork came to appreciate the importance that a community for gender-based research like the Brace Center exists.

Lizzie McGonagle ’16, a friend of Nork and fellow dancer, said, “I think that the Brace Center is a really great platform to have a part of the institution that is endorsed by faculty that are really devoted to talking about these issues,” in an interview with The Phillipian.

Unlike most Brace fellows, Erica’s interest in Abbot Academy arts did not stem directly from the Brace center.

“My Brace Fellowship actually started out as my History 310 Paper – simply writing about Abbot Academy and the arts. I was so excited with the research and the sheer breadth of material in the Archives, that I wanted to continue and expand my project,” said Nork in an email to The Phillipian.

Nork’s presentation expressed her belief for the importance of the arts and relayed the influence that Abbot Academy has on the Andover community today.

“I spent a lot of time exploring in the Archives, looking through old ‘Courant’s and Abbot school newspapers. Luckily, a lot of material had already been digitized, so I was able to find things like old yearbooks and Courants online. I guess my process consisted mostly of perusing articles, as well as diving into secondary sources about the feminist context of the ’60s and ’70s,” Nork continued.

Directed by Tasha Hawthorne and Flavia Vidal, the Brace Center for Gender Studies is an academic resource center where students and faculty work together on gender-based projects.

A series of plays written Abbot alumnae supplemented Nork’s presentation. Turn to B6 to read more.