Introducing the Carleton Humanities and Arts Trailer

The CHAT is a new mobile creative space, designed to be anything from a recording studio to a pop-up art gallery in order to bring Carleton arts and humanities to local communities.

Luna Schindler-Payne '26 18 October 2022 Posted In:
View of CHAT trailer from the outside.

On Sept. 29, in the shade of the Weitz Center, Carleton College’s newest learning space was unveiled: the Carleton Humanities and Arts Trailer (CHAT). It might be the smallest public space on campus, but don’t let its modest frame deceive you—the CHAT holds endless possibilities.

The CHAT has been three years in the making. Susannah Ottaway ’89, Laird Bell professor of history, and Kelly Connole, professor of art, co-directed the Mellon Foundation-funded Public Works Initiative over the course of four years, focusing on collaboration in arts and humanities with organizations and communities on and off campus. As the grant came to a close in 2021, they decided to pool their remaining resources to make the vision of the CHAT into a reality. In collaboration with Carleton’s Business and Grants Offices and the Rice County Historical Society (RCHS), a trailer was purchased and the journey began. Previously an oral history trailer for Scott County, it was refurbished and given a new purpose, becoming a bridge of sorts between Carleton and the surrounding communities. Given its mobile design, the trailer can be moved anywhere as a way for Carleton to work directly with neighboring communities who may not have easy access to campus.

Photo taken from inside the Carleton Humanities and Arts Trailer. A desk with a microphone and laptop is the main focus, and a map of Northfield is pinned to the wall.

The inside of the trailer is a clean shade of white, with rounded ceilings and white-painted cupboards. Besides the displayed recording equipment and posters on the walls, the CHAT still feels like a blank canvas, a well of possibility not yet tapped. The CHAT is equipped as a recording studio, mobile workspace, even as a gallery for displaying pop-up exhibitions. It comes with a 24-inch monitor, microphone, webcam, MacBook, Anker Hub USB-C, sound shield, and a multitude of materials for pop-up exhibits, including tablecloths and foam book stands. The trailer has a wheelchair-accessible entrance and a large awning that can be set up over the front of the trailer, which suggests possibilities for extending the space outside as well.  

The CHAT is run by Carleton’s Center for Community and Civic Engagement (CCCE) in collaboration with RCHS. The hope is that Carleton students, faculty and staff will take the possibilities and run with them, coming up with more and more ways to incorporate the trailer into the college and its surrounding communities. 

On the day of the open house, many visitors came by the CHAT and voiced their interest in using the trailer. Even on day one, inspirations for how to use it were varied: to make podcasts, hold interviews, host radio shows and even have interactive “tabling” during farmers markets. The CHAT is a physical manifestation of Carleton’s interdisciplinary ideals—not only mixing arts and humanities, and students and community members, but opening a space for visitors to create their own stories and experiences, whatever they may be.