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Art Brings Awareness of Natural Habitats to Campuses

Submitted by on September 26, 2023 – 5:19 pm

The start of the fall semester is often seen as a time of change for many Northern Essex Community College students and faculty. This year, they were reminded of the transformation that can take place through education by several art installations on the Haverhill and Lawrence Campuses.

This painted butterfly marks an area of native plants near the library on the Haverhill Campus

Giant butterflies – the ultimate symbol of change– mark areas of native plantings. They are part of the “Butterfly Mural Migration” project, created by NECC adjunct art and design professor Jenn Houle.

This past January and February, Houle held Plant and Paint events, including one at NECC, where she invited members of nearby communities to help adorn 15 aluminum butterflies and moths, representing five different species native to Massachusetts. Houle created five additional butterflies, and this past May, she began installing them throughout Amesbury, Groveland, Haverhill, Lawrence, Merrimac, Newbury, and West Newbury on public conservation land, at public libraries, and around local schools. The butterflies migrated through different sites and landed on NECC campuses this month. Their visit is meant to raise awareness about native plants, eco-friendly gardening practices, and resources available to the host communities.

Butterfly on display on the Lawrence Campus

“It is a privilege to teach in the Art & Design program at NECC and I wanted to bring our vibrant, diverse community into the project for dual enrichment,” says Houle. “I wanted NECC students, faculty and staff to contribute their creative talent to the public artwork to enrich the project and to share a really exciting and easy means of conservation with our community. I also hoped to bring local community members to our campuses and share more of what NECC has to offer with a broader audience.”

The “Butterfly Mural Migration” project runs through the end of October. Next up for Houle is a mural project in collaboration with the nonprofit Pentucket Arts Foundation. She’s creating an educational mural of colorful pollinators on an exterior wall at Dr. Frederick N. Sweetsir Elementary School in Merrimac, similar to one she painted at BareWolf Brewing in Amesbury. She hopes that projects like these continue to inspire others to take more action to protect local habitats.

Butterfly on display near the entrance of the NECC Haverhill Campus

“I hope students and others at NECC will see the Butterfly Mural Migration signs and be inspired to learn more about native plants. The signs seek to promote the unique beauty of our native flowers and lead people to educational material that inspires them to take action and plant native. It is a cheap and easy way to care for our planet and create habitat. Hopefully, people will get inspired to dig in – literally!

For more information, visit Jenn Houle’s website or contact her at