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Northfield Poet Laureate: Steps of the Sun

The Northfield Poet Laureate is sponsored by the City of Northfield and funded by the Northfield Public Library and the Southeastern Minnesota Arts Council (SEMAC), in partnership with the Northfield Arts and Culture Commission.

Steps of the Sun

Creator: Chris Martin, Visiting Assistant Professor of English, Carleton College. Northfield audio tours commissioned in association with the Northfield Poet Laureate.

Originally commissioned for Carleton’s 2016 Walking festival, Steps of the Sun was conceived as a binaural audio tour (in a style pioneered by Janet Cardiff) that could reawaken the listener’s interest in and curiosity about the Carleton campus. By taking a placemaking approach, this audio tour surfaces multiple levels of historical knowledge specific to Carleton College and then connects them to global ideas about measurement, the body, disability, literature, elegy, astronomy, music and economics.

In this next iteration, we hope to make Steps of the Sun a permanent installation that will help encourage not only Carleton students and staff, but also members of both St. Olaf and the Northfield community to learn more about Northfield's rich history and inspire them toward their own placemaking contributions, all of which we will facilitate through an easy-to-use app. Additionally, in 2019 we will expand the reach of the audio tour into Northfield proper by commissioning four companion mini-tours tracing routes in the Northfield community. These companion tours will root themselves in Northfield’s wildly successful sidewalk poetry installation, furthering its mission to make literature an active part of civic life.

Each of four contributors from the Northfield community will create a script for a walking tour and record it in a recording studio at Carleton College's Weitz Center for Creativity under the direction of a student recording engineer. Contributors will be commissioned by the Northfield Poet Laureate, who will be the contact person for this project. 

Information for Contributors

  1. Each walking tour will follow a narrative arc—i.e., have a beginning, middle, and end, like a story. This could mean that the tour includes three distinct locations, each connected with a thematic thread. For example, it might start in Bridge Square (a site of community cultural gatherings), move to the Northfield Arts Guild (originally the YMCA, and the site of Northfield’s first public library), and end at the Northfield Public Library.
  2. Each walking tour will incorporate historical, cultural, artistic, scientific, and/or other relevant information to provide context (see the original “Steps of the Sun” script for examples).
  3. Each walking tour will incorporate Northfield’s sidewalk poetry, as well as other cultural and artistic elements (e.g., public sculpture) as appropriate. In the example above (1), the tour could begin at the sidewalk poem in Bridge Square and end at the sidewalk poem on 3rd St. in front of the original entrance to the public library.
  4. Each script will include oral instructions to walkers taking the tour (e.g., "head north on Division Street") and other sound effects (e.g., footsteps, music, traffic, other voices, etc.). For a general introduction to the concept of a binaural walking tour, see:

For a general sense of what is expected, see the original Steps of the Sun script below (PDF format). 

Each contributor will receive $250 upon completion of the project. This project is funded by Carleton College through a Public Works grant from the Mellon Foundation. For more information: