Celebrating Eco-Art Installations at OISE

 May and June were busy months at OISE for environmental and sustainability ed – one of our success stories was to get four new environmental art projects up on the walls.  These have been in development for about six months (check out my blog entries in December and February that track their creation.)  I’m happy to be able to share some of the images of these works below, but you can see lots more on our OISE website (www.oise.utoronto.ca/ese ). Look in the ESE in Practice section. 

 The response to the artworks has been very positive; many people have told me that they have climbed the stairs looking for others, and that they love having children’s art in the building.  The B.Ed students were thrilled at how good their work looks, as have others using the subway entrance, where it hangs.  My favourite response has come from the grade 1 students who created the tree paintings; they wanted to climb up all 12 flights of stairs at OISE to celebrate their contribution to the ‘Take the Stairs’ campaign (and they did!)  The most frequent response we have been hearing to these works has been “They are wonderful, when are we getting more?!” 

 Certainly these projects have all been challenging to collaboratively create, but worth the effort.  The B.Ed students who worked on them have had a positive and rewarding learning experience, and the young students who were involved feel very proud that their work is on display in a public institution.  The installations also appear to be a good way to remind our community about the power of art to capture attention and raise awareness about environmental issues.  But the big question left hanging is whether they will actually change people’s behaviour, be it to take the stairs more frequently, to turn off a light, or to live more consciously (and sustainably) on the earth.  So while these works may lead to more eco-artworks at OISE, they may also lead to my next research project…stay tuned!

clay tiles detail 1    tree1env rights detail

Acts of Green Pathway

It’s a busy month with lots of eco-art projects popping up, just like the spring flowers!  I’m working with an OISE intern this month to finish a project I started at a local school a year ago; it’s called the Acts of Green Pathway.  The idea was to have the students in the school (K-8) identify the environmental treasures and troubles of their schoolyard, and then name the behaviours that would help to address these challenges in a series of paintings on their schoolyard.  The paintings, done right on the asphalt, are created with large-scale stencils, and when done this month, will wrap the entire school with this pathway.  So far it has been very well-received by the school community, with many children using the leaves as stepping stones as they play and walk in the yard, and reading as they go!

Another Inspiring Artist


As I’m on a roll with introducing wonderful artists, another one I’d like to share is Alice Vander Vennen from Cobourg, Ontario.  For those of you who might be interested in learning how to incorporate natural and found materials into your own practice, she is an inspiring artist and teacher – with workshops coming up this summer!  I love her work – she weaves together textiles, clay, stones, found objects, wire, metal and branches, amongst other things, into her abstract pieces.  I’m not sure she would classify herself as an environmental artist, but in so many ways she integrates ideas around nature, culture, and sustainability through her choice and use of materials.  (I’m including one of her pieces here, which I don’t think she’ll mind as I just bought it!)  Please check out her website at:


Quilt of Possibilities on exhibit in Toronto

I wanted to share a great environmental art project that is currently on exhibit in Toronto called the ‘Quilt of Possibilities’. It’s a quilt celebrating Ontario’s Greenbelt in all of its forms – each quilt square was created by a different artist. My friend Dorie Preston and her daughter are both part of it, as are many other local artists. It’s a wonderful collaborative piece that speaks volumes about the way art can be used to raise environmental awareness for artists and viewers in a beautiful and engaging way. It’s on view until Dec 12th at the Ontario Craft Council Gallery in Toronto – here’s the link if you‘d like to learn more!


Green Arts at Evergreen Brick Works

I have been lucky over the last year to be involved in a small way in the thinking around ‘Green Arts’ at the new Evergreen Brick Works site, which has just opened in Toronto in October. Evergreen Brick Works is quickly becoming the environmental community centre of the city, with environmental education programs for schools, a plant nursery of indigenous plant species, a series of demonstration gardens, and a wonderful market featuring organic and fair trade food. It will also become the centre of environmental arts in Canada over time, acting as a much needed hub for artists, musicians, dancers and actors who share similar goals in sustainability through their practice.

The rejuvenation of the site is an art installation in its own right – the century old brick kilns and factory buildings are taking on a new life as classrooms, meeting places, exhibit spaces and performance venues. Artist-in-residence Ferruccio Sardella worked closely with the architects to ensure that the some of the patina and history of these spaces was left intact, including some of the existing street art, like the large graffiti murals that were created on the walls years ago. Ferruccio’s own works are slowly being added to the site, not only to build its own eco-art collection but also to materialize Evergreen’s ideals in aesthetic form. Other works on site include Dan Bergeron’s large-scale photo murals of the former brick workers in the kiln buildings, and art videos inside the kilns themselves!

Landscape architect Heidi Campbell is working on a creative, interactive space for children to play and create their own eco-artworks made of natural and found materials – this should be ready for the spring of 2011. Artists Shannon Crossman and Morgan Zigler have been supporting its development by sharing their innovative activities with children and families in the children’s garden over the past two summers.

Be sure to visit the Evergreen Brick Works website for more info at [http://ebw.evergreen.ca/] or better yet, visit in person!

Blog Entry #1

Welcome to my first blog entry on art, education and environment – what I hope will become regular reading for those with similar passions.  I often frame my practice as an art educator, researcher and consultant in terms of planting seeds, and so this blog will become another means for me to sow ideas and share new growth in the fields of art-making, art education, and environmentalism.   I’m aiming to write an entry every few weeks on these topics and cross-pollinate with others interested in these areas, so join me as I explore these fertile environments in future.

I’m writing this as I enjoy the quieter pace of the summer after wrapping up another year teaching in the preservice program at OISE.  It was a very busy year, and I welcome the summer break as a time to encourage growth on other projects that have been on the back burner.  One of these projects is my own website, which is linked to this blog.  Thanks to web designer Gareth Bates it is coming into full flower – tell me what you think about its design and content.  Another is getting caught up on writing projects that have been dormant all winter – I’m working on getting two book proposals out the door by the fall.

And I’m looking forward to another Summer Institute for teachers for the Toronto District School Board and Evergreen for August, this one on cross curricular approaches to environmental education and ecological literacy.  I’m facilitating this with my amazing colleague and friend Pam Miller. The institute is forcing me back into the studio to get my hands dirty – what a welcome relief after a winter with too much time at my keyboard!  I’ll write more about the institute in late August as it promises to be a great event.

Until then, enjoy the summer months, and take time to get outside and think carefully at what’s growing in your garden.