Collaborative Art-making in ‘Common Threads’

I attended a great talk on Eco-art recently by artist Sharon Kallis from Vancouver. She has authored a new book called ‘Common Threads’, which explores the use of collaborative art making as a way to raise awareness of the natural world and the environmental issues it faces. Invasive plant species are of particular concern, as she experiments with ways to re-purpose these plants as art material to deal with sustainability challenges. Sharon has created clothing out of plants, for example, weaving leaves and stems into functional material. I really enjoyed learning more about the community gardens she has been involved in in Vancouver, always with an eye on how the garden might be used as exhibition site or as a source for biodegradable art materials.   Recently she has been growing flax to make into linen fibre, (demonstrating that she has far more patience than I do!) I really appreciate her use of art-making techniques with a rich history, and ones that have often been positioned as ‘women’s work’, helping to reclaim these into the lexicon of contemporary art practice. At the core of this work is always a focus on using art to build community, an important part of living more sustainably on the earth. More info about Sharon’s work can be found here:  http://sharonkallis.com/ Common Threads0001

Where Do Eco-Art Ideas Come From?

At the start of another new year at OISE, we are in planning mode to create a few new eco-artworks with our students.  These projects have been well-received, and are successfully drawing attention to creating a culture of sustainability in our institution.  We’ve been very lucky to have support from our CAO in this as she provides financial support to make them happen…it would be hard to make projects happen with no budget.  But once the funding is in place, I’m often asked ‘where do you start’?  How do you find the spark of inspiration that begins the creative process?  I draw on a variety of sources for this – sometimes it comes from campaigns or organizations that are addressing an important environmental issue that we want to support.  In other instances it has been a way to raise awareness about an issue we know is of concern to our organization specifically (our FLAP project is an example).  Often it’s a technique or image from an existing artwork that inspires, triggering the reaction “I want to try that!” (This is a great way to push yourself to move beyond the art-making strategies you feel most comfortable with.)   And at times it has been a request from someone in the organization to help to address a specific concern (aesthetic or environmental.)  We’ve already got a project underway as an example of the latter; we were approached to provide new artwork for one of the busy meeting rooms in the building.  This provided an opportunity to improve a space in the building aesthetically, and another way to get across the message about sustainability. This has translated into a series of large-scale photos of our Learning Garden, and will allow the garden to have a permanent, year-round presence inside the building.  I’ll post photos of this installation here in the next few months as it is completed.

Inspiring Sessions at NAEA on Eco-Art Ed

I haven’t had a chance to report on the many inspiring sessions I went to at the National Art Education Association conference in March in New York City this spring.  For the first time, I found sessions on environmental art education every day at the conference, presented by educators from all over the word.  I learned about the SustainABILITY program at the Herron School of Art and Design at Indiana University; they are doing some beautiful ceramic work in gardens with children, as well as bird houses, plant pots, stepping stones and garden stakes.  I listened to Linda and Mark Keane’s presentation on their new Next.cc website, which tracks how to the greening of schools through collage and drawing.  Virginia Freyermuth described the work she has been doing with the Connecting Oceans Academy on Rhode Island; her descriptions of the art-based, cross-curricular integrations to learn about marine life was exciting.  And I was also introduced to the innovative work going on in Finland on nature-based approaches to art-making, through the work of Pirkko Pohjakallio and Jan van Boeckel; I’ll write more about their website in a future blog.)  There were so many sessions on eco-art education that I didn’t make it to all of them, which was a turning point at NAEA – and I hope a trend that will continue in the future!

New eARTh education website!

The spring has been busy and interfered with my blogging, but there are so many wonderful things happening in eco-art education to share!  I attended the NAEA’s annual conference in March in New York City, and saw a number of sessions focused on environmental art education.  The best news is that there is a group of scholars coming together to develop this area, led by Tom Anderson and Anniina Suominen Guyas at Florida State University.  They have started a new website, Earth art education [http://www.eartharteducation.com/] to act as a nexus for research and advocacy into environmental art education.  I’m happy to have been asked to sit on the editorial board of their new journal, Earth Education, and look forward to contributing to the content of the website as well.  Please consider sending papers to the journal as we’d love to read them!

Maybe there’s something in the water in BC…

I had the pleasure of catching up with Lisa Lipsett recently, an artist from Salt Spring Island (on the West Coast of Canada) who is doing some fascinating work as an artist and educator in connecting to nature through art-making.  (There seems to be lots of environmental art happening in British Columbia – may it’s all that makes for such fertile ground!)  She’s designed a process she calls Creative Nature Connection, that is, in her words “a nature-inspired practice of artful connection to ourselves, each other and the world.”  This is more than simply art-making in the great outdoors, but involves connecting to the self and with nature by “letting the inside out, and letting the outside in.”  She’s written a book about this called Beauty Muse: Painting in Communion with Nature, and runs programs and workshops around the country as requested.  She also has a terrific website, well-worth a visit to learn more about her approach.  Find it at:

http://www.creativebynature.org/

Staging Sustainability Conference in April

Thought those of you in the arts with an interest in environmentalism might like to know about an upcoming conference on this topic in Toronto in April 2011. It’s called Staging Sustainability, and it’s being hosted by York University. There a diverse array of people presenting who are dedicated to the roles that the arts can play in sustainability; I’m particularly interested in hearing David Buckland speak about the Cape Farewell Project. I’m presenting on the Wednesday – hope to see you there!

Shades of Green

It’s been a busy time since the holidays – hard to find time to blog! Teaching, writing and leading workshops has been keeping me hopping, but environmental art is never far from my mind. I was thrilled to have a new article published on the subject in the November 2010 issue of Art Education magazine – called “Shades of Green: Growing Environmentalism and Sustainability in Art Education”. This article describes a major study I led two years ago on eco-art education in Toronto and the process of having teachers develop curriculum in this area. It’s exciting to be able to share this work with a wider audience – the teachers I worked with were extraordinary, and demonstrated so well what eco-art ed can look like in their elementary classrooms. These are just two photos of the works their students created in the study – both created for school gardens!