Planting the Seeds for Environmental Stewardship

I worked on an environmental art project with a local Catholic school this fall, thanks to a great collaboration between Arts for Children and Youth (AFCY) and the Friends of Roseneath Park.  Roseneath is a small park located in central Toronto, sadly neglected and full of litter from a nearby parking lot, until the Friends group contacted AFCY to help deepen the community’s sense of connection to it.  They started with a community mural project this last summer – a photo of part of it is below.  I was invited to work with local school children in grades 3 and 4 to heighten their awareness of the park, and hopefully strengthen their sense of stewardship for it.  We used a ‘treasures and troubles’ approach, searching for the environmental strengths and challenges of their schoolyard at first, and then the park, working towards growing an understanding that both humans and more-than-humans share a desire for an environment that is free of garbage, with clean air, water, and lots of trees and plants.  The children relished an opportunity to learn outside, even in the chilly weather of late October, and took wonderful photographs of the treasures and troubles they found in the park – one example is below, of a maple leaf on a park bench (both treasures from the perspective of the young photographer.)  Back in the classroom, their drawings, photos and words formed the basis of their own sculptural books, one way to share what they have learned about local stewardship with others.

Roseneath MosaicPark treasures      T&T book



Using Digital Photos for Eco-Artmaking

Digital photography is a great technique to use for environmental art-making – while it’s not ‘no impact’ (is anything?), it is low impact.  For a small amount of electricity students can have so much fun taking photos and then modifying them in so many ways; it’s a great form of recycling!  I have been using the work of many of environmental photographer/artists in my classroom as starting points for eco-art lessons.  Canadian Ed Burtynsky is known internationally for his large-scale photos of human impact on the earth; if you haven’t seen his documentary Manufactured Landscapes, it is excellent viewing.  I haven’t seen his newest one, called Watermark, but reviews of it are also strong.  (More about his work at )  The work of American photographer Peter Menzel is often found in my classroom as well – his series Hungry World and Material World are fascinating portraits of families’ consumption around the world; not surprisingly there are great disparities depending on where they live.  I use his work to introduce eco-justice education and the power of art to raise awareness about inequity and its relationship to the environment.  ( )  And finally the work of American Chris Jordan ( ) is also useful to introduce how environmental statistics can have a greater impact when given visual form.   We’re experimenting with photography ourselves at OISE this summer by running a photography contest on our Learning garden – I’ll share the results in a future blog post.

Growing in New Directions

We are at the end of another jam packed year at OISE, so in amongst the classes, field trips and papers, I was very happy to have some time with children to work on a collaborative art project together.  ICS art  teacher Tara Rousseau generously opened her classroom to me again this year, this time with her grade three class.  MA student Jennifer Ford-Sharpe also volunteered to help; she was central to the planning and implementation of the project.  As learning about First Nations peoples is in the gr. 3 social studies curriculum, we used our new Aboriginal Education garden at OISE as the starting point. The students visited the garden in the fall to learn about native plant species and their role in aboriginal culture in Canada, and they made drawings of the plants in situ.  Back in the classroom they learned about the importance of the four cardinal directions in First Nations cultures, and were inspired by the work of artists Christi Belcourt (Metis), Bill Reid (Haida), Jane Ash Poitras (Cree), and Carl Beam (Ojibway).  This led the children to work on their own multi-media artworks using paint, clay, photographic transfers, and poetry.  Their works centred on the importance of the cardinal directions in aboriginal culture and the connections between humans, wildlife, and plants.  Such rich environmental learning!  A few photos of the results are below, with more on the OISE website, found here:
Thanks to Tara and Jennifer for their partnership in facilitating this wonderful eco-art project!

Growing detail 2   Growing detail 3Growing process