Results of the Biodiversity Mapping Project

What a busy end to the spring!  While one group of my students was helping with the installation of our Bee the Change project, another was working alongside me and the K-8 students at Keele PS on the Biodiversity Mapping Project. The latter was a 10 day eco-art project that resulted in eight large murals for the school, acting as aesthetic responses to the children’s learning in science, art and geography over the course of four months.  They studied the concept of biodiversity – species, ecosystems, and genetic – through research, reading, and outdoor exploration, and shared what they learned through drawing, painting, and creative map-making. Each of the murals has a similar background – a map of part of the catchment area of the school – that if put all together, show the neighbourhood around Keele.  On the top layer is one form of life that contributes to local biodiversity, from insects (gr. 1s) through to genetic diversity (gr. 8s.)  Around the edge is text written by the students to act as a framing device – in some cases poetry, in other cases the names of the species depicted.  We worked to reduce the eco-footprint of this painting project by minimizing and collecting the painting wastewater, as well as by reusing old mural panels. The results are meaningful AND beautiful, helping the students, teachers and community members better understand the importance of local biodiversity.  I’m very appreciative of the opportunity to work with the wonderful teachers and students at Keele; the help from my teacher candidates was the topping on the cake!

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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

Growing Art in Schoolyards

I was spending a lot of time in gardens over the summer, and some in school gardens.  I’m always on the lookout for ideas about how art can be incorporated into school yards as I think it’s a great tool to raise environmental awareness and even bring about environmental change.  There is lots of experimentation going on in Toronto in this area, and it is exciting to find a new artwork in a schoolyard to support student learning.  If you’re looking for ideas in this regard, Pinterest has lots of ideas in visual forms.  You can also refer to a great book called Asphalt to Ecosystems:  Design Ideas for Schoolyard Transformation by Sharon Gamson Danks (published by newvillagepress).  Sharon is a Californian consultant on schoolyard greening, and has travelled around the world photographing amazing schoolyard designs.  While any aspect of a greening project could be considered a form of aesthetic design, from the pathways to the plantings to the play equipment, she has included a few chapters dedicated to the diverse and stimulating roles that art can play to enhance children’s ecological literacy.   Check out the gallery on my website for more ideas on this topic.

Asphalt to Ecosystems

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.

World Premiere of My Eco-Art Video!

Such a busy winter, but so many fun projects happening along the way!  I started my own You Tube channel called ‘EcoArt Ed’, and posted my first video about making ecoart with elementary children.  You can find it here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3PhYowsFGNM

The project came about thanks to my sister Karen Somers, who is a filmmaker and photographer in LA (check out her website at http://www.karensomers.com/ )  We shot the footage last summer when she was in town – a fitting end as I was wrapping up a long standing commitment to the school featured in the video.  We didn’t have time to script, so we shot mainly in one or two takes when we had time.  She left me the raw footage, and I worked on editing it last fall.  It was my first experience using iMovie, so the learning curve was steep, but I’m pleased with the result.  (Thanks also to my son Alex for his help with the editing – it really was a family affair!)  It certainly has reminded me to document all that is done when working on ecoart projects – just sharing the results with others can inspire them to try eco-artmaking themselves!

The High Line is a Highlight!

I’m still thinking about my trip to New York in March – it’s such a wonderful city to inspire thought and action.  One of the fondest memories I have taken away from it was my trip to the High Line, a new public park that sits on an old raised railway line on the west side of Manhattan.  It runs from Gansevoort Street in the Meatpacking District to West 34th Street, between 10th & 11th Avenues.  On it you find the old train rails interspersed with plantings, eco-artworks, benches, and amazing views of the neighbourhoods that surround it.  It’s an entirely unique way to experience NYC as you are raised above but still part of the fabric of the city.  Below are photos of just two of the artworks that have been beautifully immersed into the park’s design.  The stained glass piece is by Spencer Finch, who was inspired by the colours of the nearby Hudson River; the amazing birdhouses are by artist Sarah Sze.  If you’re in Manhattan, a visit to the High Line is a must – just as inspiring as visiting the galleries!  For more info, visit:  

http://www.thehighline.org/about/public-art

High Line 2012

Growing Rooftop Art in Toronto

I went on a tour of school gardens in the Toronto District School Board last week, and what eco-art treasures can be found these days when you start to look!  We visited a number of schoolyards, starting with Runnymede PS, which is near and dear to my heart – it’s always a delight to show off this extensive and well-developed garden.  The one that was the biggest surprise to me was the rooftop garden at Brock Public School, near Dufferin and Bloor, on the city’s west side.   This gem has been recently re-installed in partnership with Foodshare, an amazing non-profit here in the city that focuses on sustainability education through food.  On the third floor of the school, it is a food garden that has been thoughtfully created with an eye on teaching from the outset, and a strong sense of design throughout.  It includes a few lovely mosaics, wading pools used as planters, and even re-purposed food buckets as colourful planters – everything is kid-height and kid-friendly.  I’m sure the art in this garden will continue to grow alongside the plants over time….

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!

Best eco-art site found this summer!

I’ve had a lovely few weeks of vacation, and was lucky enough to visit a wonderful eco-art spot in England as part of my travels. I’ve been wanting to visit the Yorkshire Sculpture Park for a few years, as I knew that Andy Goldsworthy had exhibited there on a number of occasions. It was well worth the pilgrimage to the north of England – acres and acres of farmland and forest, with dozens of art sculptures and installations sprinkled throughout the park. Like many museums in Britain it was free to the public, with only a small fee for parking.

What a place! I got to combine two of my favourite activities – hiking and looking at art – in one stunning location in the Yorkshire hills. I was thrilled to experience Goldsworthy’s work firsthand, walking in and around his Shadow Stonefold, Outclosure and Hanging Tree installations from 2007. His stonework is absolutely beautiful, and the siting is inspired. My teenage boys seemed to enjoy their interactive elements as much as I did. I also enjoyed seeing James Turrell’s Deer Shelter Skyspace (also from 2007). His work emphasizes our connection to the sky, and again was a wonderful integration with the open fields and animals of the park.

It was also lovely to see Henry Moore sculptures in their ‘natural setting’, surrounded by the very countryside that inspired them. See the accompanying photo one of these surrounded by English sheep and Canadian geese – a thoughtful addition for a bunch of visiting Canucks!

The highlight of the day however was a retrospective of the work of David Nash, who is a nature-based artist working mainly with trees and wood. What a stunning series of works – I was completely captivated. His work honours the beauty and majesty of trees while articulating his own relationship to them through his connections to the present and the past. If you’re not familiar with his artistry, check out the YSP website for a great series of links on his work [http://www.ysp.co.uk/view.aspx?id=691].

So if you’re heading to England, I highly recommend making the Yorkshire Sculpture Park one of your destinations – it is a wonderful place for nature-based and environmental art!