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Winter 2012

INSIDE Environmental Art Education (Overview) Environmental Art Education Via Social Practice Social Practice Projects: No Swimming : Katherine Ball Greenhouse Britain : Newton and Helen Mayer Harrison Social Practice in School

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Resources & Links 13

About the author: Carolina Reese is an Art Educator and Photographer. She is currently finishing a Masters of Art in Art Education at the University of Florida. Her areas of focus are documentary photography, environmental ethics, and animal rights.


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s the Northeastern United States cleans up from Fall 2012’s super-storm Sandy, and millions are left in the cold without electricity or a place to stay, climate change takes center stage as a topic of national importance.


What is our ethical duty (if any) to our planet? What do we do to affect sustainability globally and locally? These are questions art educators face when teaching environmental issues, specifically when traditional art education tends to emphasize object-making as the focus of its curriculum. With climate change at the forefront of social consciousness, curricula that aim to address such issues by solely making tribute-type art objects or recycle

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art materials, may not be adequately helping the environment and can possibly be contributing to the problem by making more objects that ultimately end up in landfills. It is becoming ethically critical that educators across disciplines address the human connection to the environment. It is also becoming more critical that art educators leave the status quo and examine different strategies that will have a greater impact on environmental change. EARTH DAY 1970 - 2013

Art Education’s has a long standing history of teaching environmentalism and linking sustainability issues to artmaking. According to art education researchers Doug Blandy & Elizabeth Hoffman two active voices in environmental art education, April 22, 1970 -


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“I am convinced that climate change, and what we do about it, will define us, our era, and ultimately the global legacy we leave for future generations. We hold the future in our hands. Together, we must ensure that our grandchildren will not have to ask why we failed to do the right thing, and let them suffer the consequences.” -Ban Ki-Moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations Earth Day - started the modern environmental movement. Earth Day not only served as a major political and social catalyst for environmental change, but also sparked conversations between educators and artists about the relationship of aesthetics and environmentalism. While the conversations continued, the Eco-art education movement was slow to gain acceptance. It wasn’t until 1992 that The National Art Education Association recognized environmentalism by making it the theme of its annual convention, “the land, the people, the ecology of art education.” However, according to Blandy and Hoffman, “it was disappointing that conference organizers did not capitalize on the provocative theme the 1992 NAEA Convention offered by providing ecologically responsible alternatives to usual convention

practice.” From the nineties onward, scholars, educators, and artists have collaborated to provide suggestions for developing environmental art education pedagogy. This guide shows one method of teaching environmental issues and sustainability which is different from traditional object making.

Crystal blue Lake Louise, in British Columbia, Canada. The lake is formed by nearby melting glaciers.


Environmental Art Education

“Social Practice uses themes such as aesthetics, ethics, collaboration, and social activism (among others) to engage art in social issues and into the public arena .” - California College of the Arts (2012) How do we tackle contemporary environmental issues in Art Education programs? One way is to get students actively involved via a method called Social Practice. Social Practice uses aesthetics, ethics, collaboration, and activism to engage students in social issues. Social Practice is beneficial to art education because it integrates different strategies with the purpose of creatively bringing about social change. Scholars Doug Blandy, Kristin Congdon & Don Krug state the connection between art, art education, and ecological restoration as “a form of stewardship; it is about working together to direct people’s creative energies to heal fragile places by cleaning up rivers, planting trees, detoxifying water and soil, and working with alternative waste disposal and

waste water systems in the natural environment and urban landscape.” The environment can benefit from the integration and collaboration between the arts, sciences, and other disciplines. Cross subject integration is not only key for Environmental Social Practice, but is a fundamental component of art education. Researchers like Patricia Lynch argue specifically that integrated curricula make room for richer and more meaningful learning as they allow students to use their bodies, minds, and voices to express meaning. In allowing students to be hands on in their learning, by making art (or in this instance ecologically restoring), collaborating with others, and voicing their ideas, art educators are empowering students to be responsible for their own learning.

Integrated art education not only aids in learning but is also a good way of teaching students the practices of contemporary artists and that it often takes stepping outside the subject of art to successfully create a visual representation of an idea. It is common in contemporary art that artists research and reference biology, anthropology, history, environmental science, geography, etc. in order to make their social / political points. The following pages hold two examples of environmental Social Practice projects by artists who use their passion for the environment along with an ability to collaborate with others to educate the public and influence social change.

Katherine Ball aboard her row boat on the 100 Acres lake. This figure also shows the floating igloo structure on which she resided for the 6 week water cleaning project.

No Swimming Artist: Katherine Ball


atherine Ball is a great example of an artist who chooses to use ecological activism and social engagement in her work. In 2011, Katherine did a project on Indianapolis Island in collaboration with the Indianapolis Museum of Art. The project, entitled No Swimming, required her to take a six-week-long residency aboard a floating self-sustainable igloo-like structure to ecologically intervene and clean the 100 Acres Lake of E.coli and toxic waste from illegal dumping. After scientifically researching clean water methods and collaborating with clean water scientists, she constructed a mycoboom, a long burlap sack filled with straw and inoculated with

mushroom spawn. The mushroom spawn created a web within the straw which then acts as a filter, cleaning the water. Ball’s ecological intervention with the lake served a greater purpose than the objects that were created in the process (the mycoboom and igloo). She chose to involve the community in the project, allowing them to participate in water testing and educating them with tours and regular workshops on clean water issues, stressing the importance of participatory learning experiences.

Social Practice Projects Projects Practice Social (Above) Girls check water samples as they learn how to inspect ph levels, e.Coli, and other bacteria during a community workshop.

(Right) A greywater plumbing system Ball installed to clean and recycle the water in the igloo, making it selfsustaining.

(Left) The chain of mycobooms Ball installed in front of the inflow/outflow stream. Her research showed that the e.Coli was coming from a stream down the White River. This burlap-wrapped mycoboom was designed to catch the water as it flowed into the lake and clean it. Evidence that the system is working is the growth of Oyster Mushrooms seen on the burlap fabric.

Faced with the challenge of rising water and population displacement in major cities, artists can help design solutions to environmental threats.

Greenhouse Britain Artists: Newton and Helen Mayer Harrison


ewton and Helen Mayer Harrison are some of the pioneers of Eco-art. According to author Amanda Boetzkes “Through their collaboration with scientists, engineers, architects, and other specialists, in sustainable development, the artists have attempted to narrow the gap between the labor or restoration and aesthetic appreciation of the living environment.” Their project Greenhouse Britain (2007-2009) aimed to find design solutions to an alternative landscape as waters rise due to global warming and populations are forced to move inland and live more sustainably. Whereas Katherine Ball had a specific

real-time problem with which to contend (toxicity in the 100 Acres Lake), the Harrisons focused on proactive design solutions to potential environmental problems, in this case, the consequences of rising waters in Great Britain due to global warming. With this exhibition, Mayer & Harrison note that the purpose was to generate thinking and design that would address four key issues; “(1) [m]oving some percentage of millions of people to high ground, (2) [c]reating appropriate habitat for them while looking at creating a more carbon sequestering landscape, (3) [m]oving endangered means of production to high ground, and (4) [p]roducing the amount of

energy necessary to do so when low ground power plants become dysfunctional from flooding.” While this project might seem more like traditional artwork in that it is an exhibition to be viewed in galleries, it falls under the guidelines of social practice in that it combines aesthetics, ethics, collaboration and social activism. In addition, the main focus of the project is to educate the public and spark social change. The art objects made in the process are a bi-product of the Harrisons’ aim to educate but are not the primary goal. Boetzkes points out that the Harrisons collaborated with scientists and architects in devising plans for

the withdrawal of populations displaced by rising waters. One of the phases of the Greenhouse Britain project is the design of an eco-tower, a high rise city encased in a tower. This tower “would hold schools, offices, shops, and public spaces at its base and gardens and two-story apartments in the upper floors, and each would be topped with a wind turbine.” Each tower would house fifteen thousand people (see figure on right). It is important to understand that design can play an important function in Social Practice when physical activism isn’t yet possible for an educator. Professors Laurie Hicks and Roger King discuss the importance of first being able to confront the possibility of environmental collapse. Specifically, projects like the Harrisons’ are important because they bring awareness to the looming threat of flooding and as Hicks and King put it, “help guide human beings towards a more informed and responsible engagement with the natural world.” They also state that the arts (and projects like Greenhouse Britain) “can help us to develop a sophisticated awareness of how our place is created not just by the ecological processes of nature, but also by the human narratives and practices that integrate civic life into the biotic community.”

(Above) Eco Tower for high-rise living. The Harrisons worked with the Architectural Planning Group to design these solar powered towers.

(Below) How the rising waters displace people. This image powerfully illustrates The Harrisons’ research that rising water will displace millions of residents.

Social in Practice


In K-12 educational settings, logistics and access can be an obstacle to some social practice environmental approaches.

A possible solution to Social Practice resistance is to take large-scale projects and adapt them to the classroom. A project like Katherine Ball’s No Swimming is an example of creatively using scientific research and collaboration with experts to achieve a greater goal, clean water. Teachers can plan an in-class unit of study on environmentalism and water issues. In possible collaboration with the science department and local water experts, teachers can guide students to study the affects of contaminated water and do smaller experiments on cleaning water using plants and/or mushrooms. Students can then document the process of cleaning smaller tubs of water via photography, documentary film-making, blog, and even class web pages. Finally, students can then present their findings, photographs, documentary film, etc to administrators, other students, or via the web. USING DESIGN THINKING AS SOCIAL PRACTICE Social Practice doesn’t always have to involve addressing a current environmental issue, it can explore the anticipation of a possible future environmental problem. Greenhouse Britain is unlike No Swimming because it employs design thinking to address environmental problems that haven’t yet occurred. Thus, for more traditional

(Left) Preschool students at the United Way Center for Excellence in Early Education on an exploratory nature walk where they observe and document what they see around their school garden via drawings.

(Above) Environmental observations encourage students to brainstorm for potential hazards or design problems that may prove important as the environment changes. art educators who may still be uncomfortable with abandoning a focus on object-making and adding activism into their curriculum, Greenhouse Britain is a good example of how simple design and design thinking can still aim to find solutions to environmental issues and connect students with their environment. Students can follow the example of Newton and Helen Mayer Harrison by exploring the possible dangers to their community, or even just their school, should waters rise or climates change. The 2012 Super Storm, Sandy, in the Northeastern United States is a sobering reminder that any coastline is

vulnerable to flooding. Art educators can encourage students to study the physical structure of their school or homes and come up with design solutions that would better protect their community or school from environmental changes. Similar to the ecotower the Harrisons’ designed, students can consult with local builders or architects to design safer structures. In addition, students can then exhibit their drawings, designs, and other findings for their school, community and parents.

Resources & Links For those who wish to learn more on environmental Social Practice in art education, the following page is a list of helpful resources and links. A special thank you to the artists featured in this guide, Katherine Ball and Helen Mayer & Newton Harrison for allowing their images to appear in this guide.

The Pinterest page devoted to Environmental Social Practice. tal-social-practice/ Helen Mayer & Newton Harrison’s studio page for the Greenhouse Britain Project The Indianapolis Museum of Art page for its collaborative project with Katherine Ball entitled, No Swimming.

Disclaimer: Images in No Swimming are property of Katherine Ball. Images in Greenhouse Britain are property of Helen Mayer & Newton Harrison. All other images are property of Carolina Reese ŠCarolina Reese. No parties/individuals visiting or viewing images from this guide, may otherwise copy, modify, publish, transmit, or distribute the contents of the photographs found herein. Express written permission must be granted, on behalf of the photographer (copyright holder, Carolina Reese), in order to use these photographs for any purpose that is not outlined above.

Environment & Art Education  
Environment & Art Education  

This Capstone Project is an online starter guide for art educators interested in learning about Social Practice as a method with which to ad...