Connect Inspire Empower
Eco artists often challenge our conceptions of what art is. They frequently work in collaboration with scientists, government agencies, and community members to produce such things as parks, landscape restorations and proposals for natural and urban development. These may seem a departure enough from the object-based and exhibition-oriented art norm but, with his introduction of the term "social sculpture," Joseph Beuys opened the door to an even more expansive definition of art practice. Using his ideas as a platform for innovation, some artists are experimenting with actions that shape the social landscape.
As an artist embedded in an institute of education, I've been experimenting with the social sculpture conceptualization by creating learning environments intended to not only foster a sense of empowerment for learners, but also to alter the shape of education itself. Over the past fifteen years, I've been involved with six primary projects: a place-based K-8 charter school, a school farm, a community-based environmental education non-profit, multiple school gardens, a demonstration resilient homestead, and new programs and courses at Pacific University that encourage a realignment towards sustainability education.
My process is informed by concepts of connectivity, relationships, and systems. When I start a project, I create an image in my mind of a network of elements and relationships that mimic the completeness I see in nature’s systems. As I work to develop these communities, I strive to build in complexity, redundancy, and diversity, since I know that these are tools that nature uses to build healthy ecosystems. I see myself as a practicing “systems builder” and am continually refining my understanding of how to build effective and purposeful learning communities that work to effect the culture change we need to be able to survive into the future.
While I am the instigator of these projects, my role is to facilitate rather than to direct. Instead of imposing my vision on others, my goal is to encourage participants to make the work their own. Once a person has joined a community for change, they can change the trajectory of it, act in their own best interest, and influence the others towards their ends. The process is collaborative and serves the goals of all who participate. I work to provide participants with opportunities to do what it is that they already do, or wish to do. My work amplifies their work by connecting individuals to others who resonate with their goals and values but also provide diverse perspectives and skill sets.
I know I have been successful when the community we’ve built together has unified around a shared purpose and has developed the structures it needs to thrive and grow on its own. Once this happens, I can move on to another project. Each project fills a niche in the education ecosystem in my community. My overarching goal is for these individual projects to eventually meld with existing structures so that learners of all ages will achieve environmental literacy though normal institutional operations without needing to resort to special programs that are limited in their capacity to reach all learners in the community.