Commons Meeting and Art Space

The Institute on the Environment’s building on the Twin Cities campus includes a gathering and exhibition space, which has hosted a variety of creative works that celebrate the environment and sustainability. As we return to campus this fall, we hope the space will continue to bring different communities across the University together and support IonE’s work to foster interdisciplinary relationships. The Commons is located in R350 Learning & Environmental Sciences.

Recent Exhibitions

IonE Educators Exhibition – Nurturing Relationships with Nature

University of Minnesota Twin Cities, March 14-25, Weekdays 9am-4pm

Exhibit panel example.

Learning and Environmental Sciences Building, R350

As Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie so powerfully pointed out in her 2009 Ted Talk, “Stories matter. Many stories matter. Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign. But stories can also be used to empower, and to humanize. Stories can break the dignity of a people. But stories can also repair that broken dignity.”

This IonE Educators’ Collective Action is about stories and the environment; it is about how we tell the stories of our innovative teaching in sustainability and environmental education; it is about the stories we can marshal to encourage action in the face of an imminent climate catastrophe; it is about the stories our students tell themselves and us through their work engaging the environment; and it is about the stories we humans are currently writing about ourselves in the Anthropocene.

The general focus of this exhibition is on the human-nature relationship. Matt Peterson asks students to rethink their understanding of, and relationship to, insects. Jessie Barnett Schimek challenges students to unpack the connection between our health and the environment. Sheila Williams Ridge works to nurture positive attitudes to nature in children. Susan Craddock highlights more sustainable relations between food and environmental and human health. Reba asks people to creatively immerse themselves in their environment in order to deepen their relationship with it. We hope this exhibition encourages you to nourish that relationship, too.

Often, in academia, we are tempted to tell stories in traditional ways – think the commonly used 5-chapter structure of a thesis or the standard form of an academic article. However, in early discussions, this cohort indicated strongly that they wished to tell their stories in a more creative way (though nobody followed through on dance as a form of storytelling!). In retrospect, it appears this desire was rooted in their creative engagements with their own students. From websites designed to promote community building, to digital art-based curricula, to drawing, journaling, and model building, each educator has displayed a drive to incorporate creativity in teaching students in their field. And if entomology, child development, health, food systems, and ecology can do it, then any discipline can.

We hope that this exhibition will inspire all you educators to find innovative ways to engage your students as well as creative ways to incorporate aspects of sustainability into your curriculum. What will your story be?

Not in the Twin Cities area? Check out this exhibit at all the UMN-systemwide campuses:

University of Minnesota Rochester, April 4-8, 9am-4pm University Square Atrium, 3rd Floor
University of Minnesota Morris, April 11-15, 9am-4pm (TBC) Science Building Atrium
University of Minnesota Duluth, April 18-22, 9am-4pm Swenson Science Building Atrium
University of Minnesota Crookston, April 25-29, 9am-4pm Student Center

Sketching the Invisible:

Student Views from a Power Systems Journey

An energy revolution is underway, and needs to accelerate to support climate and economic goals. But the general citizenry does not understand our current energy systems, particularly the seemingly invisible phenomena of electricity, and its generation, distribution, and use. Addressing this challenge is the purpose of a grand challenge course called “Power Systems Journey: Making the Invisible, Visible and Actionable.” Co-instructors, Jonee Kulman Brigham and Paul Imbertson have curated an exhibit focused on sketches made by their students in the class.

The sketches follow the student’s journey from the lighting system in the Bell Museum, upstream to various power plants and transmission lines of the electric power grid, to a substation, and back to the Bell Museum where the electric light meets its final use. This experiential exploration of our current electric power grid gave students a foundation of understanding about the grid’s challenges and opportunities. Based on this and other explorations summarized in the exhibit, students proposed and promoted solutions for the electric grid of the future as part of society’s energy transition in progress.



This series is titled SELF[care] because all of the trash pictured are things people use to better themselves in some way whether it be physical, mental or emotional. The irony of this is that despite all of the items serving a positive purpose for humans, they all ended up either on the bank of the Mississippi River or in it. This series serves as a reminder of the impact we have on our environment and is meant to inspire people to treat it with the same care that we show ourselves.

All the trash pictured is as found and it was all picked up after the shoot was done.


The Mississippi River Water Journey Camps: 2019 Exhibit

This exhibit documents the experiences of 50 campers, ages 6-12 as they discover how everything is connected as they follow pipes, touch the river, help the wetland, and tell their story. The Mississippi River watershed extends across the whole middle part of the country and connects the communities of this area through the interaction of water uses, land uses, and downstream effects. Mississippi River Water Journey Camps, held at IonE, reveal how everyday interactions with water, like those here on St. Paul campus connect us to the Mississippi River. Water Journeys: Drink, shows the relationship of a drinking fountain in this building to the Mississippi River, upstream and downstream. Water Journeys: Rain, shows the relationship of a storm drain upstream from the land where rain falls, to downstream to a wetland and the Mississippi River. The camps follow the Earth Systems Journey curriculum framework for art-led, place-based, experiential environmental education. Included are maps with photographs of and by students engaged with water science, water stewardship, photography, visual journals, and art-maps.



Moira Villiard

Moira Villiard is an independent traditional artist, activist, muralist, speaker, writer, designer and filmmaker who, by some feat of pluralism, hopes better our community through these niches. She’s known for her live painting demonstrations at cafes, fledgling businesses, event openings, and in classrooms; a major part of her philosophy is making art accessible and interactive. Stylistically, her artwork ebbs and pulls between the realms of portraiture, illustration and surrealism.




We Are Water MN

From October 12 to November 26, 2018, the University of Minnesota Twin Cities hosted We Are Water MN. This popular statewide traveling exhibition explores the connections between the humanities and water, inviting visitors to reflect on local stories and the meaning and experiences of water in Minnesota – and add their own stories to the mix.

Organized by the Minnesota Humanities Center and Minnesota Pollution Control Agency in cooperation with four other state agencies, We Are Water MN was housed at the Institute on the Environment during its stay on the Twin Cities campus, before moving on to seven other host sites. Other key partners at the University are the Institute for Advanced Study and the Water Resources Center/Water Resource Sciences graduate program.


People of IonE (now on display in LES hallway on level 3R)
Why do you care about the environment?
What’s the change you’re trying to bring about in the world?
What gives you hope?

IonE’s ability to build a better world grows out of the recognition that people make decisions, people discover solutions, and people are the agents of change. As we like to say: “Together, we create the future.” And to create one in which all people thrive, along with the planet, we need diverse perspectives, different skill sets and a range of passions pushing us forward. Meet the members of the IonE community, and learn more about what drives their work.

This photo exhibit was created in celebration of IonE’s ten year anniversary. More information on that event and the gallery can be found here.


Glacial Wanderings
Anna E. Orbovich

“Through the lens of a voyageur, printmaker, and papermaker, I am interested in the glacial paced process of geologic time and the impact of human interaction within Wilderness areas. My personal experiences with the Wildness of the Wilderness serve as a departure point for the imagery within my work. I find myself questioning the what ifs, hows and whys of our interaction with nature. What is to become of the places I refer to as the Wilderness? Through my work I aim to speak up for these quiet places.”

Anna Orbovich is a Minneapolis based artist working primarily in printmaking, papermaking and book arts. Currently, she is a second year MFA candidate in the Department of Art at the University of Minnesota. Orbovich earned her BFA in printmaking from Maryland Institute College of Art in 2012. Prior to returning to her home state for graduate school, Orbovich spent time working on trail crews in Iceland and the Deschutes National Forest in Central Oregon. These interactions within Wilderness areas have greatly influenced the direction of her work. This body of work, “Glacial Wanderings”, was created after spending three months in Iceland in 2014 where she volunteered in trail construction and organic farming as well as being an artist in residence at Gullkístan Center for Creativity in Laugarvatn. While in Iceland, Anna became fascinated by the glacial and volcanic landscaped that was slowly shifting around her. You can view more of Anna’s work at


The Mississippi River Water Journey Camps: 2017 Exhibit

This exhibit documents the experiences of 50 campers, ages 6-12 as they discover how everything is connected as they follow pipes, touch the river, help the wetland, and tell their story. The Mississippi River watershed extends across the whole middle part of the country and connects the communities of this area through the interaction of water uses, land uses, and downstream effects. Mississippi River Water Journey Camps, held at IonE, reveal how everyday interactions with water, like those here on St. Paul campus connect us to the Mississippi River. Water Journeys: Drink, shows the relationship of a drinking fountain in this building to the Mississippi River, upstream and downstream. Water Journeys: Rain, shows the relationship of a storm drain upstream from the land where rain falls, to downstream to a wetland and the Mississippi River. The camps follow the Earth Systems Journey curriculum framework for art-led, place-based, experiential environmental education. Included are maps with photographs of and by students engaged with water science, water stewardship, photography, visual journals, and art-maps.

Water Journey: Drink Camp Art-Science Reception: Friday, June 16, 2017, 4:30-5:30 p.m.
Water Journey: Rain Camp Art-Science Reception: Friday, June 23, 2017, 4:30-5:30 p.m.

2017 Collaborative Team: Led by Institute on the Environment, University of Minnesota, Initially Funded (2016) by Minnesota Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund, With Special Thanks to Partners and Supporters: U of MN Recreation & Wellness Summer Youth Program, U of MN Operations, Facilities Management, Energy Management, Earth Systems Journey, U-Spatial, U of MN College of Biological Sciences, U.S. National Park Service, Capitol Region Watershed District, West Mississippi Watershed Management Commission, St. Paul Regional Water Services, Vadnais Lake Area Water Management Organization, Metropolitan Council Environmental Services, Suzanne Savanick Hansen, Video production (2016): Wild Carrot Studios, LLC Project Website:

Beauty in Peril

Growing up in Miami, Florida, Maris Gilbert’s paintings continue to be influenced by the waters and colors of her childhood. Maris blends her life as an artist with a career as a therapist in private practice, using the creative process for wellness and healing. Her recent work, Beauty in Peril, explores the beauty and peril of our planet in the places where shorelines, sky, earth and living beings intersect. Humans and climate changes are influencing these elusive lines. She hopes this work sparks awareness and, ultimately, improved and ongoing care.

Water Journeys: Finding the River

The  “Water Journeys: Finding the River” exhibit, on display during summer 2016, showed the story of youth exploring their water systems to discover how they are interconnected with the Mississippi River. The exhibit shared what youth campers in two summer camps, Water Journey: Rain!, and Water Journey: Drink! youth experienced and created through photographs, nature notebooks, hand made maps and GIS story maps as they followed water from a storm drain or drinking fountain to the river.

Sustainable Acts: Mother Earth’s Embrace [SAMEE]

The SAMEE exhibit featured over 40 artists and their work inspired by science and sustainability. The exhibit was on display through January 15, 2016.

River Journey

This exhibit featured photographs and student reflections from “River Journey: Exploring the Value of the Mississippi River,” an art-led environmental education project, by Jonee Kulman Brigham, an IonE resident fellow, helping youth connect the Mississippi River to the water coming out of their taps at school and at home.

earth art

This series of paintings by Marjorie Schalles was inspired by satellite photographs from the U.S. Geological Survey/Earth Resources Observation and Science Center (EROS). The images captured by NASA photographers, developed for their aesthetic beauty rather than for scientific value, resonated with her artistic vision, bringing fresh and inspiring glimpses of our planet’s complex surface.


“3434” is an exhibition of four prize winning artworks created in spring of 2014 by student groups from the Art History course “Art and the Environment” (ArtH3434). Students from different backgrounds and with a wide range of undergraduate majors worked together to research environmental problems and the history of earth and environmental art. Emulating the many collaborative environmental art groups working throughout the world today (groups that include scientists of various kinds, designers, architects, visual artists and activists), they produced or proposed works of art that respond to diverse environmental challenges. The works in the exhibit represent a range of artistic approaches and media including printmaking, architecture, sculpture, performance and culture jamming. This exhibition was made possible by a mini grant from the Institute on the Environment.

Estar in el Prairie

Estar in el Prairie is a community-created photography project that documents the changing faces of rural western Minnesota. Due to growing labor-intensive agricultural operations, rural population decline is being offset by a flourishing immigrant population, composed mainly of Latinos. This project documents the faces, stories and humanity of a new rural narrative.

Polar Environments

The Polar Geospatial Center is a research organization funded by the National Science Foundation to provide support for science and operations in the polar regions. We present a collection of photographs, maps, and satellite images from our work in the most beautiful and remote places on Earth: Antarctica and the arctic. See more of our work.


I AM WATER is an ongoing, collaborative, public art project. Rooted in Anishinaabe beliefs about our direct relationship with nature, the primary goal of this work is simple: to erase the notion that we, as humans, are somehow separate from the natural world we inhabit. Re-establishing this primal connection is central to establishing more efficacious paths toward environmental activism. The current public work, part of which is on view in the Commons Gallery, is I AM WATER’s Wave of Change.

Tales of Environmental Turbulence: The Common Trails of Art & Science

Between broad visions of land and sky and careful observation of small details lies the intersection of art and science. In this exhibition, we explore the inevitable intersection of disciplines to encourage deeper expression of challenging and difficult concepts that affect us individually and globally at this time of cultural paradigm twists. Art from a variety of traditions will be featured – traditional, avant-garde, mixed-media, media art, sculpture, painting, drawing and performance – demonstrating the intersection between art and science. This exhibition is a culminating project of Conversation-E: Science + Art in Dialogue and Service to Sustainability supported by the Institute on the Environment in collaboration with GATE (Greening and Art Together Evolving).

Conexiones: Área de Conservación GUANACASTE
Damond Kyllo & Annie Rosenthal

Art offers a path to make science accessible to broader audiences. Generous support from IonE allowed Annie Rosenthal and Damond Kyllo to visit IonE resident fellow Jennifer Powers’ field sites in the tropical dry forests of Guanacaste, Costa Rica, in June, 2011. Annie, now a sophomore at the University of St. Thomas, specializes in botanical illustration. Her detailed drawings on display in the IonE Commons will be part of an informal field guide, Notas del Campo, to the plants of the Área de Conservación Guanacaste (ACG). Damond has a Ph.D. in biology and uses his skills as a scientist and an illustrator to tell ecological tales to children. Damond has completed a Spanish language illustrated story guide, Conexiones, which will reach thousands of Costa Rican schoolchildren through the Biological Education Program of the ACG. Together, this original artwork illustrates the diversity, complexity and beauty of the tropical dry forest and interconnected ecosystems, and helps tell the stories of these unique and endangered places.

Downstream/Upstream: A Journey Through the Urban Water Cycle

“Downstream/Upstream: A Journey Through the Urban Water Cycle” documents a two-week journey that 39 children ages 4–6 took to explore the infrastructure of water. On exhibit are photographs, artists’ books, maps and diagrams that illustrate the children’s exploration of the urban water cycle starting from their classroom sink to the Mississippi River — upstream and downstream. Artist Jonee Kulman Brigham led the structured and creative collaborative project that allowed children to explore cultural narratives and issues of sustainability related to the flow of water through their daily lives. “Downstream/Upstream” illustrated and incubated an art/environmental education curriculum framework called “Systems Journey,” which was supported in part by an Institute on the Environment Mini Grant. Brigham is an architect and research fellow at the Center for Sustainable Building Research in the College of Design and an artist at Full Spring Studio. See more information on “Downstream/Upstream.”

Ecomusicology Listening Room

The Ecomusicology Listening Room, a collection of soundscapes designed to inspire reflection, questions and new ideas concerning the relationship between music, image and place, is a communication tool for building the field of ecomusicology in a creative, interdisciplinary and collaborative fashion. The website (, exhibit and live sessions encourage participants to consider the place of sound in sustainability, biodiversity, environmental health and environmental justice. ELR1 (2012) matched still images to sound compositions to evoke ecomusicological questions and stoke discussion among musicians, artists, musicologists, ethnomusicologists, popular music studies scholars, environmentalists and environmental scientists. ELR1 debuted at the American Musicological Society (AMS) and Society for Ethnomusicology (SEM) meetings in New Orleans in 2012, then traveled to IonE in 2013. The next stage, ELR2 (2013), will combine music with video and emphasize popular music and environmental advocacy, action and policy themes. It will be exhibited at the AMS meeting in Pittsburgh and the SEM meeting in Indianapolis in November 2013.


The Commons: Meeting & Art Space hosted its first exhibit in December 2012. The IonE community praised the artistic addition to the collaborative meeting area, and the administrative department decided to explore having the art space as a permanent fixture. Looking forward, we hope to host three exhibits each year that highlight a variety of artists affiliated with IonE, the University of Minnesota or the Twin Cities.


The Commons primarily serves as a collaborative meeting area for the IonE community. Members of the general public are welcome to visit the art space during times when the Commons is not reserved for IonE meetings or events. We encourage you to review the Commons calendar (above), which lists private reservations, before dropping by.

  • Preparation: The Commons: Meeting & Art Space functions as a self-sustaining entity. In order for your exhibit to be considered, your artwork needs to be ready to display. We cannot offer any type of financial assistance outside of providing basic equipment for installation.
  • Installation: The artist is responsible for the entire installation of the exhibit. The installation must occur while an IonE representative is present (8:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m., Monday – Friday).
  • Public space: The Commons is not monitored and IonE has no control over who visits, even during our normal office hours. We do not insure any of the artwork we host; all artists are required to sign a release of liability.
  • Types of art: IonE is interested in hosting a wide variety of artists in the Twin Cities, but we are especially interested in highlighting those directly connected to IonE or University of Minnesota community. We are also open to exhibits that feature work not typically thought of under the artwork umbrella, such as photographs from a research site, infographic material and natural objects.
  • Application: Please fill out the artist request for consideration.

Please review the Commons: Meeting & Art Space floor plan (PDF). If your work is selected for display, it may also be helpful to view the space in person as there are several pieces of larger furniture that are movable but not included in the floor plan.

Please fill out the artist request for consideration. Allow 5–7 business days for a response. Exhibits are booked based upon upcoming availability of the space.

Please contact Kimberly Long, the Events and Special Projects Coordinator or 612-626-9553.

The opinions expressed in these exhibits are those of the artists and not necessarily of the Institute on the Environment/University of Minnesota.