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Music, art and theater: Sustainability through a different lens

The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (aka, AASHE) conference is just around the corner! AASHE is the largest sustainability related conference of its kind, and we are fortunate enough to have the opportunity to have it right in our own backyards.

This year AASHE will once again feature presentation topics ranging from energy to climate change and food to water issues. Along with unique presentations, AASHE is welcoming presenters from across the United States, many of whom are experts in diverse disciplines. Minnesota is sure to be well represented at this year’s conference, as representatives from the Twin Cities campus and other campuses across the state will be in attendance! Here’s the bottom line: If you have yet to give thought to which AASHE presentations you’re interested in checking out, now is the time! Lucky for you, we’ve started to do some research.

Using art, theater and music to communicate sustainability

From an outsider’s perspective, sustainability or environmental issues might be viewed as research based, containing only graphs, numbers, and data. While these are all fundamental forms of communicating sustainability, there also happen to be other ways that sustainability issues are communicated.

This year, AASHE will feature presenters from our own state (MINNESOTA!) interested in taking a slightly different spin on sustainability. Their presentations will demonstrate how music, art and theater can provide an avenue through which we can communicate sustainability. Described below are a few AASHE presentations highlighting the importance of art/music/theater in sustainability!

Art as Vital Agent in the Spiral of Sustainable Change (10/27 @ 1:45-2:45)

Jonee Brigham, Senior Research Fellow at IonE, and Roslye Ultan, senior lecturer of Liberal Studies and Arts and Cultural Leadership, will lead a presentation bridging the connection between sustainability and art. As they discuss the intersection between art, science and environmental sustainability, they will reveal the role that art plays in the process of sustainable transformation. Roslye describes their presentation as setting itself apart from other presentations: “the arts have the power to stimulate emotionally charged responses for engagement and action. Art adds a new dimension to the conversation and search for finding new ways to communicate complex issues in aesthetically pleasing ways”. Their presentation will encourage open-ended thinking, curiosity and creative imaginations. Come to learn how the arts have shaped our environment and see sustainability in a new way!

Sustainability, the Musical (10/26 @ 10:10-11:10)

Mark Pedelty, Resident Fellow at IonE, and co-presenters from the University of Minnesota will engage their audience in a musical adventure, prompting audience members to share their experiences relating music and the arts to campus sustainability. Mark and his co-presenters will play a series of song-and-slide combinations throughout the presentation, including a song promoting local rain gardens! Mark believes that “art and pop culture can play an important role in connecting people to place”, so during the presentation he will be integrating songs from undergraduates and community organizations over the past 15 years. Come to learn about the challenges and opportunities involved in integrating art and pop culture into campus sustainability! Music included, folks.

Mapping Campus Connections: Using GIS Story Maps as part of Place-based, Art-led Environmental Education (10/26 @ 10:10-11:10)

Jonee Brigham, Senior Research Fellow at IonE and Len Kne, U-Spatial Associate Director, will introduce the concept of place-based and art-led environmental education by describing their engagement with local water sustainability issues. They will base their presentation on a case study entitled River Journey, describing in depth 70 high school students’ journey to discover the value of the Mississippi River. Their presentation will explain how the case study chronicled the path of sink water traveling upstream to the water treatment plant to a water meter ending in their own sinks. They will describe how the student’s final project involved the creation of an actual map of the water’s path and the importance in using visual maps and art projects to communicate sustainability. Join Jonee and Len to learn the logistics of carrying out this case study and how it can be applied to other areas of community sustainability education!

The Hive Project: Three Short Plays with Music (10/27 @ 12:30-1:30)

Rachel Jendrzejewski, playwright and Minnesota resident, will be exploring the relationship between humans and bees through a live performance at this year’s AASHE conference! She will presenting alongside artists and beekeepers from across the United States (from California to New York!) to demonstrate the impacts that environmental crises have on our bee population, how human labor is organized and to ask “what can we learn from bees?”.  Rachel believes that “artists have a critical role to play in igniting the public imagination, exercising the muscle of divergent thinking”, and The Hive Project provides an outlet for just that. The Hive Project will feature four acclaimed actors, live music and maybe even some bees *DISCLAIMER: no bees will be used or harmed in the performance*. Join Rachel and co-performers at AASHE to get a taste of the role that theater and music play in crafting a performance about environmental issues.

Did you know that you could find musical, art and theater related performances at AASHE?! Consider attending one of these awesome presentations during your conference excursion.

Roslye Ultan provided me with the following quote that sums up intersection of arts and sustainability pretty well:

“Art works clearly are superior to all other things, since they stay longer in the world than anything else…they are deliberately removed from the process of consumption and usage and isolated against the sphere of human life necessities”

– Hannah Arendt



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