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SustTunes: sustainability as well-being

“It was ridiculously calming for whatever reason. I tried to pin down why, but I think it was just the vibe of the place. And it was nice to see so many passionate folks relaxin’ together,” commented one student who attended the first SustTunes on Friday, Dec. 5th.

What!? But it’s right before the end of the semester, the eye of storm, so to speak. Yet still, around 175 people gathered in the solstice-approaching darkness of “winter’s coming” season to an event that marked the first of its kind. The zero waste event, hosted by the Institute on the Environment’s Sustainability Education, transformed a space usually used as a research institute, a study area, or a pass through space into one of comfort, community-building, and relaxation.

Perhaps it was the festive lights, or the rhythm of music echoing through the halls, or the SAMEE Art Exhibition curated throughout the space.  It had never been activated in quite the same way.  There were children, students, professionals, grandparents.  Everyone was mingling together, flowing through the different parts of the building as easily as water.

So this arises the question: how did SustTunes implement sustainability as a community practice of well-being?

In Restorative Commons, Creating Health and Well-being through Urban Landscapes, Campbell and Weisen link human health and well-being to civic stewardship, space, programming, and design:

To support healthy cities, we must engage with multiple open space site-types using systems thinking while championing civic creativity and self expression. Understanding the profound impacts of social and economic inequality on health outcomes, we must commit to social justice, promote social cohesion, tailor programs to serve diversely resourced communities; and cultivate local economic systems. Retaining the best of previous calls for sustainability, there is a need to support future generations through education and youth empowerment (p 20).

The student-organized event represented many of these things, manifesting in particular youth empowerment, civic creativity, and self expression. Eleven student organizations represented different elements of sustainability, from Ducks Unlimited to UMN Energy Club. Four student bands, Willows, Shawnna, Geocasual, and Mind Cents, played a range of music types from acoustic to jazz funk. Various local organizations representing the cultivation of local economic systems and health catered, including a donation of apples from the Co-op Partners Warehouse.

It seems that it is this yearning to see sustainability as restorative practice rather than an apocalyptic “fix-it-to-the-end-of-the-world!” that brought these pieces together.  Lyrics in the song “Soundwaves” by featured band Geocasual encompass this tension between angst and agency that many in sustainability work might feel: “Time has shown our life’s eroded. I noticed when our shores had no more shells. I don’t mind, cuz I hear the sound, the song of my own waves.”

In this way, SustTunes did not just speak of, but put into practice, this realization for a new way of working that moves from angst to agency, breaking free from the stress and speed to one of relationship and animacy.  It taught us together as a community of professionals and future professionals, of youth and elders, about how to move towards an empowered restorative commons by finding threads of commonality rather than difference.

Many thanks to the organizers, musicians, student groups, caterers, and participants.  We hope to see you next year!

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