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The Sustainable Art Studio
July 2, 2018
Green Teacher

WE WERE WARNED over a decade ago that about two thirds of the systems that sustain our basic needs are either collapsing, on the verge of collapsing or beyond the point of retrieval.1 Yet, this information has not had any significant effect in education policy – at least in the United States – and therefore it is safe to assume that it has not been a priority in our schools either. Actually, it is unlikely to ever happen. Policy-makers and school administrators are generally uninterested in committing to efforts that do not award them short-term or quantifiable results. Therefore – and sadly – the programs that encourage environmentally conscious patterns of behavior among our students are typically viewed as undesirable.2 With this problem in mind, I began to think about ways in which I could work around this obstacle through my teaching area, the visual arts. More specifically, my focus as an educator has been on investigating and developing ways in which my students can develop their own art materials and tools made from local resources. This approach of learning has hopefully made my students more aware of the environmental, social and economic implications of the projects they take on, and thus allowed them to learn about visual arts in a sustainable manner.

My own experimentation led me to realize that in order to develop a sustainable art studio, art and science had to be re-connected.3 It was only then – and through the study of pre-modern art processes that a meaningful connection between art and Education for Sustainable Development (ESD)4 could be established.

What follows are three examples of how a sustainable art program can be implemented in different settings, as well as some of the art processes that could be considered. First, I will share ways in which sustainable art practices can be carried out in a traditional inner-city school setting, and how members of the community — inside and outside the school — can become important players in the process. Second, I will discuss the deep connections that art processes can generate among people in rural settings and the wealth of possibilities that those settings offer. And lastly, I will provide ideas for developing a sustainable art studio in schools or settings with limited funding and resources.

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