By Maire Marshall
I joined The Watershed Project as an intern this summer, and little did I know that opportunities would arise for me to combine two of my passions, environmental change and art. I really appreciate this, as I am pursuing both a major in Environmental Studies and a minor in Art. When I was asked to write about the intersection of art and environmental work I was grateful for the opportunity to reflect on what I already knew about this topic, and delve deeper into it to learn new things.
Art is a valuable tool in bringing about environmental change. It brings environmental issues to the attention of the public and raises awareness. Images can be more powerful and create more of an impact than words. By making these images and information more prevalent, art can stimulate discussion and change what is common knowledge. Art can be used to change cultural beliefs, attitudes and values, which in turn changes the way people act. To solve large, complex environmental problems such as climate change and unhealthy watersheds, a shift in the way we do things must occur. Art can be a vehicle to help make these kinds of cultural and behavioral changes.
Art can also be used to reclaim and restore an urban place. Art fills a space with color, life and inspiration. It has the power to instill a sense of belonging and connection to a space among members of the community. As we feel more attached to a place, we become inspired to protect it and keep it healthy.
Art brings people together and allows them to connect through a shared identity. Community and human bonds are essential in environmental work; one person cannot do it alone. We need each other to overcome the hopelessness that is easy to experience when tackling difficult environmental issues, and to accomplish things that are not possible individually.
The Watershed Project incorporates art into many programs and harnesses its power to bring about change and bring people together in the work that we do. One such example is a project done this past Earth Day in which kids created a “Juice Box Monster” out of juice boxes in order to demonstrate the wastefulness of single-use disposable items. Another example is the plant sign project that was done during a recent volunteer workday on the Richmond Greenway. These signs, painted by volunteers and interns, identify the native plants that exist in our habitat garden and provide information about these plants, as well as help make the garden more homey, colorful, and unique. We have hopes to create and install more pieces of art at our sites on the Greenway, which would help to educate as well as foster a sense of community in this revitalized urban space. With these projects we continue to explore how art can be used as a tool to accomplish our goal of creating a healthier San Francisco Bay watershed.