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Art at the Root of Sustainability

Photo by Noemi Gonzalez.
Photo by Noemi Gonzalez.

Arizona State University has installed solar panels and established the School of Sustainability in 2007, but going green and spreading the notion of sustainability doesn’t always encompass alternative energies and planting trees; it encompasses the art and creativity of today’s children.

A small charter school near South Mountain had the opportunity to show off what sustainability looks like through the eyes of their elementary and high school students, as well as their staff members, through ASU’s College of Public Programs’ 411 Gallery, which is located on several levels of the University Center on ASU’s Downtown campus.

The Desert Marigold School, a K-12 independent school,  took advantage of the opportunity to partner up with 411 Gallery, which was established to promote relevant social issues through the arts, and reach out to the community through artwork that had been done by students.

Several pieces from the Marigold School are on display on the third floor of the University Center, drawing in students and staff on their way to their classes or to their offices through the works’ rich colors and meticulous brush strokes, along with the assemblage of ordinary things such as cabinet doors that serve as a canvas to some of the work, further illustrating both ASU’s and Marigold’s promotion of sustainability.

“One of the key ideas of sustainability is that you have to be able to see and appreciate the whole,” says Amy Bird, development director at Desert Marigold School, who was in charge of putting together the artworks that are currently displayed. “Art, visual art, music, handwork, sculpture, woodworking, all of those [mediums] are ways that we teach in our school. We teach through the art because having an artistic experience with something that you’re learning about helps you connect with what you’re learning about in a different way.”

As Bird explains, one of the concepts the Desert Marigold School is rooted in is to teach an appreciation of the whole and how everyone is connected to everyone else, including other species and different cultures.

“Those kinds of connections are incredibly important and that is at its heart what sustainability is all about,” Bird says.

Bird first heard of 411 Gallery through Local First Arizona, a non-profit organization that supports local businesses, and then told staff member and ASU alum Laura Coady about the opportunity to submit student and staff work to the exhibit and promote the school’s overall concept of living sustainably.

The two co-workers worked under short notice, but ended up bringing together 16 pieces of artwork for submission.

“I thought it was extremely important to take part in this exhibit because Desert Marigold truly ‘walks its talk’ when it comes to sustainability,” Coady says through email. “The school’s gentle cultivation of awareness around how human beings impact our world, and the development of awareness around the gifts that nature has to offer and why they need to be cared for are a cornerstone to much of what our school has been built upon.”

Bird and Coady put together 16 different artworks to outline the school’s rule of thumb on how to teach the idea of sustainability and artwork that, according to Coady, recognized “the big choices” the school has made along the years to continue teaching with a hands-on approach.

The artworks hang on the corridors of the University Center like ivy covering the outside of a building, a testament to nature and its importance.

Coady says her favorite piece of artwork is a wall hanging that is made up of egg cartons along with actual chickens' eggs.

“This piece demonstrates what it is all about – the cycle of life is there, the educational aspects touch all the grades of our school,” Coady says.

Of the 16 pieces currently displayed within the University Center, one of them is the work of a current Desert Marigold high school student who produced the work when he was in seventh grade, “Root, Stem, Leaf, Flower.” His piece outlines the process of how biodynamic seeds develop and bloom. The piece was cultivated while seventh graders learned about botany, or plant biology.

“The visual presentation of the exhibit that Amy and I worked on, hopefully, will provide interest for those who [see] the exhibit and provide an invitation to reexamining what they do and how they do it,” Coady says.


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