Following last fall’s Art & Environment student exhibition, Interventions: Students Respond to the Environment, high school senior Dempsey Ewan was selected to create a professional art commission at the Grange Insurance Audubon Center to be unveiled on May 15. Below is a conversation between Ewan and Sam Meador, professional artist mentor for the commission, on the impact of the course, Ewan’s inspiration for the commission, and the role of eco-consciousness in contemporary society.
Dempsey Ewan at Interventions | Photo by AJ Zanyk
Ewan is a homeschooled high school senior. She enjoys viewing and making art as well as playing the piano and spending time outside. Meador serves as a professional artist mentor on this project. She is an Ohio artist who recently completed her MFA at the Columbus College of Art and Design. Her artwork is inspired by the pedestrian aspects of conscious living and explores endurance and persistence.
SM: How did last year’s Art & Environment course influence your outlook on environmentalism?
DE: The Art & Environment course really changed my outlook on environmentalism. Prior to the class my understanding of environmental issues was very limited. I heard different statistics about the state of our environment, but I didn't have a real understanding of what it all meant. The class really helped put it all into perspective and give me a good grasp on what issues we currently face due to decisions made in the past. The great thing about the class was that it presented the issues but also gave us examples of people who were working to speak out and raise awareness. Art & Environment introduced me to so many great artists' work throughout the class like Basia Irland and the Fallen Fruit Collective.
My biggest takeaway from the program was a greater appreciation for the natural world around us. I have become more conscious of the production of the products I consume and how they affect our world. Even people who are skeptical about the immediate importance of environmental action could benefit from a greater appreciation of the amazing earth we have and our responsibility to take care of it.
SM: What lessons from the Art & Environment experience did you find influential for the commission?
DE: Prior to the Art & Environment class I would have found it challenging to use nature as inspiration for a piece of art, but after hearing from so many artists who took direct inspiration from things like the movement of jellyfish or rivers, I had a better appreciation and understanding of how to create a piece of art that was directly informed by the topic of our ecosystem.
Students on an Art & Environment tour | Photo by Maria DiFranco
SM: What was the most memorable part of your first visit to the Audubon Center?
DE: The Audubon Center is such a wonderful place. I think what struck me the most about it was how cheerful it was. They have such a wonderful variety of events like classes for kids, field trips, lectures on birds and plants, and so much more. The building itself is beautiful and really draws attention to the natural landscape and wildlife surrounding it. The center and those working there have a real dedication to their community and educating people on caring for and enjoying nature.
Readying some materials | Photo by Dempsey Ewan
SM: What inspired you for both the design and media for the commission?
DE: When I first visited the Audubon Center, I learned about their mission to educate people on the importance of native plants. People are filling their flower beds and backyards with plants that are not indigenous and don't provide a source of food or shelter for native animals. The diverse species of animals that exist locally end up dying due to a lack of basic resources. I knew little about this issue originally and it was especially interesting to learn more.
The mosaics I am creating feature native plants, birds, and insects. They show how the relationship between the animals and plant life is interwoven. I have never worked with mosaics before and I thought this would be a great opportunity to learn about a new medium. The fact that the entire piece is made up of a series of mosaics allows it to be both educational as well as aesthetically pleasing.
Photo by Dempsey Ewan
SM: What has been the most fun about the commission? What has been your biggest challenge?
DE: The most enjoyable part of the project is the current stage where I am assembling the mosaics. It feels really good to be seeing all of the planning coming together. That was the biggest challenge for me—the planning. A lot of my art is created spontaneously on a whim and then develops naturally as I am working on it, and the task of deliberate planning was new to me. I've learned so much by having to work in this new way and I am glad I now know how to plan carefully for projects like this in the future.
SM: How can teens engage with environmental issues?
DE: If teenagers really speak up and start conversations with others about the importance of loving their world, they can change our whole culture. Developing a real love for the natural world is a great place to start. I think getting outside and experiencing nature is so important. As a culture we have become detached from the natural world. I made a goal this year to visit all of the metro parks in Columbus to make sure I am setting aside time to get outside and really breathe. I don't think environmental issues will change until people learn to appreciate the natural world.
Being well-informed about environmental issues, such as the effect of food production, is also important. In modern culture it is easy to become numb to the constant barrage of information and facts with which we are presented. We need to be proactive in learning about environmental issues and getting a good grasp on them. Understanding the challenges and doing your research can give you the confidence to be an advocate. Awareness helps people understand what they are supporting when it comes to how companies, businesses, and leaders view environmental issues.
SM: What are your aspirations for the future?
DE: I will be attending the Columbus College of Art and Design this fall to study graphic design. I would love to work for small companies on advertising and brand management, but also continue to create fine art that focuses on social issues and the human experience in general. As long as my future involves creating art that inspires love and joy in people's lives, I will be very happy.
Hard at work, making art | Photo by Dempsey Ewan
All are welcome to the public unveiling of Ewan’s commission at the Grange Audubon Center on Sunday, May 15. For more information, including details on how to register, about Art & Environment: A Course for Teens, head here.