This summer, K–12 art teachers from around the country engaged in Art & Environment, an online-only professional development course providing an in-depth introduction to the field of Eco Art, as well as a basic introduction to environmentalism. Below, one of the participants, educator Vicki Lunell, talks with Shelly Casto, Director of Education and instructor of the Art and Environment course, about her interests in art and environmental activism, and how she hopes to integrate both into her classroom.
Vicki Lunell received her masters of art education from Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas in 2013. She has enjoyed working in artistic and outdoor informal educational settings, and is excited to begin a new career this fall teaching fourth and fifth grade art in public school. Vicki is from Tucson, Arizona, and has lived in Nacogdoches since attending college there in the late 1970’s. She has two wonderful sons who enjoy living in Austin.
SC: How did you first become interested in environmental activism?
VL: In 2000 my husband and I joined a newly reactivated Sierra Club regional group, which had formed to campaign against a paper mill that was polluting a local reservoir. Over the years we tackled other issues like mercury from coal-fired power plants, water issues, and contained-animal farming. We spent many years working to get a “scenic river” designation for the last un-dammed river in our area, and we are still working toward that goal. I had the great fortune to get to know and learn from some passionate, knowledgeable, seasoned conservationists.
My work with Sierra Club developed into becoming the local organizer in a national campaign to oppose the Keystone XL pipeline, which transports toxic tar sands through my community, in 2009. I was inspired to combine my activism with my art while I was simultaneously immersed in the Keystone XL project and working on my masters of art education.
SC: As an artist yourself, can you describe your practice and the content of your work?
VL: I believe that in this day of dramatic climate change and social instability there is no time to waste: art must address critical issues. We are truly at a crossroads in terms of the survival of many species, including our own. Art can help people question to their beliefs, it can reveal overlooked injustices, and it can inspire us to create a new way of being, one that will honor the earth and her species, cultivating resilience, health, and justice for many generations to come.
I use paint, transfers, collage, and metal leaf in my small works on paper. My current series is titled How, Then, Shall We Live? Pages from a Beekeeper’s Book of Hours. The Beekeeper’s Book of Hours is a fictional prayer book modeled loosely on a medieval book of hours. It is meant to be didactic: to instruct younger generations how to live responsibly in the world.
In the middle ages, books of hours were the first books that average citizens had the means to own, and therefore the book of hours was the only book in the home. You would learn to read with it, you would teach your children to read with it, and they would teach their children—the book of hours created a paradigm for generations.
I chose bees as a theme for the book because, as an amateur beekeeper, I am fascinated by bees. I’m also aware of the fact that bees are short-lived: the bees who bring in the harvest in the summer and fall will not live to see the generation that will depend on it for survival. Bees leave their hard-earned honey for the sustenance of the hive. What do we leave our children that will ensure their survival? What wisdom can we pass on that will, as the bees do, nourish our children and give them the means to create a healthy and sustainable future?
SC: What are you presently inspired by—anything you are reading, listening to, or looking at?
VL: Our former Stop Keystone Pipeline group, now called Resilient Nacogdoches, has been studying the Transition Town Movement. We are looking at local ways we can become more resilient to the changes caused by climate change and peak oil. We talk about things like local food production and permaculture, community education on fracking and tar sands, local energy production, diversity, community building, bike lanes and walkability—ways to power down, to work and live peacefully in community, to simplify and to greatly improve our quality of life. It is inspiring work. The Transition Handbook by Rob Hopkins is our primary resource.
SC: What are your goals for your future classroom—what do you hope that your students will learn or take away?
VL: I am starting my first public school teaching job this fall, teaching art to fourth- and fifth-graders in a small, rural school district. I hope to gently introduce some ideas about change through discussion of positive and exciting alternative ways of power production, transportation, food production, housing, and community. I intend to work hard at building community in my classroom, and in modeling respectful communication and social interaction with the children. I hope that nurturing a just, creative culture that honors all life in my classroom will have a ripple effect into the community and plant some seeds of possibility for new ways of being in the world.