Offering: The art of environmental education

Photographed by Benjamin Hunt. Childrening learning environment. Calder. Monday 4/8/19.

Photographed by Benjamin Hunt. Childrening learning environment. Calder. Monday 4/8/19.

Mary Racette

Grand Valley State University artist-in-resident Melanie Daniels collaborated with the CA Frost Environmental and Science Academy to guide children in spreading environmental awareness through artistic expression.  

Daniels, also a visiting professor, presented the Offering” exhibit in the Padnos Gallery of the Calder Art Center. Amy Paul’s fourth-grade students were invited to the GVSU Visual Arts building, where they began to take part in the project which combined exploring themes of the environment as they created art for the gallery.  

“It also allowed students to use their artistic talents to educate others about the importance of being advocates for our planet,” Paul said.

When the students visited GVSU in fall 2018, they made plaster hands. These hands held the second part of this project, in which students sculpted a piece of the natural world which they wish to protect. Among the various “sculpted wish-objects – flora and fauna” created by the students were trees, bees, mice and more.

Along with the sculptures, students’ drawings and explanations of their object of choice were presented on the wall of the gallery and in a catalog which was on display in the exhibit. Daniels shared an example of one student who wanted to protect frogs so children in the future won’t forget what a frog is or how it hops.  

“They thought about how their actions can impact future generations of people,” Paul said. “Their work helped them become stewards for our planet.”

Daniels said she invited these students because not only do they attend an environmental science academy, but it is also a public school.  

“Kids of all races and socioeconomic backgrounds are learning together about their role in the natural world,” Daniels said.  

“They were exposed to a college campus, which inspired a lot for my students to want to go to college someday,” Paul said. “So many of students had never been on a college campus and were so amazed with the unique tools that art students can use.”

Daniels was assisted by GVSU undergraduate student volunteers Lindsey Foust, Castina Bombardo, Jordan Lee and Michael Andre. GVSU faculty Giles Hefferan and Kati Zaszlavik also contributed to this project. 

Art Education junior Andre was in Daniels’ drawing class last fall, leading him to the opportunity to help with this project. 

”I said yes (to work on this project) because I was familiar with the materials used and I really enjoy working with kids and art because it’s so exciting to see how they express themselves,” Andre said. “I hope the kids had a lot of fun and were able to express themselves in a unique and special way.”

Daniels shared the children’s reactions after seeing their work in the gallery. She mentioned that she heard one student refer to himself and his classmates as “famous.” 

“Many of my students never really considered themselves to be artistic, but now they have learned that art comes in many forms and they are very talented,” Paul said.

The exhibit was on display from April 8 to 12.