STORIES OF NOW: Project: From Harm to Harmony, with the Conservation Council of New Brunswick (CCNB)

STORIES OF NOW

Vignette – Project: From Harm to Harmony, with the Conservation Council of New Brunswick (CCNB), Fredericton, NB https://www.conservationcouncil.ca/?s=from+harm+to+harmony&lang=en 

 “STORIES OF NOW” is part of a project ArtBridges is working on with Judith Marcuse Projects’ ASCN (Arts for Social Change Network) and ICASC. It is about gathering and sharing stories emanating from the field now and about what issues and areas of focus matter. 

In conversation with: Juliana Bedoya (she/her), Community-Engaged Environmental Artist.  (Comox Valley, Vancouver Island, BC). plantsareteachers.org on October 26th, 2021. 

If you could tell a story about your community-engaged arts initiative now, this year, what would the story be about? What are the main themes?

JB: We’re working on our second (community-engaged arts) project with the Conservation Council of New Brunswick (CCNB) – this is an extension of the first program (held earlier in the year). We’re looking at deforestation, climate change, food insecurity and dirty energy – 4 buckets to focus our work on – using art for climate action. ‘Action over worry’ is our signature mantra! The project is still called ‘From Harm to Harmony’ (H2H) and we’re looking at re-establishing our relationship with the natural world, healing and making an impact. For this project, we invited artist Laura Barron to co-facilitate. She’s bringing in a new element – music, and using an interdisciplinary approach to writing music. So it’s more than visual arts. We’re collaborating and co-leading sessions. There are about 50% former group participants and about 50% new participants. Values of the original core group have been sustained. 

What are the main issues your community-engaged arts initiative faces? (e.g., social justice, environmental justice, pandemic-related, operational, financial, HR)

JB: We’re addressing the environmental emergency, not only climate change, that’s reductionist. This is tied to social issues, forced migrations, economy, colonization… All these play a huge role in climate issues today.

We’re examining the concept that “climate change has been conceptualized as a form and a product of colonization”. The idea that some powerful countries are extracting from other countries. It’s a larger global climate emergency. We’re incorporating Indigenous perspectives and ways of knowing into this project and looking at a values based approach – this is the core of this 2nd phase project. We’re having conversations about values – ‘compassionate’ and benevolence values, biocentric values, environmental values, art centric values in contrast to ‘self-interest’ values and those in the ‘achievement and power’ groups… We’re working with a values map and navigating complex dichotomies. We’re doing research on values and the clash of values- i.e.: benevolent values, individualistic values, empathy, compassion, wellbeing vs.- economic progress, wealth, … this round has had a lot of conceptual input from research and from resources gathered. As co-facilitators- we’re also constantly looking at artist-led vs. community-led approaches. It’s been a learning curve, but we’re getting there. 

How has your initiative been addressing these main issues?

JB: Like warp and weft – the warp is values, the main foundation that holds everything together. Values have been the core structure of our debate and work for this project. Dr. Louise Comeau shared this approach, research, and resources, and we started to navigate this deeper. It has been a personal and group process about values. We are gravitating towards working with biocentric values rather than ‘self-interest’ or individualistic values for this project.

How has the community of participants that your initiative engages with evolved in the past year (if at all)?

JB: We are defining our audience by defining our message using a toll called ecosystem mapping – who are the participants? Who are the users/audience? What are our values? What does the user/audience need to know? Feel? Change and do? If we start with the user/audience, then the user becomes a broader community. Change happens from individual – to community – to services – to institution. How do we touch the one person who then becomes the community? What are the barriers? What are the challenges to the users/audience?

We have a new participant who has accessibility needs, and is a non-visual artist. She’d like to be an activist. Her values are aligned. She can have a digital connection, and we make sure she can participate and contribute. We have more practicing professional artists for this project compared with last year’s project. Because of the exhibit last year, we attracted more participants. We just confirmed exhibit space for this project at the Sunbury Shores Arts and Nature Centre in St. Andrews during March Break and at the UNB Archives in April during Earth Week. People are motivated by this! 

How is your organization engaging with your community right now? (Logistics, pandemic public health and safety guidelines & policies, changes in the way we gather)

JB: This group of project participants is evolving into a community of practice. Louise secured funding for this project for all of 2022! We’re also creating a web presence for people to sell their art online, and artists will also be getting a stipend. We also have a co-facilitator for this project. Change can be challenging moving from the first cohort to the second cohort but overall participants have embraced the idea of incorporating an interdisciplinary approach. 

What are one or two new projects your initiative implemented this year?

JB: The art exhibit, & the online gallery and sale. We’re also doing a larger project – a forest lullaby. This is with the project’s interdisciplinary approach to writing music, gathering input from participants for the writing of the lyrics and then recording the song professionally in the studio. This is happening right now.

What is your initiative doing new–digitally–compared to pre-pandemic?

JB: The online gallery and sale! We started our first project during the pandemic, so we already established working digitally together from across the country. That’s the new norm. 

Is there a recent achievement, wonderful moment, or quote you’d like to share about your initiative or its impact?

JB: Two of our artist participants applied as mentees in the FUTURES/forward mentorship program and one of them was selected! The other one will have the same opportunity for mentorship internally as she has naturally started to lead a community group for her project. We are very excited about the additional mentorship opportunities that this project is creating… As part of our collaborative installation, we’re investigating how to create a solar-powered lamp installation where each of us will shed a light on a specific environmental issue.

In conversation with Seanna Connell, ArtBridges

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