Art of Sustainability

Susanne Moser, Fellows Seminar, Mill Valley, CA, 2010

Jay Mead leads our Art of Sustainability programming.

Creative problem solving is essential for addressing the many challenges we face in bringing about a sustainable future for people and planet. Sustainability is an art. And art helps us break through old ways of thinking to get to sustainable solutions.

Art and creative expression stimulate the right side of the brain, and seek meaning, expansive possibilities, and the big picture. Those who engage in creative processing often experience a profound sense of new possibilities and are more effective in their work place.

I had a powerful experience with the exercise of looking for a place in the landscape to somehow mark our commitment to whatever vision we have for ourselves in the “Nature as a Vessel to Hold Your Vision” session. I also found others’ experiences with this same exercise interesting and inspiring. – Susanne Moser, November 2010 Fellows Network Seminar

In the most viewed TED Talk of all time, Do Schools Kill Creativity?, Ken Robinson says that “Creativity is as important as literacy,” yet “we are educating people out of their creative capacities… We are running national education systems where mistakes are the worst thing you can make.” The arts are typically at the bottom of the education system’s hierarchy of subjects, preferring skill sets that will supposedly get us a job – in a future we can hardly predict.

Pablo Picasso once said “All children are born artists,” to which Ken Robinson adds: “The problem is to remain an artist as we grow up” and to “use the gift of creativity wisely.” We add that creativity and right brain thinking are imperative for successfully addressing the myriad environmental, social and economic challenges we currently face. Read Jay Mead’s reflections on Ken Robinson’s TED Talk.

Further Reading
Dominic Stucker and Johanna Bozuwa published an article highlighting Jay Mead‘s pioneering work in the art of sustainability in the Society for Organizational Learning‘s (SoL’s) Reflections Journal: “The Art of Sustainability: Creative Expression as a Tool for Social Change.” For books on the importance of right brain thinking and creativity, see Daniel Pink, A Whole New Mind and Matthew Crawford, Shop Class as Soulcraft.

The workshops we offer integrate exercises that address issues in an organization, institution or business, such as visibility, specific environmental and social actions, and sensing systems. They also can enhance personal growth, working relationships, and team building. Workshops can be co-created or provided as a package from an hour to several days. View flyers and descriptions of example workshops, below.

Art in Nature
Through engaging with nature and creating sculpture that is site specific and transient, participants find pattern and design significance as it relates to their personal and professional lives. This experience is often cathartic and healing for participants. Produced by Colleen Bozuwa, the video below features excerpts from such a workshop led by Jay, in which participants created art pieces along a wooded riverbank and engaged in reflective discussion at Trinity Conference Center, Connecticut, 2009.

Action Performance
Using local materials we construct masks, props, shadow and giant puppets that can support site specific performances, addressing local and global issues. Such events may also enrich weddings and other celebrations. This is a story telling experience that can have profound impacts on the individual and build community. Produced by Colleen Bozuwa, the video below is an example of Action Performance led by Jay at the eco-village Visao Futuro in Purangaba, Brazil in 2006.

Over a 2-week period, Jay facilitated the creation of a giant puppet show with a diverse group of Brazilians. Participants learned how to fabricate puppets and props from local materials. The piece told a social and environmental story embedded in the local culture and place.

The video above, produced by Huma Beg and Dominic Stucker, is of a shadow puppet show by Jay Mead and Beth Sawin, that depicts a vision of a sustainable future in which climate change has been successfully addressed. Fellows performed the piece for a community audience at Cobb Hill, Vermont in 2009.

Deeper Dive Art, Deborah Gilburg, Nov. 2010

Deeper Dive
Using various materials and media, participants experience right brain processing, delving into topics presented at conferences and other venues. Workshop exercises allow for deeper understanding and emergent wisdom to arise.

I found the workshop to be a refreshingly authentic experience that not only enabled me to reflect on the content from the previous speaker, but how it effected me personally. There is so much talking out there, and not enough learning. This workshop enabled the latter. – Deborah Gilburg, Gilburg Leadership Incorporated

The above testimonial is from a workshop led by Jay Mead and Carla Kimball, of RiverWays Enterprises, at the Pegasus Communications ‘Systems Think in Action’ conference, November 2010 in Boston, Massachusetts.

Big Art
Through creative collaborative experiences such as murals, giant puppet performance, and mosaic sculpture, institutions and organizations can use art as a catalyst for community interaction and dialogue. These creative experiences can help connect people and make visible the face of an organization or institution in a community.

Jay Mead has been serving as artist-in-residence and artistic consultant for our “BIG Art” programs in the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life at Vassar College for over ten years. “BIG Art” was Jay’s typically creative and generous term for a range of projects that are dedicated to giving students and community members skills in making public art and changing local communities.

With Jay’s guidance, our students created a marvelous giant puppet story about the history of religious life at the college for a grand celebration of our chapel’s centennial. Jay has a gift for meeting students where they are, and helping them discover their passions, abilities, and confidence. He taught our students how to make community murals and mosaic tile benches for a new community garden near campus. Jay led stilt-walking workshops for our students, not simply as a physical feat, but as a practice of street theater; our student stilt-walkers became a thrilling addition to the local community street festival.

In these and many more projects, Jay combines the gifts of a master teacher, a visionary artist, and a skilled craftsman and builder. It is hard to imagine one person combines all three of these abilities, but Jay does. And it’s why I keep inviting him back to Vassar, year after year. – Rev. Samuel Speers, Assistant Dean for Campus Life and Director, Office of Religious & Spiritual Life, Vassar College

Contact Jay Mead to have us (co-)design and facilitate a workshop for your organization, institution, or business.

Learn more about Jay’s work on his website.