Deep in the darkness of room 116 in the Elson Art Center, students lay stencils, leaves, and flowers on chemically treated paper in hopes of creating cyanotypes. After designing their artworks, students brought their pieces outside, exposing the paper to sunlight, and watched as the cyanotype developed.
Celebrating Earth Week, the Addison Gallery of American Art planned an art and climate change workshop which focused on artists who raised awareness about the environment through their work. First, participants viewed cyanotypes in the Addison exhibits and then created their own. Sophie Staii ’25, an organizer of the event, commented on the significance of the workshop.
“I think that these workshops prompt really good discussion, because we have the Addison Gallery, our museum, right here, and it has a lot of really notable and thought provoking artwork. So I think looking at that artwork, talking about it with other people, and also learning about it from Ms. Gibbons, and when she presents, can really help us help people learn more, especially if you do workshops about a topic that you’re really interested in, like climate change, rather than just going to Addison for classes,” said Staii.
The goal of the workshop was to promote the intersection between art and activism to get students thinking about how they can each individually raise awareness. Victoria Nakaweesi ’24 created a piece inspired by the locust plagues that have affected her family in Uganda.
“One thing I was looking at when I learned about climate change, is the proportionality of who produces the most emissions and gases, and who actually experiences the effects. And so that’s what I wanted to portray, in my art piece, the frustration between the two. So I had a hand holding a cigarette to show a person who was just living their life, and I guess, kind of making an impact on something. And then the effect of which a hand was holding the locust, where it was kind of like they’re the ones that are impacted, but they’re not necessarily the cause of the problem,” said Nakaweesi.
In addition to looking at pieces in the Addison Gallery and creating cyanotypes, the workshop also featured a short presentation in which the presenters shared how climate change impacted their hometowns. Valencia Zhang ’25 noted how the presentation and workshop motivated her to reflect on her own community and how art can bring attention to climate issues.
“I realized, taking a step back, that it also affected me and my hometown, and it’s incredibly personal…it’s not just something to be talked about, or something that you can just try and solve it. A lot of it is activism, a lot of it is making art to spread awareness,” said Zhang.
Jamie Gibbons, Head of Education at the Addison, valued how the workshop was able to provide students with a new outlook on using art as a means for activism. She hopes that students will be inspired to continue creating their own pieces and visit the museum.
“I think it’s good for students to see the ways in which artists are expressing their relationship to the environment through their art and then find inspiration in that. So hopefully, beyond the work that they saw today, whether it’s Arthur Wesley Dow’s work, whether it’s Andrea Chung’s work, but hopefully it also inspires them not only to come back to the museum and see more, but to search out other artists who are doing similar things,” said Gibbons.