The inspiration for this exhibition arose, like it does for so many working mothers, in my living room. I am fortunate to have two college-aged children who brought many awake, kind, and socially-conscious youth into our home over the years. As a bystander to their conversations, I often noticed how scared they were for their future and how heavy the world weighed on them at a young age. They were raised with the awareness of climate change and the reality of school shootings. They came of age during the Trump administration and watched as our nation became ever more divided. They witnessed yet another resurgence of white supremacy in the public eye, and the resulting outbreaks of racially motivated violence. In the midst of all this, they have tried to launch themselves into adulthood during a global pandemic.
Youth is supposed to be the period when one envisions what the world could be like. So many of our most pivotal societal changes are driven by youth, who refuse to tolerate what is, and insist on something better. What would happen, however, if that did not occur? What does our society become if our youth lose their optimism, if their fear and grief get the best of them as they survey what lies ahead? More conversations in my living room tended in this direction than I was comfortable with. Now, in addition to managing the ordinary challenges of growing up and the particular concerns of our current economic and social climate, young adults are also trying to manage ecological grief and climate anxiety.
Fortunately, I also saw in these young people genuine kindness, concern for community, caring for the planet and desire to act. This FYP, Seeding Hope: Environmentalism, Sustainability, and the Reclamation of the Sacred, was born out of my desire to offer similar students at SLU a refuge to talk about the good stuff. I wanted them to see that there are many solutions out there, and people tirelessly working toward the better future they hope for. I wanted them to know that they could be a part of that. I also wanted them to have a space where it was okay to talk about their concerns and to mourn together some of what they have lost. The work you see here, was generated by a group of students that has risen to many challenges. They worked as a team to solve problems. They endured quarantines. They supported each other through a divisive election and uncertainty about how their academic careers might unfold in the face of a pandemic. They have been profoundly resilient and, for many of them, making art has played a role in that resilience.
Seeding Hope is an artistic rendering of the work we have done together in this class. Each student has completed a final project of their own choosing, which drew from some aspect of the course material. Some found inspiration in the freedoms of nature during the pandemic. Others worked out feelings of love, grief, gratitude, rage, and hope with their pieces. Some wanted to use a particular art medium to express some aspect of their environmentalism. You will also find solo and group projects here. One, a recorded version of the Woody Guthrie song “Hoping Machine”, performed by Bee Children, has new verses written by the students. We have also included some solo work from the students’ experience of their “sacred spot”, a place on campus with which they were asked to form a relationship over time.
What you see here is students working out some of what it means to be a young adult during this tumultuous time. One student, in an early version of her artist’s statement, said that she really hoped that older generations would “listen” to the art for the essence of what is really like for her generation, the concerns about the planet they live with every day. It is my hope that all of us will “listen” well to what we find here and allow it to move us to act towards the creation of the kinder, more just, more sustainable future these students long for. -Rebecca Rivers
The artists wish to thank the following individuals who made this exhibit possible: Amy Levin Bayersdorfer, Rachael Jones, Cathy Tedford, Karen Wells, and Barbara Young, for their assistance with supplies; Alejandra Altamirano Salazar and Iain Corkhill, our student curators, Carole Mathey for the construction of the exhibition site, and to Mary-Kate Carr for her Drupal expertise. The entire course, and therefore this exhibition, would not have been possible without substantial support from Sarah Barber, the dean of the First Year Program, and Sara Ashpole and Sam Joseph of the Sustainability Program. Unless noted otherwise, photographs are by Alejandra Altamirano Salazar, Sergey Avery, Savanna Stuhr, the family of Kelsey Tejada, and Rebecca Young Rivers.