Orange fish in the ocean - photo by Hiroko Yoshii - photo by Hiroko Yoshii

The Taos Youth Art & Biodiversity Project

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The best way to teach children about the environment, according to many outdoor enthusiasts, is to take their education outside. Immerse them in the beauty of nature, and through art let them express their own ideas. Art can speak volumes about how children see the world, especially in terms of biodiversity and conservation.

Through the Taos Youth Art and Biodiversity Project, Izilwane hoped to educate young children about conservation by connecting the human animal to the natural world. With simple, grassroots publicity, a summer workshop began on June 21, 2011, with the lofty goal of influencing how young people connect to the environment through animals and artistic expression.

Scott’s Pottery Gallery in Arroyo Seco served as the classroom and two picnic tables alongside a stream as the playground, fish swimming throughout the stream below the makeshift bridge – a simple two-by-four – and the mountains of New Mexico rising all around. With that scenery, it wasn’t hard for the children to find their muse.

The artists enjoyed yoga, hikes, swinging and other outdoor adventures alongside their Izilwane mentors, Carolyn Lopez and Anne Da Silva. The team created a fun short film, The Taos Youth Art & Biodiversity Project, which talked about their experiences developing the project and working with the children. This documentary premiered at the Taos Shortz Film Festival in March 2012, much to the excitement of Da Silva, Lopez, and filmmaker Hari Ganesan.

Da Silva studies art therapy, and when developing the project, she thought “[art] would be a really cool perspective through which we can connect with ecology and biodiversity.”

Art represented the children’s connections to the world around them, and the instructors encouraged them to dive deep into their personal connections to the natural world and its inhabitants.

“Every activity was centered on the natural environment, particularly the coexistence of animals and humans, and we encouraged the children to explore their own connections to the natural world around them,” Lopez said.

Wildfires erupted that summer, and the children evaluated what that meant for animals and humankind alike. At the end of sessions focused on wildfires, children and mentors formed a circle. Hand-in-hand, they joined, singing, dancing, and praying for rain, imitating raindrops as they fell to the ground. Mother Earth heard their prayers, and the rains finally came to the scorched earth.

Other activities included drawing, painting and mask making. Masks made by the children represented animals such as the bald eagle and wolf. Natural elements and recycled materials linked their artwork to the environment. The selected materials prompted discussion about the importance of conservation.

Silva said the children were able to preserve the animals through art and she was able, in turn, to learn more about their unique perspectives.

As the weeks passed, publicity for the workshop grew. It was no longer simple flyers or word-of-mouth that got the word out. Local news caught wind of the Taos Youth Biodiversity Art Project, and Izilwane spoke to KTAO RADIO and the Taos News about the conservation education program, Izilwane’s mission, specific details about the artists’ mentors and the sessions. The exposure illustrated what the art sessions produced and how much the children enjoyed the creative ideas taught to them. Subsequently, the radio and the newspaper brought new faces to our art sessions, eager to participate in this creative experience.

Throughout the sessions, community involvement became essential, and local businesses supported the sessions.

“We would like to extend special thanks to Sienna Sanderson and her own successful Neighborhood Art Project; and to the Harwood Museum, which donated a plethora of art supplies, including natural elements, scissors, construction paper, glue, fabric markers and crayons,” Lopez said.

The seven weeks concluded with an art show and public display of all the various pieces created by students. The show coincided with summer entertainment held annually, and as music played, visitors could walk around and look at the pieces. The art show provided the public and adults with the children’s visions and interpretations of the natural environment and their connections established through their works of art. Art supplies were available for visitors to create their own pieces so they could understand what the children had learned about the environment through art. 

“Art and creativity not only help us understand the needs of our fragile planet, but they also can help create solutions,” Lopez said.

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