Attendees at the 2019 art show view scratch artwork by local Talawanda art students.
Attendees at the 2019 art show view scratch artwork by local Talawanda art students. Photo: Courtesy of Shara Clark

Miami professors want art to help change the way climate change is discussed

Applications for 2020 art show available

Artwork of a bird, done by a middle school student

Students in Cindy Kettlewell's science classes at Talawanda Middle School were challenged to showcase environmental impacts of climate change using their own artistic expression. (Photo courtesy of Shara Clark)

By Ryan McSheffrey, university news and communications intern

Miami University professors are reaching out to the community to change the way climate change is discussed.

"With climate change communication, most of the issue has been people getting on the soapbox and lecturing people," said Shafkat Khan, a professor in Miami's Project Dragonfly. "People, in the U.S. in particular, have responded to that by being skeptical or being detached."

With that in mind, Khan wanted to change tactics and founded Engaging for Climate in Oxford (ECO). He teamed up with Katie Feilen and Amy Sullivan of Project Dragonfly (biology), Shara Clark of the department of media, journalism and film and Stephanie Danker of the department of art.

"We humans, as much as we like facts and figures, respond to narratives and visuals more. The field of climate change communication is trying to bridge that gap," Khan said.

All media to be considered

The group, in collaboration with the Oxford Community Arts Center, is now taking applications for its second art show. All media will be considered, including the written word. The deadline for the application submission is Jan. 31, 2020.

"Changing Climate, Changing Communities: Local Reflections of a Global Issue,” will open Friday, Feb. 14, 2020, at the Oxford Community Arts Center.

Last spring, the show included about 100 pieces: 10 from Miami students, 10 from local residents and 80 from students at Talawanda Middle School.

"We had a lot of people come throughout the month just to see what the works are, and what we had done," said Caroline Lehman-Croswell, executive director of the Oxford Community Arts Center. "It was great to see the community interested in the topic."

ECO is also working with teachers in the Talawanda school to integrate art relating to climate change into the curriculum.

"The community aspect is such an important part of our program, and we wanted to find a way that we could interact with our community here in Oxford," Feilen said.

Oftentimes, climate change is a politicized issue, which brings out this narrative of if it exists, which stops the conversation. Art provides an avenue so people can build an emotional connection and also can change that narrative," she said.

Last year's art focused on Midwest

A sizable portion of climate change narrative, in general, shows suffering polar bears and rising sea levels, Feilen explained. That's not very relatable to Midwesterners, so many of the pieces at the art show instead focused on global warming's effects on the Midwest.

"It doesn't have to be a low-lying area like New York or Florida or Bangladesh," Khan said. "Even in Oxford, we are designed to deal with rain once in a while. Even at the local level, the heavy rainfall will cause flash floods in the Midwest."

Although Feilen said that people changing their transportation habits, diet and food waste can help improve the situation, the group decided not to push that message at the art show.

"Our goal is to influence the narrative, more than telling people they should do one thing or another,” Kahn said. “So long as they’re engaged with the narrative, we hope it will translate into one form of involvement or another."

Pictured left to right: Shafkat Khan, Katie Feilen, Miami President Greg Crawford, Shara Clark, Amy Sullivan and Stephanie Danker. (Photo courtesy of Shara Clark)