The Power of Art and Collective Action
Shelby Roback, Stewardship Teaching Fellow

At Conserve School, students have the opportunity to take a class called Stewardship in Action. The goal of this class is to help students explore their own values and ethics related to the environment and use their unique strengths to make an action plan to create positive change in their sending communities. They examine diverse land ethics, develop systems thinking skills, and get hands-on experience planning and undertaking conservation projects on campus. As a part of this class, guest speakers often visit to share their diverse perspectives and talk about how they positively affect environmental change. 

The most recent visitors in our class were members of Mutual Aid Disaster Relief (MADR) and the Beehive Collective. Mutual Aid Disaster Relief is a decentralized network of organizations and individuals that support communities after a disaster has hit, and are guided by the principles of solidarity, mutual aid, and autonomous direct action. The Beehive Collective is made up of artists, activist, and educators who use their large and intricate illustrations to tell stories about environmental injustices. Our guests, Tayler, Payton, and Lauren, joined Stewardship in Action students in the classroom and held after school seminars for all students to come and learn about the mission and work of these two organizations. 

During class time, the students explored the concepts of mutual aid and solidarity vs. charity. At the after-school seminars, everyone had the opportunity to come and learn about the stories behind the iconic Beehive Collective posters and explore the systems that uphold injustice. Giant cloth prints of the Beehive Collective posters hung from ceiling to floor in the community room, allowing students to explore every little detailed vignette. The posters themselves are monumental, but the stories behind them are even more powerful. Before a poster is made, members of the collective travel to affected communities, talk to people about the issue and ask them how they want their stories to be told. It then takes dozens of artists months to create the poster, which can then be used as a teaching tool to educate others on the injustices that are taking place in our world. After dissecting the posters, students discussed advocacy methods and utilized the Social Change Wheel as a way to help them visualize ways to tackle environmental injustices.

Environmental issues are vast and complicated and can seem intimidating to try and solve. Our goal in Stewardship in Action is to break down these issues into digestible parts and give students the tools to be able to make positive change and feel hopeful about the future. Activists aren’t the only ones who can make a difference. It takes artists, writers, scientists, teachers, lawyers, children, social workers, families, and friends coming together with a common goal to build strong communities and nurture the environment for generations to come.