Eco-Art: Making Art to Reconcile with the Climate Crisis is an interdisciplinary course, developed and team-taught by Associate Professor Megan Jacobs and honors student, Kineo Memmer in spring 2023, that integrated the disciplines of art and environmental justice to critically examine one’s role in mitigating climate change.

The climate crisis is an issue that impacts all people, across geographical, political, and social lines and is arguably the greatest issue of our time. The psychological ramifications of our damaged planet have vast impacts on individuals and communities. The course centered on how to process environmental grief artistically and engage in social change.

Eco-Art bench making a change for climate crisis
Eco-Art bench making a change for climate crisis

Juliana Byrd, now a senior studying biochemistry, participated in this Honors course in spring 2023. During the final project students were given the opportunity to make a piece of art related to the themes of climate change and environmental justice. Byrd decided to craft a bench made of recycled wood and glass that showcased the landscape of the Land of Enchantment.

“My bench was inspired by New Mexico’s landscape, as well as the beauty of the garden in which it resides. It features geometric mountains that contrast with smoother, flowing shapes of the river and a few native plants,” said Byrd. 

Byrd constructed the bench by reusing and recycling materials to minimize the environmental impact. The wood of the bench is reused from an old table that has long since fallen apart. Much of the glass in the piece was scavenged from an old landfill by the river. A lot of technical support was provided by her family, especially her dad who helped with assembling the base of the bench itself.

Bench placed in Lobo Red Garden
Bench placed in Lobo Red Garden

Earlier in the semester, Byrd interviewed Amara Szrom, the Lobo Red Garden coordinator, for a class project. Byrd expressed how the garden provides amazing work in the community, both as a place for folks to learn about sustainability, food supply, and gardening work, but also as a beautiful outdoor place for people to relax in nature.

“When I thought of my feelings around the environment, especially the despair I have felt about climate change in particular, I knew I wanted my project to be a hopeful piece. What better place to embody that hope than the garden?”

Megan Jacobs, associate professor, commented on Byrd’s work, “Juliana’s final creative project, a bench made from repurposed materials, is not only beautiful but functional and conceptual. It encourages reflection on capitalist principals such as consumption and uses creativity as a tool of transformation. The work invites visitors to pause and observe during their visit to the Lobo Red Garden, fostering rest and reflection.”

Close up of the bench details
Showcasing the details of the bench close up

Byrd incorporated environmental justice into her piece by creating a bench to encourage rest and a break from the grind culture of capitalism. The work promotes the notion of rest.

“The work that the garden does - environmental education, providing sustainable, healthy food to folks who might otherwise not have access to that - ties into concepts of environmental justice very well and is very important. However, I also think it is important to think of the capitalistic systems that are causing the problems we are facing. I wanted the design and the location of the bench to both honor the work of the garden and also to encourage rest for the sake of rest.”

Byrd concluded by stating how The University of New Mexico’s Honor College has shaped her into who she is today. It has given her multiple opportunities to explore and learn as well as grow in her academic knowledge.

“Being in the Honors College has given me the opportunity to take classes that are different from any others I would have had the opportunity to. The small group settings of these classes has encouraged me to participate more with other class members and with the professors and to engage more personally with the concepts that I have learned. Each Honors College class I have taken thus far has provided me with an academic challenge that really made me grow as a student and as a person.”

Eco-Art bench showcasing New Mexico landscape
Eco-Art bench showcasing New Mexico landscape