SCP Arts: Project Spotlight

December 17, 2018 / By: Maria Dahmus, SCP Director

Sustainable Communities Partnership Arts (SCP Arts):  Project Spotlight

Students in Dr. Olga Herrera’s English course gather watercolors and paint brushes.  Their task:  connect art and storytelling.  With the guidance of SCP’s Artist-in-Residence, Sarah Nelson, students carefully select events and themes in The Late Homecomer  by Kao Kalia Yang to paint. 

This challenges students to dive into the significance and meaning of the narratives through visual arts.  By selecting key scenes and conveying their power with design, color, and symbols, students engage in their own storytelling. 

This process is preparing students for their Sustainable Communities Partnership Arts (SCP Arts) project with the Metropolitan Council:  to journey into the Twin Cities to collect and understand residents’ stories of their experiences of climate vulnerability documented in the Metropolitan Council's Climate Vulnerability Assessment (CVA).  Nelson will read students’ research narratives and create illustrations based on them.  Students will provide feedback to Nelson about how the illustrations convey their narratives.  Through an iterative feedback process, students and Nelson will co-create illustrations of residents’ stories. 

An overarching goal of the Metropolitan Council is to encourage and equip city staff and elected officials in the Twin Cities Metro to include climate vulnerability in policy and planning – and understanding the effects of climate change on residents’ quality of life is a piece in this process. This project, in collaboration with the Metropolitan Council and Senior Planner Eric Wojchik, seeks to humanize data from the Climate Vulnerability Assessment so that city officials and policy makers can understand the human experience behind the graphs and numbers. 

Based on information from the CVA and the Metropolitan Council’s localized flooding and heat story interactive maps, student teams selected three locations in the Twin Cities to study the human experience of climate vulnerability.  Each student team conducted subject interviews and integrated information from the CVA to convey the human experience of climate vulnerability in these places.  SCP Artist-in-Residence Sarah Nelson worked with students through an iterative process to translate their research narratives into the visual arts, creating illustrations based on students’ research narratives.

Here is an example of the project artwork - illustrating residents' experiences of one area in St. Paul prone to heat and flooding:

For Metropolitan Council partner Eric Wojchik, the project "was instrumental in breathing life into our climate change tools. Students helped us tell the stories of residents in our region, make material and opportunities accessible to more people, and, most importantly, listen to the perspectives of others.” 

The project also engaged students with a deeper understanding of the human experience of place.  For example, one student stated, “This project caused me to gain a new appreciation for the abundance of undiscovered stories which exist within cities.”