Coming together with art, for the environment

Last Friday, January 20, a group of driven students welcomed two notable National Geographic photographers to the stage and more than 150 students, family members, friends, faculty and staff at UW for a night of contemplation about what it means to be a steward of the earth and all its creatures.

The Student Association for Green Environments (SAGE), currently led by: Frieda Cohen, Cassie Maylor, Shelby Cramer and Summer Cook, orchestrated Friday’s event with the support of their Environmental Studies major unit, the Program on the Environment. The event, Art to Inspire: An Evening of Community, Art, and Environment, was an intentional gathering to remind everyone that whatever actions are taken to dismantle environmental protection or social justice, there are also people out there protecting the rights of people and nature.

The goal was to gather people in an inclusive and positive environment and inspire action moving forward. The audience was treated to a moving presentation by Natalie Fobes, who showcased a slideshow of some of her Pulitzer award-winning photography from the Exxon Valdez oil spill, accompanied with haunting music that stirred emotions and captivated the room.

Salmon: Spirit of the Land and Sea
Salmon: Spirit of the Land and Sea

For Natalie, taking photos, at times of the hard moments we look away from, is an important form of story-telling and can spur a call to action. She’s well known for her photography on salmon. Dubbed the ‘salmon lady,’ Natalie shared how she was compelled to tell the story of the Pacific salmon (“the salmon chose me,” she said) and the cultures that depended upon it. Her art provides a space to celebrate and appreciate the incredible species.

Cassie Maylor, co-president of SAGE said: “The SAGE officers are incredibly proud of the event we put on last week! We set out over a month ago with this vision to create an event that hosted vivid speakers who could instill some inspiration or motivation into our audience, and I think we created just that! Together with the packed auditorium, we laughed and cried together on this big day and held our energy in so we could harness it later into each making a difference. I’m still running on a high from creating something I was passionate about while helping people through the same feelings of pain and fierceness I was feeling.

It’s an event we hope to continue doing in some capacity as it truly fits with the PoE students’ drive to create something of purpose. -Cassie Maylor

The event’s second speaker was Chris Jordan, known for his gripping images of American consumption, and famous for his devastating and beautiful photography of albatross on Midway Atoll, a remote island in the middle of the Pacific ocean. Chris ventured out to the Pacific ocean to photograph the Great Pacific garbage patch, only to find he wasn’t “seeing” the vast amount of garbage on the water. He was directed to the albatross, and there began a life-long relationship of love and endurance.

Albatross on water
Chris Jordan
Albatross on water

In his presentation, Chris mostly talked directly to the audience, sharing three stunning videos (one of which he narrated live) from his new upcoming film: The Journey to Midway. His main message was to implore us all to feel deeply, and to recognize that grief is a form of love, something we can channel to spend our life’s work to protect the animals, land and people we cherish.

In sharing his personal journey out of grief and into hope, he touched hearts and urged the audience to have courage, and like the baby albatross, “take a leap before we can fly.” Ultimately, to feel connected to that which we want to protect is essential in order for us to persevere and dedicate ourselves to this important work.

“I’m so grateful to Chris and Natalie for seeing the importance of having a conversation about the environment and making the time to share their work with us,” reflected co-organizer Shelby Cramer.

They understood our positions as students and community members to affect change and encouraged us to harness our power and grief as individuals to inspire a dialogue about the future of the environment. -Shelby Cramer 

“The event inspired me to make more personal connections in the environmental community, and I would love for SAGE to make an effort to make those connections on behalf of its members in the future. The event reinforced my feelings of love and family I already had as a PoE student,” shares Shelby.

To catch more of what was shared during the event, check out the live-tweet feed, #SAGEinspire, with tweets from students in Sean McDonald’s @ENVIR495 Environmental Communications class and @uwpoe.

The Daily, UW’s student newspaper, also covered the event.

Huge thanks to everyone for coming out and sharing in this memorable event, and a special shout out to Environmental Studies student and photojournalist at the Daily, Mike Liu for his images of the event!