Even as she watched the smoke from the pipeline fire from her studio window this summer, artist and assistant professor of art Debra Edgerton thought of water. What will happen to the monsoons, she thought in June as she watched helicopters carry water from a reservoir near her home to help fight the fire.
Over the next two years, Edgerton will explore the interlocking of fire and water and issues of resilience. She will accompany scientists and land managers at Fossil Creek in central Arizona to study the impact of the 2021 Backbone Fire on freshwater ecosystems. Edgerton plans to compare what she learns at Fossil Creek to her research on the 1921 deliberate burning of the African-American Greenwood district of Tulsa, Oklahoma, and its cascading aftermath.
Edgerton is one of five artists, educators, and scientists at Northern Arizona University to be awarded the CEED grant, a two-year grant designed to support community-centered climate change programs. Supported by the Frances B. McAllister Community, Culture and Environment program, these Climate Education, Engagement and Design (CEED) grantees will work in their respective fields to inclusively find new ways to engage and educate their communities on climate issues .
In a region shaped by and connected to the destiny of the Colorado River, it is perhaps unsurprising that water is at the heart of other CEED-supported projects.
On Saturday, September 24, at 2:30 p.m., the eighth annual Rumble on the Mountain will be held at the Native American Cultural Center on the NAU Flagstaff campus. Hosted by Tewa and Hopi musician, artist and edu-tainer Ed Kabotie and his band Tha ‘Yoties, rumble on the mountain features Indigenous performers, speakers and performers gathering to build solidarity for the protection of sacred lands and spaces across the Colorado Plateau.
“The Little Colorado River is the heartbeat of the plateau,” Kabotie said. “Its health represents the well-being of water systems throughout the region.”
The Rumble is launching a series of events honoring an assistant professor and CEED grantee Kara dummy helps organize with partners across the region.
“I’m really looking forward to looking at climate change through different shapes and lenses over the next two years,” said Attrep, who emphasized that diversity is an important aspect of the series. “We wanted to be as versatile as possible, so there’s a concert or a workshop if someone isn’t interested in filmmaking. You can enter the conversation in other ways.”
On October 3, the CEED program, Honors College and the Cline Special Collections and Archives will host photographers Dawn Kisch to talk about her work documenting the reappearance of Glen Canyon as Lake Powell disappears. Later in the fall, Diné filmmaker Deidra Peaches will offer a filmmaking workshop for a group of local students at NAU.
Many of this year’s CEED grantees are turning to art to get people excited about climate change. Attrep believes that art can open up a conversation about climate “that isn’t always possible through a scientific presentation.”
Like Attrep, Edgerton believes that art plays an important role in changing the climate discussion. “Art is often viewed as a pastime,” says Edgerton. “Of course they’re not just that, but this social media-driven age could be the perfect opportunity for visual artists to show that and be at the forefront of using their voice to make a difference.”
One of the strengths of the CEED program is that each of the projects has a different vision of community, he said Bruce Hungate, Chair of the McAllister Program and Director of the Center for Ecosystem Science and Society. “The work proposed by this group of CEED grantees is so exciting because each scientist takes a truly different approach to the big questions: how do we meet current and future climate challenges, and how do we bring more people into this conversation?”
The second NAU Climate and Justice Teach-In, scheduled for Spring 2023, will provide an opportunity to explore these questions. Nora Timmermanan associate teaching professor in the Sustainable Communities Program and CEED grantee, who is organizing the event, said that a teach-in prioritizes community building and dialogue over traditional top-down concepts of knowledge-sharing.
“We all have a role to play in this conversation,” Timmerman said. “If the existing power structures of capitalism and patriarchy are a reason we’re in climate chaos, creating a container for dialogue is a way to disrupt those structures and learn from each other.” Timmerman said that one reason for The success of the NAU Teach-in 2022 was bringing together more than 400 students, staff and faculty, as well as people from the broader Flagstaff community.
“We are stronger when we can work together,” she said.
For CEED Scholars and Associate Professor of English KT Thompson, community is created both through the course they will be teaching in 2023-2024, The Colorado Plateau Grasslands Documentary Project, and through the conversation that will be passed through reading and writing over time. Thompson said the spark for her project came from reading McAllister’s journals.
“McAllister was so specific about the type of wood used in, say, building the cabin, or describing the grasses in a meadow I walk in now,” Thompson said. “Reading these journals was the first time as a settler that I thought if I work a little bit harder I can understand the country from a kind of primary theft until now.”
The research that Thompson will conduct under the auspices of the CEED program will both shape the Grasslands Documentary Pilot Course and inform part of her current book project. Conditional love, troubling future. Thompson refers to this segment, Core Sample: A Land Acknowledgment, as a “provocation.”
“Queerness helps me understand the if-then-that of contingency: being queer and having a body read as such is an experience of contingency,” Thompson said. “And contingency is always prescient. What is the future and how can it call for redemption? If land recognition is a form that ultimately fails,” as Thompson argues – failing to restore stolen land or make real amends – “can we then use the form to provoke a conversation about ways to do better?”
Robert Neustadt, a professor in the Department of Global Languages and Cultures and one of the new CEED grantees, is also interested in provoking conversations that lead to meaningful action. With project partner Shawn Skabelund, Neustadt will invite NAU students to have their portraits taken and then post these large-format photos on campus near the climate teach-in. The installation will be part of a global photo project from the inside to the outsideand asks the urgent question: “What kind of world are we leaving to our youth?”
“I think we have to keep trying to motivate people to take action,” said Neustadt, who has led public art projects with Skabelund at NAU in the past to raise awareness of immigration and commemorate the thousands of people who who died crossing the US-Mexico border. “We need to raise awareness to work on different levels. Keep looking ahead and get more and more people to take increasingly meaningful action to protect the climate.”
For Edgerton, it comes back to the lesson of asking more people to take action on the climate.
“I try to instill in my students the idea that they could have an expanded purpose with their art,” she said. “So that they not only enjoy the aspect of being taken away from the world’s problems, but also use their voice to help other people see what’s happening.”
Learn more about the CEED grant and the McAllister Community, Culture and Environment Program on-line.
Photo above: Sunrise over Coal Mine Canyon near Tuba City. Photo credit: John Fowler on Unsplash.
Kate Petersen | Center for Ecosystem Research and Society