Nov. 8, 2019

Printmaking students discover the intersection of sustainability, art and social change

Campus as Learning Lab showcases how art can mobilize sustainability champions
Sustain exhibition print by Erika Kirkland, ART271.
A print from the Sustain exhibition. Photo credit: Erika Kirkland, ART271.

Typically, people think that to be involved in sustainability, you need to work in an environment-related field, or be enrolled in education focused on sustainability. However, there are many inventive ways to build awareness and engage with sustainability. Heather Leier, assistant professor in UCalgary’s Department of Art, is a perfect example.

Leier is currently teaching ART 271 Introduction to Printmaking, an art class comprised of students from many different departments on campus. For many students in this class, this is their first time taking a university-level art class the perfect time for a sustainability introduction.

“I’ve always had an interest in sustainability, and when I started teaching at UCalgary, I connected with the Sustainable Resource Centre through a new faculty orientation and was very inspired by the work they are doing across campus,” says Leier.

“This year, I was creating a thematic project that would ideally help guide students in developing the conceptual side of their art practices. A theme that I thought everyone could relate to was sustainability, so I got in touch with Amanda Mosca, sustainability engagement co-ordinator for student programs, to see how I could embed this as a theme into a class project.”

Collaboration with the Sustainable Resource Centre determined that Leier’s idea for her class's project would align with UCalgary Sustainability’s Campus as a Learning Lab Program (CLL), an innovative initiative with a focus on experiential learning and applied research projects that advance sustainability on our campus.

As part of the CLL project, students were asked to bring in real-life objects that, to them, represented sustainability or one of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. They then took photos of those objects, transferred them onto linoleum blocks, carved the images, and printed relief prints from those blocks. 

“My goal was to get students to see sustainability in everyday life and/or to recognize sustainability challenges,” says Leier. “I also wanted to help connect the Department of Art to the university in a broader sense. Sustainability is accessible to everyone, and we all think about it in different ways. This CLL project allowed me to build a greater connection with the university outside of the Department of Art, and students had the opportunity to see and think about how art can exist outside the studio, and contribute to the world and social change.”

Image in studio

Heather Leier, assistant professor in the Department of Art, embedded sustainability in her class.

Heather Leier

In terms of sustainable social change, a part of this project involved students learning techniques and using materials that reduce the environmental impact of their art production. 

“One important part of me coming to UCalgary was to make sustainable change in the classroom,” says Leier. “I wanted to teach my students how to make sustainable shifts within their practices and draw attention to social change through project content. This not only makes me accountable to my students through my own commitment to developing a sustainable art practice, but they learn about sustainability, and we mobilize knowledge in creative ways through the art we produce. Students realize that their art can contribute to the world and make a difference. At the end of the day, sustainability is all of our responsibility, and we can contribute in a way that resonates with us. Doing a CLL project was accessible for me and my students, and it allowed us to build connections across campus.”

To learn more about Leier’s artwork in sustainability and social change, check out her website or contact her via email.

By leading the energy revolution, growing food security and protecting water resources, the University of Calgary is building a better future for all. Discover more of our sustainability success stories here.