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The art of change

From left, UNBC student Carleen Paltzat, UNBC Associate Geography Professor Dr. Zoë Meletis, UNBC Assistant Environmental Planning Professor Dr. Mark Groulx, Two Rivers Curator and Artistic Director George Harris, and Two Rivers Managing Director Carolyn Holmes hold up some of the messages left on the Think Change wall at the exhibit. UNBC photo

Sometimes the best ideas don’t come from the academic literature or out of the mouth of a lecturer in a classroom, but rather from everyday people who want to make a difference.

It was with that in mind that a group of University of Northern British Columbia researchers teamed up with Two Rivers Gallery and the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions (PICS) to create Change, an art exhibit and call to action.

“To get the best solutions you need to be creative,” says UNBC Geography Associate Professor Dr. Zoë Meletis. “Who is more creative than artists?”

The exhibit opened on Oct. 21 and runs until Jan. 8. On Jan. 6 the gallery will host a special edition of UNBC’s Natural Resources and Environmental Studies Institute colloquium featuring physics instructor and poet Al Rempel and PICS executive director Dr. Sybil Seitzinger. A bus will take people from UNBC to Two Rivers for the event or people can meet at the gallery at 3:30 p.m. on Jan. 6.

The talk, called Art and Science for a Change, will give people a chance to see the exhibit a final time before it closes as well as experience the creative fusion when the artistic and scientific communities come together.

“We’re exploring the value of art in coming up with solutions,” says UNBC PICS program manager Michelle Connolly.

The exhibit itself features work from the permanent collection at Two Rivers, but was selected to help tell the story of climate change and spur conversations about solutions. Co-curated by Two Rivers curator and artistic director George Harris and UNBC environmental science student Carleen Paltzat, the exhibit looks at the past, present and future of human interactions with the environment.

“At the heart of this collaboration is a shared concern for the future and the belief that science and art can combine for great effect. UNBC faculty and students brought incredible depth to this project,” says Harris. “Two Rivers Gallery looks forward to undertaking more community partnerships.”

Paltzat, a second-year student, worked with Harris to learn the process of how to curate an exhibit. She searched the database to select the artwork and wrote a first draft of the interpretive notes.

“I love art and I love learning about how we can make a difference with climate change,” Paltzat says. “I never thought I’d find a job that would combine the two.”

The genesis of the exhibit came in the spring of 2016 when PICS published a paper exploring better ways to engage with people about climate change issues. Meletis, who was on the PICS Program Committee at the time as well as the Two Rivers Board of Trustees, saw a natural connection and got the ball rolling.

Working with UNBC Environmental Planning Assistant Professor Dr. Mark Groulx, Connolly, Paltzat, and the Two Rivers team headed by Harris, the group put together the exhibit and engaged the community in other ways including a panel discussion in the spring, an interactive display at BMO KidzArt Dayz and visits to local and regional schools.

“Rather than talking to people about climate change, this project gives us the opportunity to listen to their concerns, ideas and solutions,” Groulx says. “Usually when we discuss climate change we’re using maps, graphs and charts. This exhibit frames the discussion in a way that is most relevant to the community.”

The response so far has been phenomenal.

Children have produced artwork with solutions ranging from an image of a person in a jetpack flying away to a different planet to simple, poignant messages such as “Love is the Answer.” Some gallery patrons have been interviewed for an upcoming podcast series on the exhibit and have shared their insightful solutions while other visitors to Two Rivers have left ideas on the interactive portion of the exhibit.

“There’s a bias that people in the North are backwards when it comes to climate change,” Groulx says. “This exhibit and the response it’s received so far proves this just isn’t true.”

The Change exhibition and the Art and Science for a Change colloquium on Jan. 6 are the final public events for the larger Art, Change, & Creativity (ACC) project.

The ACC emphasizes research and outreach. It has included panels, drawing activities and conversations with local children, interviews with adults, Bike to Work week contributions, a Climate Café at the Gallery, and the generation of podcasts. It is funded by UNBC and PICS-UNBC.

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