FUTURES/forward Mentorships: Featuring Hannah Gelderman
What can happen in a FUTURES/forward community-engaged arts mentorship during COVID-19? Read on to find out! In this series of blogs, we will post Q&As with featured mentees.
FUTURES/forward Mentee: Hannah Gelderman, May to September 2020, mentored by Laura Barron
Hannah Gelderman (she/her) is a settler of Dutch descent, living in the region called Amiskwaciwâskahikan, also known as Edmonton, Alberta. She works in the arts as an educator, programmer, illustrator, and community-engaged artist. She completed her Bachelor of Fine Arts in Art and Design at the University of Alberta in 2012, and then began her work as arts programmer, working with a variety of organizations to develop and facilitate art programs and workshops for children, youth, and adults. Alongside this, Hannah is a climate justice organizer with extra enthusiasm for arts-based organizing. As a strong believer in the transformative power of art, Hannah is energized by how arts-based and creative practices can bring about positive change at both individual and collective levels. She recently graduated with a Master of Education in Adult Education and Community Engagement from the University of Victoria, where she focused her research on the role of participatory visual arts in this era of climate crisis. Find out more about Hannah’s work and get in touch at hannahgelderman.com.
Hannah’s mentorship included being placed as Artist-in-Residence with the Alberta Council of Environmental Educators (ACEE) where she facilitated, co-created, and piloted the “Brighter Futures: Youth Visions for Environmental Education Project” with youth members. The project took form with a group of youth who are members of Alberta Youth Leaders for Environmental and Energy Education (AYLEEE), an initiative run by ACEE. The youth, from grades 7 to 12, created a vision for their school for the year 2030 that includes more environmental and climate change education. Hannah facilitated weekly online workshops for 3 months where the youth created their vision, wrote a script, made art, and recorded narration. Following the workshops, Hannah pulled all of their collaborative art work together in a 7 minute long stop motion video, titled “Brighter Futures: Youth Visions for Environmental Education in 2030”.
Q: What was a most interesting success?
The biggest success was doing all this creative work online and over zoom to support youth in creating a video that really shares their voices, hopes, and visions! The technology we do have available to us at this moment made it possible for the youth to write the script, draw the imagery for each scene, record narration, and then send it all to me to compile. Of course, there are drawbacks and challenges to working entirely online, but at the same time there is so much that can be done, and it was exciting to see what was still possible even with the constraints of COVID-19.
Q: What was the greatest challenge?
One challenge was a lack of high-quality scanning and recording equipment for the youth, and not being able to easily provide access to this equipment for them. Ultimately, they used what they had, and it all worked good enough, and gave the video an obvious, but effective, DIY feel!
Another thing that I found challenging was around understanding and framing climate change and climate justice. When I was applying for FUTURES/forward, the project description spoke about climate justice. For me, a climate justice framework is foundational for how I approach addressing the climate crisis, but ACEE’s primary focus is climate education. Thus, I found it hard to fully get on board with some of their organizational approach and materials. I don’t think this impacted my working relationship with ACEE as we had a few conversations around the topic, but we recognized that different tactics for change are necessary and that outside of this project we would take different approaches. This did come up a few times around content that I would have liked to be in the video but was maybe too ‘radical’ for their audience (like taxing the rich and land back). These weren’t things I pushed on because ultimately it was up to the youth and to ACEE what the content of the video was, but it did compromise the ways that I personally think we should be communicating about climate injustices and climate solutions.
Q: How did you overcome the challenge? Any tips, tools, etc.
As I mention, through conversations and sharing our perspectives, I think that we all took the time to listen, learn and explain. We were okay to compromise, and I knew that the youth and ACEE had the final say on content. I think we all knew we had a lot to learn from each other.
Q: How did this creative, arts-based project affect change in climate action/justice?
Of course, it is difficult to state how a singular project affects change in the larger picture of climate action in Alberta. People fighting for climate justice and climate action are in a long game, and there are so many people and groups contributing to a larger movement that is affecting change. With the political and economic situation in Alberta, we haven’t seen widespread meaningful climate action. This ultimately reaffirms the necessity of creative work in this context, creative work that helps envision a different kind of future and that can broadly inspire and mobilize people to help realize that future.
Fortunately, in the project-specific context, youth participants stated positive changes that they experienced and that they anticipated as part of the project. In survey responses youth participants shared that they anticipated that the video would be effective in communicating their goals and demonstrating what changes are possible. They believe that viewers will feel more hopeful, inspired, motivated and aware after watching the video. The youth also responded that participating in this project made them feel more hopeful about environmental education and their futures and they indicated that they increased their confidence to advocate for environment, energy, and climate change education. Overall, in the survey, and in conversations, they indicated that they valued and learned from the collaborative process and that they were able to explore new mediums and new ways to communicate about climate change and environmental education.
Q: What did you learn that was most powerful in your work?
Something I found powerful was bringing theory and my research into action. In my master’s degree I looked a lot at the role that art plays in addressing the climate crisis, communicating solutions, and cultivating hope. I learned that sharing solutions to crisis and injustice is so important because positive examples can engage, motivate, and inspire people to take action and work for change. Alternatively, only hearing about problems without sharing what is being done, or what can be done to address the problem, can lead to apathy and despair. Especially in this moment of disorientation and crisis, putting forward solutions can encourage people and help build new expectations about what is possible. Art offers a means to visualize solutions and imagine joyful futures where these solutions are enacted.
After spending so much time reading and writing about these ideas in an academic setting, I was ready to apply them to my work as an artist. I am grateful and excited to have had the opportunity to do so with ACEE and AYLEEE. It was powerful to work with these youth who are already taking action in their schools and, through their work with AYLEEE and ACEE, to help them visualize and articulate. It was energizing to be able to then turn their visions into something creative that they can share, and into something that can help bring their vision into reality.
Q: What one thing about your mentorship do you want to share with those who may or may not be interested in community-engaged arts?
RE: the mentorship model
I think the mentorship model is so valuable! In my case I was able to learn so much from my mentor Laura Barron, and from my own experience of facilitating the project, while also sharing what I know with the youth and supporting their learning (as well as learn from them!) I also know that Laura appreciated and learned from things that I brought to the project. Mentorships like this allow for so many layers of learning and sharing, and in ways that are mutually beneficial and reciprocal. Meeting with the whole cohort also enriched the learning!
RE: community-engaged arts
Ultimately, as a community-engaged artist, I wish there were more longer term and permanent opportunities!
So many facets of work and society can benefit and be enhanced by creative engagement and opportunities. I am grateful for the work ICASC is doing to advance community-engaged art in Canada and provide opportunities. What I would like to see is this taken up much more broadly. Community-engaged art can play a valuable role in education, healthcare, and many other organizational settings, and in each of these contexts art can have positive benefits for mental health, community building, fostering resilience, creative communications, and the list can go on.
To policy makers, funders, government, organizations – How can you provide opportunities to increase community-engaged arts? After you think about how (and listen to what arts and cultural workers and community members have to say) … then do it!
For artists — in the vein of envisioning hopeful futures — I have been thinking about how we too need to better advocate for and envision the type of work we want and deserve. See the next question for what I imagine.
Q: What do you envision for the future of community engaged art, or for yourself as a community engaged artist?
One of my activities with the youth was for them to create what a ‘Day in the Life’ would look like in 2030 if their school was supporting them to be literate around environment, energy, and climate change. I completed this activity as well, modifying it to my own context. I imagined what a day in my life might look like if was working as a community engaged artist (I kept it to the school setting to align with what I was asking the students to do). It was exciting and liberating for me to imagine what my day and work could be like, free from the grind of constantly competing for limited arts funding and opportunities.
I imagined that…
I am working as an artist in residence in a school. This artist in residence program is part of a health and wellness, creative resilience initiative that is fully funded by the provincial and federal governments, run in partnership with the school boards across the province. Finding money for programs like this isn’t an issue because the government implemented a wealth tax and raised corporate taxes on companies like Amazon. School boards hire permanent, unionized arts-enhancement positions in schools (similar to teachers). Positions like this also exist in community centres, seniors’ homes and more. This program exists because arts and cultural engagement is an important part of mental health and wellness, cultivating hope, fostering community, and building resilience, which is all necessary as we live in a climate changing and challenging world. Program goals also include increasing access to arts-based engagement for students in schools and providing meaningful employment opportunities to artists. Artists of all mediums and backgrounds work in different schools. At the start of the school year I met with students, teachers, and school admin to determine and develop the arts initiatives that would be best for the school. I coordinate with teachers to complement curricular work in the classrooms, as well as offer free after-school arts programming. This year I am working with students to co-facilitate a schoolwide participatory art project that shares their stories of building resilience and cultivating hope in the face of the climate crisis. Even though we as a school, city and society are doing all we can to implement justice-based climate solutions we still need to deal with the impacts of climate change.
I went into even more detail as I imagined my ‘Day in Life’… but this starts to give an idea of the types of livelihoods we can imagine for ourselves and invite others to support. We are workers with unique and valuable skills and we too, as all workers, deserve stable and secure livelihoods where we can use our skills, passion, and ideas to contribute to building a healthy, just and sustainable society.
We wish to thank the Alberta Council of Environmental Educators (ACEE) for this collaboration and hosting Hannah Gelderman’s artist-in-residency. FUTURES/forward gratefully acknowledges that Hannah’s mentorship thrived due in part to the generous support of the McConnell Foundation and Judith Marcuse Projects.