Art as Activism: How APH Students Respond to the Climate Crises

Just steps from the Great Hall you can walk into one of APH’s Student Art Galleries.  Once you enter the Gallery you will see this message on the wall: 

“Climate change is one of the most pressing issues worldwide, as the clock towards irreversible global warming and unfixable worldwide change ticks down by the day. However, there are millions of people worldwide protesting, researching, and reaching out to make change as much and as quickly as possible. Climate change is a real current issue, affecting everyone–but there is still time to stop it.” 

Those three words hang in the air. There is still time

When head of the fine art department, Chloe Wilwerding invited students to become a student art curator, Bridget Mahoney  ‘22  jumped at the chance. 

The Student Curator role consists of working closely with APH’S art teacher, Chloe Wilwerding, to produce 2-3 art galleries throughout the school year. As Student Curator, Bridget is tasked with brainstorming art show themes, calling for art from the APH community, and choosing the location to house the new gallery. 

“I love art and this was such a great opportunity to develop my curating skills for the future!” says Bridget. “I could have an internship as a curator in a museum and use the knowledge from my current role to help with that. Penguin Hall has so much space for art and it’s fun to see how art works within different rooms throughout the building. I love seeing how art can relate to space!” 

And it’s true! Penguin Hall’s building is not without its student art. From the Bistro, to the Abbey Walk, and even decking the hallways and corridors leading to classrooms, paintings, sculptures, photographs, etc. surround the inhabitants of Penguin Hall. Here, students learn to express themselves through the arts, to develop their imagination and curiosity, and to embrace beauty and originality.

And while art is certainly a vessel for beauty, it is also a crucial tool for activism. 

“A large part of my art comes from a place of reacting to current events,” reflects Bridget. “When deciding what the theme of the first gallery of the year would be, I chose a topic that means a lot to the students in this community. Climate change is extremely important and I’ve had the opportunity to help organize a climate strike in Boston along with 60+ students. If the planet doesn’t want us here, it’s going to kick us out.” 

According to an online article from NASA: “Global climate change has already had observable effects on the environment. Glaciers have shrunk, ice on rivers and lakes is breaking up earlier, plant and animal ranges have shifted and trees are flowering sooner. Effects that scientists had predicted in the past would result from global climate change are now occurring: loss of sea ice, accelerated sea level rise and longer, more intense heat waves.” 

“Rising Tides” is a gallery that stresses urgency around climate change and how it affects APH students. Artists were asked to submit work in response to climate change in relation to APH –  how they are affected by it and how they are fighting back against it. The pieces in this gallery focus on the effects of pollution, single-use plastic, global warming, extinction, and more. 

Although depicting a dark topic, the colors of the gallery are bursting with life. Vibrant greens, yellows, oranges and blues celebrate the colors of this planet and the gifts of nature that we have been given.

But there is grief in the midst of this celebration. A single tear rolls from the great polar bear’s eye as he is nestled between a planet weeping “This is it” and a declaration to “Save my mother.” The blue parrot lays a single amber-colored pupil on the viewer with the haunting words “Don’t Forget” hovering above it. Have we forgotten already? Are we trying to forget what’s inevitable if we don’t take action? 

Bridget’s hope for the viewers of the gallery is for people to become aware and fight for the earth. “Art is a way to convey the urgency and emergency that everyone can understand and relate to differently. Emotion can be felt strongly through image. It can reach people in such a different way than words can.”

While the reality of climate change is daunting, it doesn’t mean we can’t take action! The informational plaque by the entrance to the gallery, has a QR code listing different ways you can help combat climate change. A few more tips from Bridget include:

  • Consistently recycle 
  • Start a compost pile
  • Use a reusable water bottle, silverware, straw, etc.! 
  • Call local representatives 

“Most of the students at APH aren’t old enough to vote, but that doesn’t mean we can’t do anything right now!” 

We invite you to come see “Rising Tides” and hope that this installation inspires you to see and address climate change in your community!