Photo: Mike Fernandez/Audubon

Audubon Climate Heroes

Art Is for the Birds

An Arizona educator shares how creativity can connect people, birds, and conservation.

Art has the potential to connect people with each other and with big ideas whose scope can sometimes be difficult to comprehend. To bring home the issue of climate change and how it’s affecting birds, Audubon staff and volunteers are using mosaics, murals, and other creative projects to help spread the word. 

At the Audubon Convention 2015, visitors decorated colorful squares of paper with images of their #ClimateThing—whatever brings the climate issue home for them and inspires them to make a difference. Some people drew a bluebird, Burrowing Owls, or an American Redstart. Other squares featured a hedgehog, wildflowers, or the Sonoran Desert. By the last day of the convention, the squares formed a mosaic with yellow letters that spelled out “HOPE.”

Cathy Wise, education director for Audubon Arizona, organized the project to engage convention attendees about birds threatened by climate change. She wanted to connect people’s creativity with a message of hope about climate because she’s found that art is “a medium that speaks to us on a different level than other things,” such as facts and figures. “Art is fun, and so it gives people permission to let their guards down a little bit,” she said.

Cathy Wise, education director for Audubon Arizona, talked with a participant about the climate mosaic in progress. Photo: Mike Fernandez/Audubon

She’s seen this through her work in Phoenix with Downtown Owls, a program that relocates climate-endangered Burrowing Owls from development sites to protected land at the Audubon Rio Salado Center and city parkland.

After artist Teresa Dendy and her teenage daughter volunteered with Downtown Owls, Dendy was inspired to paint a mural of the owls under the Central Avenue bridge in Phoenix. The mural depicts the owls’ diet and habitat in such a way that passers-by can learn about the birds visually. “Art is very personal,” Wise said. She says she’s seen how powerful art can be for people who aren’t engaged in a lot of natural history studies or science.

Many contributors to the mosaic drew favorite birds such as egrets, puffins, and loons. Photo: Mike Fernandez/Audubon
Tebello Marumo, integrated marketing manager for Audubon, added a decorated square to the mosaic. Photo: Mike Fernandez/Audubon

And art is an especially great way to connect with kids, like the summer camp participants at the Rio Salado Center. There, fifth and sixth graders draw posters each week and give a presentation to their peers to learn about topics like desert wildlife and Arizona streams. (This year’s campers contributed several drawings to get the “HOPE” mosaic started.)

Other endeavors like the Audubon Mural Project also take advantage of art’s ability to connect with people on a basic and creative level. With ingredients as simple as paper and markers, art projects can inspire people to share why they care about addressing climate change—and why there are reasons for hope.

When the mosaic was completed, the yellow squares spelled out the word "HOPE." Photo: Mike Fernandez/Audubon


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