• Natalie Marsh

ViVA to present at AASHE conference

ViVA will appear at the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) conference next week. The conference kicks off on Tuesday, October 12 with the first of many conference keynotes. Dr. Michael Sorrell, award-winning president of Paul J. Quinn College, a four-year HBCU in Dallas, TX will launch the three-day program with his vision for the new urban college model. A centerpiece of his new model is their conversion of the college’s football field into the WE over ME Farm which produces fresh, healthy, affordable organic food options for its surrounding residents, as well as hands-on educational experiences for students. In his earlier TEDtalk, he described the WE over ME Farm as a new “field of dreams.” Like many urban schools, there are no grocery stores in his neighborhood so they put their field to better use. In Sorrell’s words: “if you can’t eat, you can’t tackle.” He did the social math: 23 million people are living with food insecurity or in food deserts, 1.7 million freshmen take a remedial course in college, and there are 1,153 urban colleges in America. His vision for a new urban college model meets the needs of communities and students by connecting community needs, experiential learning, and leadership development. To date, they’ve grown 20,000 pounds of food. They give 10% to the community and sell food to restaurants and venues, including the Dallas Cowboys. They are also building their own neighborhood grocery store, and bank, as part of President Sorrell’s new vision.

Needless to say, despite our newness to AASHE, we feel like we fit right in! For many years, internationally renowned award-winning contemporary artists around the country have been leaders of community-based social practice projects that feature creative approaches to urban renewal and communal agriculture, native ecology research and citizen science, restorative reforestation and phytomediation. ViVA’s panel brings together three intersectional artists and multi-artist collectives with mutual interest in supporting curriculum and community teaching about climate change and environmental justice.

Acclaimed artist collective Ghana Think Tank (Maria del Carmen Montoya, Assistant Professor and Director of Graduate Studies, Corcoran School of Art & Design at George Washington University and Christopher Robbins, Associate Professor, SUNY-Purchase) flips urban redevelopment and gentrification assumptions by adopting a community land trust model in their “American Riad” project located in a North End neighborhood in Detroit where statistically 23% of the population is unemployed and 43% live in poverty. They absorbed elements of African and Islamic culture to solve an American problem and have revitalized residential and business spaces, initiating water purification practices and building a community garden and hub, where there were once more weeds than houses.

Since the 1980s, Oliver Kellhammer (Assistant Professor in Sustainability Systems, Parsons School of Art/The New School), has conceived and led projects involving small-scale urban reforestation and inner-city community agriculture, planting buckwheat and Black Locust trees to remediate heavy metals in urban brownfields.

The creative team desert ArtLAB (April Bojorquez and Matt Garcia, Assistant Prof., Colorado State University, Pueblo) are invested in reclaiming lost native epistemologies by researching and teaching indigenous Sonoran desert food practices, distributing restorative desert cacti and seed mixes, and replanting a vacant lot in Phoenix where 40% of lots are barren.

Each artist and collective will share an introduction to their artistic activities and philosophy, before inviting questions and a conversation about how similar grassroots and localized projects, on- and off-campus, could be undertaken around the country. If you’re attending the AASHE conference, we hope you’ll tune in!

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