By Travis Wilson, Colorado Mountain College BA Sustainability 2019 Graduate
A problem I have seen in the field of sustainability is that though sustainability is indeed making strides in our society and is becoming more prevalent in the minds of people, I feel that it is not being addressed in enough education and teaching in a creative ways. For sustainable practices to be implemented within our society, our people must have a stronger understanding of its importance; and our youth could be the answer to the long-term preservation of our world. What is difficult about implementation is not just finding a way to relate this information to young people so that they understand how important this work is, but also relaying it in a format that is more relatable. Performing arts could be the solution!
Several studies have shown the positive effects that performing arts offer to communicate sustainability concepts in an academic setting ranging from nursing to language skills. This is a topic that can be intimidating to many students but performing arts-based work has made the topic of sustainability more approachable, relatable, and keeps the message clear. Being someone who has worked in performing arts for roughly a decade, I have performed and helped create many pieces ranging from music to theatre with messages that needed to be heard. As river conservation is a major issue in Colorado, I felt that this topic would indeed be the best to showcase what performing arts can do as well as bring this issue to a younger audience.
What I decided to do with my senior capstone research project at Colorado Mountain College was to investigate methods of performing arts the 12th grade students at Glenwood Springs High School responded to best on the topic of river conservation. I focused on three forms of performance art: a song parody, a poetry slam, and a series of improv games with a river conservation theme. The session received positive reception from all the subjects with unanimous praise going towards the musical elements. It was so rejuvinating to see these young students become so involved in the work taking place and allowing their own true colors and personalities to shine. This was not only a time of learning and epiphanies, but also a time for all of us to look at these ideas and have fun with them in a creative way. The students relayed to me that while the information was not new, it affirmed the importance of river conservation and how perspective is critical to understanding all sides and finding an answer that is suitable for everyone.
This reaction of self-knowledge was exactly the answer I was looking for as many of us in this line of work know that opposition is not the answer, but an opportunity to create relationships and compromises. This demonstrated that performance-based teachings are not only effective in direct results, but ignite critical thinking afterward and if implemented in a large-scale setting could even prove to be more successful that even I would have predicted. In these findings on the merging of performance art and sustainability, I feel that we have again proven how impactful performing arts can be to informing people on imperative messages needed for our world and this research has solidified that notion for me and many others that are intrigued by this field. As one of my favorite singers of all time said, “I believe the children are the future, teach them well and let them lead the way.” It’s to make that statement a reality for sustainability and our world.
Travis Wilson is a recent graduate of Colorado Mountain College with a Bachelor of Arts in Sustainability. He is originally from the Western region of Georgia and has been in Colorado since 2013. Aside from his studies in sustainability, Travis also does various theatre and musical work in the Roaring Fork Valley having been involved in over a dozen productions and performances since living in Glenwood Springs. Currently he works in retail and is looking forward to starting internships and trainings this coming fall that will adhere more to his area of focus in sustainable communication, directing, and development.
Thank to Rios to Rivers for cover photo by Weston Boyles