Students raising climate consciousness, funds for Paris trip


Originally posted on Times Standard

ARCATA — A group of Arcata students hoping to travel in Paris in December for the United Nations Climate Change Summit is in the meantime seeking to spread awareness of climbing temperatures and rising oceans through performance art.

On Friday at the Arcata Creamery District on Ninth Street, nearly 20 students from the Northcoast Preparatory and Performing Arts Academy in Arcata launched their climate change project, where the students expressed the looming environmental impacts on the North Coast and beyond through spoken word, interpretive dance and even a BMX stunt show from a nationally recognized Spanish exchange student to represent a tidal wave.

“ It seemed to me that climate change really does affect everybody in the Humboldt Bay area and this was a good way of starting the conversation on these issues,” said community artist Colin Stevens of Cambridge, UK. “I wanted a rough around the edges mixture of whatever the kids had to offer and they are a mixed bag themselves. … . It wasn’t quite theater, it was a real mixture of things.”

Stevens has visited the Humboldt County area since the 1980s and has been traveling to the academy annually over the last several years to work with students in the performing arts, mainly to help with the school’s theater productions. This year, he decided to try something different and gave students the reins.

“I was going to make a film and there is a film that’s going to be part of it. I sort of realized what’s more effective is to find a continuous way of contributing with Humboldt,” he said. “… I think the danger of a lot of projects is they have an amazing impact for a short space of time, but it’s hard to keep them going. I wanted to produce something students could reinvent and produce throughout the year and continue the project working with the local community and the artists with this sort of energy.”

Friday’s performance at Arcata’s Creamery District is just one part of a larger climate change program at the academy. Siskiyou Land Conservancy President and former Northcoast Environmental Center Executive Director Greg King currently teaches a creative writing class at the academy and is planning a trip for the students to attend the United Nations Climate Change Summit in Paris in December. The summit seeks to have a new global climate agreement in place by the end of 2015.

“There has to be world wide response to climate change,” King said. “It’s the young people who are really going to witness the significant changes in climate and sea level rise. So let’s go to Paris and get them energized about taking action. In the meantime and afterwards, the idea is to connect with community groups and individuals in Humboldt.”

King has started this by having students write papers on current climate change issues and is teaching grant writing. When Stevens came up with the idea to blend the arts with environmental issues, it created a new branch of the program.

“It was great. He burst through that shell that I had made in my administrative mind,” King said. “The plan is to expand the performance art, involve more students and take it around the California Northwest and then connect with our community and bring the issues and ideas around climate change to people in a very accessible fashion. That’s what Colin provided us: How to link these arts and inspire the students to pursue these issues through art.”

Keta Paulson, the academy’s communications director, said the Paris trip will be bring students to a “place where they are gathering with other students from around the world to make relationships and be together.”

Local relationships are also important, with the academy working with the Northcoast Environmental Center and the AmeriCorps group, CivicSpark, as a way to expand the reach of the message.

“It’s an ambitious project, and we need to keep it rolling,” Paulson said.

The academy has raised over $3,500 of the estimated $20,000 needed to send the nearly 20 students to the Paris summit. King said that some of the funds can be attained through scholarships, but says it sometimes ends up only being the students who can afford the trips themselves that can actually go.

“We want to make this a merit-based trip and have it entirely funded,” he said.

Stevens is set to fly back to Cambridge on Feb. 20 and will be working with the students on how they can continue the project themselves.

“The idea is to let the students know how to take management of it, really,” he said. “It’s a very easy for a project to become a teacher-led project. … They’re heading towards Paris and we want them to take something with them.”

With the vision of the project being a “portable arts event,” Stevens said they are already planning the next performances. One idea is drawing chalk lines at locations in coastal cities like Eureka and Arcata where the ocean is estimated to rise to between 2050 and 2070 and holding a performance at that location.

“Like in 50 years, if nothing is done, the Creamery District will be underwater,” Paulson said. “This is an idea of trying to show people a visualization and having an experience about what’s happening and to get involved in trying to not necessarily stop climate change as it may be too late for that, but to at least slow it down.”