Teaching children about the wonders of water

York’s 11th Annual Eco Art and Media Festival was a week-long series of events run by York students during the first week of March. The goal of the annual festival is to promote a sense of community by encouraging participants to express themselves through all forms of artistic media. At the heart of the festival is a series of workshops, each is designed to encourage participants to express their appreciation and understanding of the environment. This year’s festival and workshops centred around the theme of “Ripples and Tides” and focused on water conservation.

Funded by the faculties of Education, Fine Arts, and Environmental Studies, this year’s festival received additional sponsorship from the National Film Board of Canada and the Toronto-based Theatre for Social Change. Both sponsors organized workshops during the festival.

On Saturday, March 5, York hosted the St. Alban’s Boys and Girls Club from the Jane and Finch community. The children took part in a workshop called “The Lake Ontario Water Project Exhibit”, led by students from York University with project facilitator Pam Schuller, a community artist and project coordinator of the Lake Ontario Water Project. (Schuller created the Lake Ontario Water Project to educate Torontonians about the cultural, ecological and economic fabrics that make up the water system.)

Initially the children were introduced to the issue of water availability and consumption, the workshop rapidly moved to participation. Papier-mâché masks representing the various species and grasses in the watershed areas were formed and painted by students. The masks were then put together to create one giant, three-dimensional mosaic. Using the medium of masks, the children acted out the issue of drinking water availability by having a water goddess protect the supply of clean water. The children worked on short skits, which they then presented to the entire group at the end of the workshop. They also played water games with each game centred around the need for clean water for humankind and the importance of conserving water.

Elizabeth Liu Wai Ting, a second-year Faculty of Environmental Studies student who was at the event, enjoyed working with the children. “We cannot learn and work in isolation. University should be a living organism,” said Ting. “We need to continue to build bridges to the greater community.”

The workshop on Saturday proved that building those bridges can be both fun and educational. What better way to build our community and to share our knowledge with the next generation than through fun and the arts?

For more information about the festival, see the Ripples and Tides Web site.

More about The Lake Ontario Water Project

The Lake Ontario Water Project is a unique program that combines environmental education with collaborative art. The project, involving children from six elementary schools close to the watershed of six of Toronto’s rivers, employed learning through the arts to promote environmental awareness, teamwork and artistic development.

The children participating in the project receive papier-mâché instruction from Schuller and create masks. They then receive a lesson in watershed stewardship from York University students under the guidance of Lake Ontario Waterkeeper, a clean water group affiliated with Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s Waterkeeper Alliance.

The project received funding from the Ontario Arts Council.

With files from Lindsay Pinto, a second-year Faculty of Arts student at York University, who attended the workshop.