New collaborative art installation reminds York University to care ‘For the Birds’

Environment and Urban Change Health, Nursing, Environmental buildings

The Sky Studio Collective (SSC) is hosting a launch party in celebration of the “For the Birds” collaborative murals on Nov. 22 at 10 a.m.

“For the Birds” is an art project created by Faculty of Environmental & Urban Change students and teachers over the past year. This project was part of a larger initiative by Professors Gail Fraser, Traci Warkentin and Lisa Myers, who imagined ways that different classes could connect to help address an area of deep concern: migratory bird deaths resulting from reflective windows on campus.

The team applied to the Academic Innovation Fund (AIF) to co-design and implement a unique project that would provide hands-on engagement, and raise community awareness, across three different undergraduate courses: environmental science, environmental education and community arts.

The Community Arts for Social Change course (ENVS 2122) designed art for the windows which, after a full year of online learning, reconnected students for collaborative, in-person art creation for a cause. While activating their inner child with pencil crayons, stencils and scented markers, the group’s work centred around the bird’s view – the colours they see, the spaces they understand. Students conducted research and received Anishinaabeg teachings about the sky world from Myers, then worked in small groups to design window murals for the Heath, Nursing & Environmental Studies (HNES) building. These murals will sit alongside more conventional bird safety window treatments – such as dotted film – to offer a contrasting method for study.

The community arts course process was then adapted by the SSC who formed to design a united piece of collaged student imagery that represented the lifecycle of a songbird. The SSC, along with students from different faculties, gathered weekly to install the printed stickers on the HNES building.

“With the help of the Sky Studio Collective, a space was created for students to engage in conversation about how aesthetically appealing the colours and shapes are for the human eye amidst often colourless buildings, while understanding its importance for conserving birds living amongst us on campus,” said Sofia Colalillo, a third-year environmental arts and justice student.

In 2019, Warkentin’s environmental education course surveyed the community about the topic of bird strikes and will repeat the survey following the art installation. In 2022, Fraser’s first-year environmental science students examined windows for affected birds.

With approximately 1,000 deaths of migratory songbirds annually due to reflective windows across campus, “For the Birds” is an art piece that promotes awareness about how we can live among animal co-habitants. It examines how constructed spaces can intersect safely with the natural world. In addition to the physical mural, walkers-by can engage with the piece by scanning the QR codes embedded with videos and sound bites.

The “For the Birds” murals are best viewed from the outer, north side of the HNES building. Visitors are invited to share in science-informed, artistic student work that brings about environmental and urban change.