Arts-based environmental education
How do you know but ev’ry Bird that cuts the airy way,
Is an immense World of delight,
clos’d by your senses five?

William Blake
As the crickets' soft autumn hum
is to us
so are we to the trees
as are they
to the rocks and the hills.

Gary Snyder


In 1995, Finnish art educator Meri-Helga Mantere defined arts-based environmental education as a form of learning that aims to develop environmental understanding and responsibility "by becoming more receptive to sense perceptions and observations and by using artistic methods to express personal environmental experiences and thoughts." According to her, artistic experiences improve one’s ability to see; they help one in knowing and understanding:

"What do I do as an environmentalist and as an art teacher? To put it rather simply: I try to support fresh perception, the nearby, personal enjoyment and pleasure of perceiving the world from the heart. To achieve that, it is necessary to stop, be quiet, have time and feel psychologically secure in order to perceive the unknown, the sometimes wild and unexpected. At times conscious training of the senses, decoding the stereotype, is needed. I aim at an openness to sensitivity, new and personal ways to articulate and share one’s environmental experiences which might be beautiful, disgusting, peaceful or threatening. I support and facilitate the conversation with the environment."

In short, arts-based environmental education is grounded on the belief that sensitivity to the environment can be developed by artistic activities.

(Articles by Meri-Helga Mantere can be downloaded at the Resources part of this website.)


Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking-Glass, 1871


American eco-artist Erica Fielder developed the Bird Feeder Hat. This hat is in many ways symbolic of what arts-based environmental education is all about. A participant wears a wide-brimmed, brushy hat covered with seeds. She or he must sit silent and still in order to feel the movement of birds on the hat. The experience is vivid and sensory. It highlights a species in a watershed, Erica says, and it encourages getting to know one's home watershed intimately through the senses. For her, the sensory defines her ecological art practice: "Science and technology have given us all the tools and know-how we need to halt environmental destruction today. What is missing is a feeling of kinship and empathy that motivates us to include the health of our watershed in our everyday decisions."

”Experiencing a deeper kinship with a wild creature up close.” Photo: Gina Morris.