No Impact Week: A Blend of Art and Activism

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When I signed up for “Nature Writing in the 21st Century,” taught by English adjunct professor Chad Crisp, I thought I had a pretty good idea of what the class would entail. One part writing and one part nature. Something artsy like crafting poetry under the beech tree in front of Boyer Hall or on the patio behind the library. To a large extent, that is the core concept of the class. We learn different writing techniques and use them to further explore our relationship to the environment. However, as this is an Honors class, it has another unique dimension.

As I mentioned previously, I’m a student in the Honors Program at Arcadia, which focuses on developing leadership skills like empathy, communication, and networking. In pursuit of these goals, Honors students are required to take classes that challenge us in new ways. In the class, we have accomplished this by exploring ideas of our leadership in relation to the natural world through three projects. While other groups have worked on a campus-wide camp out and an interactive eco-map of campus, I helped to spearhead a No Impact Week campaign.

So, what is No Impact Week?

Colin Beavan, an author and environmental activist, started No Impact Project in 2009. Beavan, along with his wife and daughter, dedicated a year of their lives to leaving absolutely no impact on the environment. This included not creating any trash, shutting off the electricity in their apartment, not using motorized transportation, eating locally and organically, and more. Through this intense process, a movement was born – one that questions what we as humans actually need.

No Impact Week, a facet of this movement, is an educational campaign to lessen individual impact on a smaller scale. Over eight days, participants are asked to change behaviors like electricity use, transportation methods, and waste production. I was particularly excited to be involved in this project, because it closely aligned with things that I love: service and advocacy.

The group I worked with (three other students and myself) delegated tasks near the beginning of the semester; I jumped at the opportunity to do “impactful” No Impact advertising to inspire the campus to get involved. Brainstorming left me with a few ideas of how to initiate change. In order to really get people’s attention, I decided that large, interactive art installations were the way to go. And, with that thought , I created some up-cycled art.

My first piece was a tree made out of cardboard boxes, displayed in Landman Library. It had an axe wedged into its body, with small cardboard chunks flying like wood chips. Next to the tree was a substantial mountain of paper, all either left or tossed out in the library in seven days’ time. By working with Sciences Librarian Calvin Wang and Associate Dean of the Library Dr. Jeanne Buckley, I was able to include information about how much paper the library uses per week (approximately 7,500 sheets), as well as tips on how to use less.

My second project, and by far my most ambitious, was a five and a half by five and a half replica of a baby grand piano, crafted from cardboard boxes. I received information from Jen Rodolfo, the General Manager of Dining Services, that one of Arcadia’s eating areas, the Chat, uses 1,800 lbs. of potatoes per week, which paled in comparison to a baby grand’s approximate weight of 500 to 800 lbs. In this exhibit, I included questions concerning how much food we actually consume and how much we throw away.

Finally, I created a pyramid of food baskets in the Chat’s eating area. Over four days, I asked individuals to put relatively clean, recycled baskets in a specially marked recycling bin. By the end of the week, I had about 60. Unfortunately, 5,000 of them are used in the Chat weekly. To help shed light on this issue, and help those that might not know recycling regulations, I included suggestions at the installation to encourage others to take the time to recycle properly.

By exploring my creative side, I was able to identify a facet of service I had never really considered: activism. I never really thought that advertising could have such an impact until multiple people approached me and thanked me for my projects. I was even able to attract people to add to my art. After coming back from a long weekend away, I discovered that more food baskets were added to my pyramid.

At this point, I’ve caught the No Impact bug. My interest in the project went a little beyond the minimum requirements; I even made these installations “No Impact” advertising. All three were composed of recycled, used, or donated parts, and after November 9, they were disassembled and recycled properly. At this point, I’ve found myself actively looking for opportunities to make my voice heard, and I’ve come to realize that inspiring change in others can be just as rewarding as changing something yourself. Even after the project was over, I realized that I’ve been doing things to reduce my impact. I’ve begun to make small changes, like making sure that I put things in the right waste bin, to try to sustain the impact of No Impact in a meaningful way.