FOR A FULL DAY Jan. 31, the Savannah College of Art and Design is participating in a nationwide “Focus the Nation” teach-in event to raise awareness of how individuals and communities can help build a sustainable society in a time of climate change.
Over 1,200 colleges across the U.S. are taking part in the the event, with SCAD’s participation organized by the college’s Council for Sustainability and Eco-practices.
The event actually begins with a students-only simulcast the evening of Jan. 30 at Oglethorpe House. The next day’s teach-in will include five hour-long discussion sessions, each featuring three speakers. Sessions begin at 8:15 a.m., 9:30 a.m., 11 a.m., 12:30 p.m. and 2 p.m. A “Next Steps” brainstorming session begins at 3 p.m., where participants can provide input regarding actions to affect change. That evening at 6 p.m., Leonardo DiCaprio’s 11th Hour will screen, also free and open to the public.
We spoke to SCAD’s point person for the event, graphic arts professor Scott Boylston.
How did SCAD decide to participate in this event?
Scott Boylston: Well, Dan Levine (SCAD art history professor) had this DVD about some projects going on around the country, and in one of those speeches on the DVD someone mentioned this Focus the Nation thing. I went searching for it and I happened to find that website and brought it to our committee, the Council on Ecopractices and Sustainability, and said hey, this might be something interesting. We all jumped on it immediately.
The older generation sees environmentalism in politically polarized ways, but it seems like the college generation doesn’t see it politically at all. They just think taking care of the environment is the common sense thing to do. Has that been your experience as well as a professor?
Scott Boylston: I think so, and I do think this shows the gradual maturing of environmentalism. In the late ‘60s and through the ‘70s, environmentalists had this idea, that, “no, we can’t grow.” And that led to this very polarized discussion about economic growth or the environment, and maybe the older generation has kind of absorbed that dichotomy. I think what you ‘ve seen over the last 20 years is not only a lot of technology but a lot of serious writers have started to reveal that it doesn’t have to be that kind of choice.
So the students that we have now, they didn’t necessarily grow up in that polarized atmosphere as much as we did. I think they’re much more open to an honest look at this discussion. I think it’s very positive.
Walk us through the events that you think are particularly noteworthy.
Scott Boylston: The kickoff is Wednesday night Jan. 30, a one-hour live simulcast feed. Edward Norton is going to be involved with it. Students will be encouraged to interact through text messaging. So they want people who are watching this online to actually express themselves. That’s the kickoff, starting at 8 p.m. and going on for about an hour.
Then the following day we start fresh and early at 8 a.m. The whole idea of having a full-day teach-in means we kind of want to resist pointing out any one highlight as much as to say all day long there will be people from different disciplines talking about different facets of this issue.
We deliberately mixed it up so we weren’t focusing on narrow viewpoints. The whole idea is to stress that everything is interconnected. We also didn’t want, for example, Industrial Design students to go to just one session. The idea is to engage students throughout the day. By mixing up the panels in diverse disciplines, we hope to talk about a more holistic view of all this.
So the Wednesday night event is SCAD-only, but everything else is open to the public?
Scott Boylston: Yes, that kickoff event is the only thing open only to SCAD students, and that’s mainly because it will be in a small space, the Oglethorpe House. All the rest of the event is free and open to the public. But as for the kickoff event, the simulcast, anyone at home can watch it online. But all day Thursday it’s open to the public.
We’re also going to have information booths. The whole idea is to empower students and let them know they can make a difference. I know it sounds corny, but they can. It’s one individual making individual choices throughout the course of the day about everything they do. Some of the groups we’re going to have are the Georgia Conservancy, the bike co-op, city recycling, Project Green, and a few others. Our hope is that as students and the community comes in and out they can stop in and bring it down to that small level of what I, as a citizen, can do.
OK, here’s the obligatory silly media question: Why is an art school concerning itself with global warming?
Scott Boylston: Not a silly question at all. I think the problems are so diverse and so engrained with global warming and all the things that are happening with climate change that people need to take a fresh, creative look.
We talk about creativity as if we can write down what it is in a sentence. Creativity is really just the ability to look at a complex situation and consider where those action points are. Not only that but the foresight to understand that implications down the road have to be considered.
I think our art and design students really are maybe the best problem solvers for our future, because they have a way of looking at things not stuck in the old ways of seeing things. And this goes right along with what people are saying: The next MBA is an MFA.
So art and design and creativity are at the core of this, and that’s where I think the solutions will come from.
The Savannah College of Art and Design will host a Focus the Nation Teach-in Thursday, Jan. 31, 8 a.m.-5:30 p.m., at Trustees Theater, 216 E. Broughton St. Free and open to the public.
A screening of the 2007 film The 11th Hour, produced and narrated by Leonardo DiCaprio, follows the teach-in at 6 p.m. The screening is free and open to the public, and is presented by the SCAD office of innovative teaching and learning.