By Christina Renowden, Tanja C. Beer, T. and Luis Mata
As a society, we continue to see human activities having a harmful impact on nature. While many people work to reverse these impacts, we have not yet seen an adequate shift in the general public’s attitudes to achieve a more harmonious relationship between people and nature.
Our relationship with nature is vital in understanding our place in the world and our interconnectedness to all living things. Many researchers have shown people who feel connected to nature are more likely to seek out actions that will help protect the environment.
To explore people’s connection with nature in the city, our study combined a creative activity with science communication. We did this by developing a novel participatory ‘ArtScience’ experience based on engaging the ‘head, heart and hand’.
Our research took place during an event held at The University of Melbourne, Australia, called The Living Pavilion. This was an Indigenous-led event held on the lands of the Wurundjeri peoples of the greater Eastern Kulin Nations. The Living Pavilion was a project connecting Indigenous knowledge, ecological science, and sustainable design through participatory arts. We ran three ArtScience workshops for a total of 20 volunteers who attended The Living Pavilion. We integrated a creative component to help evoke a more emotive response to complex sustainability issues, such as biodiversity loss. The workshops included a science ‘walk and talk’ around The Living Pavilion focussing on either frogs, insects or plants. After the talk, participants were invited to create an art piece using paint, macro-photography or botanical crafting to reflect on and express what they had learnt in the science talk.
Immediately after the workshop, all 20 participants undertook a survey and within four weeks, we interviewed just under half of those participants. Our results from the surveys and interviews showed three themes that described people’s experiences in the ArtScience workshops. Firstly, people discovered or learnt something new about urban nature, which for many was thrilling and motivating. Others experienced ‘flow’ when being creative, a state where people feel completely immersed and find joy in the activity. Lastly, many participants experienced feelings of attunement and being more aware of local nature around them. Given we know how important it is to increase nature connection and people’s likelihood to act for nature, we suggest ArtScience experiences can open new pathways to noticing and knowing nature, while also creating a more mindful and emotional connection to nature