The Studio Door gallery in Hillcrest is hosting #WeBorrowTheEarthFromOurChildren, a new exhibit showcasing artwork about climate change by students aged 3 to 18. The exhibit was conceived in collaboration with two doctors who see climate change as a pediatric public health crisis.
Dr. Vi Nguyen takes climate change seriously. She can be found on Instagram as drplasticpicker and describes herself as a “secret eco-warrior trying to save the earth one piece of ocean-bound plastic at a time.”
“I come to the climate work with a sense of desperation,” Nguyen said. “I think you really have to realize that it's an existential crisis. There's no time left. We have to act now. I wake up every day and think to myself, how can I help stop this? And how can I bend the arc toward a sustainable future? And so it seemed crazy but one of the simple things that a child can do is actually draw a picture. And the reason this art show is here is because I'm trying to convince adults that they need to do something, and how more powerful than the drawing of a child.”
C Fodoreanu is an artist but his pediatric patients know him as Dr. Andrei Fodoreanu.
“This show came up from an open call that was organized in collaboration with American Academy of Pediatrics towards kids between ages 3 and 18 to submit artwork in regards to climate and environment and anything nature,” Fodoreanu said. “We've been doing this for about a year or so, and we thought that it's a good idea to involve the children through creating art and creating some positive experience about how to think about nature and environment and become a better citizen in this world.”
Maya Satterberg is trying to be one of those better citizens. The exhibit includes a painting by the 17-year-old Mission Bay High School student.
“Climate change affects so many things and one of those things is actually access to clean water," she said, looking at her water-themed painting. "So I just portrayed everyone's collective need for water and perhaps the ways we are affecting it. And I've obviously surrounded the whole piece by making waves next to it to show how every aspect is being affected by climate change.”
Making waves is exactly what the artists and organizers want the show to do.
“I think that art is such a useful and powerful tool to convey any sort of messages,” Satterberg said. “So any visual communications is what I'm mostly interested in. And I think it's so interesting to see what everyone else has come up with as well, to look around and see how people are communicating this very similar ideas.”
Michelle Yu is a 12-year-old Oak Valley Middle School student and fellow artist. Her entry was drawn with markers and shows how ocean pollution hurts sea creatures.
“I'm really interested in animals and a lot of the animals that I like, they're slowly going extinct because of the changing climate and a lot of trash that we dump into their environments," Yu said. “If the Earth changes, then animals and environments will start disappearing, which isn't exactly great for us. For example, if the oceans are polluted, then fish in there will all die, and some of the plants that make oxygen for us will not be there anymore, which means that we might not be able to breathe a lot.”
In addition to the visual art there will be poetry. Exhibit organizer Tae Yun oversaw those entries.
“A lot of the entries were from younger children, mainly lower-middle school, and I was really struck by the quality of the work and just the ideas presented,” Yun said. “I really didn't expect a lot of the lower schoolers in particular to communicate such themes of climate depression, but some of them did, and that really struck me. It goes to show how much climate change has affected the minds and the mental state of even our youngest people here.”
That’s one of the reasons pediatricians like Fodoreanu have gotten involved in the issue of climate change.
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“The reason I became a pediatrician is to change things from the start,” Fodoreanu explained. “So don't let that kid become obese or have diabetes. In a way, they can only be healthy if everything around them is healthy. I think pediatricians have a lot to say because we see this firsthand. We see kids getting sick with asthma or getting eczemas or having all these problems. And it's probably because of everything else that's happening in the world and the pollution, the plastics and all the chemicals that are everywhere.”
Nguyen agreed: “These problems that we see in pediatrics: Obesity, plummeting child mental health, it's all connected to the climate. And so when you realize the intersection of climate and health and children and the Earth, I think it just opens the doors and makes us be more creative to kind of deal with these medical problems that kids have. Because one could argue that obesity is a climate problem, because literally the micronutrients of our food is less because of climate change. And the solutions to the climate problem are often solutions to pediatric problems. So plant-based eating, less processed food.”
Yun saw how the children writing poetry were processing difficult things in their lives.
“I think that a lot of our youth today have climate anxiety,” Yun said. “They see all this horrible news about climate change and how the forest is being deforested. The oceans are filled with trash, and they get depressed because all this bad stuff is happening and they're worried about their future. And this has resulted in a lot of them expressing this sort of anxiety through art and mainly, as I saw through poetry.”
For #WeBorrowTheEarthFromOurChildren, it is a child’s perspective that helps bring the issues into focus.
“Kids get it. children understand fundamentally what we adults make way too complicated,” Nguyen said. “I want adults to take away the message that this is an emergency. And if these children have taken time to draw images to put this show together, they're doing it right. We're not. So I really want adults to wake up and just think a little bit about it.”
Satterberg hopes the show will have an impact.
“I hope that climate change obviously is discussed more,” Satterberg said. “I hope that people are aware that youth are talking about this. Modern youth are very hyper-aware of these issues. I really think that the more we frame the issue of climate change as a debate, the more the actual solutions to the problem become deferred. So I think that we should really start focusing on positive action for climate change and to help any way that we can, even if it doesn't seem like much now.”
Art can help convey that message through this show, but art can also be a crucial part of these students’ lives.
That’s why Fodoreanu encourages getting kids away from their phones and screens.
“By encouraging art and taking away that screen, I think we encourage that imagination, encourage that hunger for knowledge and overall a better person, a better citizen in the world,” Fodoreanu said.
Satterberg is grateful for the arts education she received at school and places high value on art being a part of school curriculum.
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“Not only does it promote critical thinking and critically engaging with the topics that you're making artwork of, because you have to understand a concept to break it down and then visually communicate it to an audience,” Satterberg said. “But I think also being creative is just a good thing for human beings to do. I think good for the psyche and for a lot of our students it’s very therapeutic. It's also a good form of self-assurance and self-expression. So that may seem like abstract concepts, and perhaps people would scoff at that. But I think art actually does have a very great transformative power, because it allows people to critically engage with the ideas that are being presented within it.
You can engage with the art of young students and professional artists at The Studio Door with #WeBorrowTheEarthFromOurChildren. The exhibit features photography, poetry and paintings by San Diego youth “ARTivists.” It has a preview night this Thursday, April 7 at The Studio Door with a reception on April 16. The exhibit runs through April 30. It is presented in collaboration with Cornel/Henry Art, American Academy of Pediatrics San Diego and San Diego Pediatricians for Clean Air.