Two Institutions, Three Trees, Twelve Makers: Curriculum Co-Design for Sustainability, Climate Justice and African American Material Culture

Format

Type

Title

Two Institutions, Three Trees, Twelve Makers: Curriculum Co-Design for Sustainability, Climate Justice and African American Material Culture

Creator

Ian Lambert;
Leslie Tom

Creator/Author Institutional Affiliation

Tom: Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History

Date

Nov 2-4, 2022; published: Oct 2023

Abstract

This paper reflects on the process and outcomes of an experimental woodworking studio arising from a collaboration between a museum of African American history and an art and design college. Three dying Zelkova trees on the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History’s campus, destined for mulching, were reclaimed for a project exploring climate change, climate justice, and African American material culture through the creation of cultural artifacts.

The city of Detroit removes between 10,000 to 20,000 trees each year (Helm, 2016; Howrani Heeres, Detroit’s Director of Sustainability, personal communication, 2022). When the trees at the museum were identified, the museum’s Chief Sustainability Officer connected with the neighboring College for Creative Studies. Together, over the course of nearly two years, they developed a curriculum informed by extensive consultation and research amidst the city’s designers, makers, artists, curators, activists, arborists, and planners.

The studio recruited half of its participants from the College’s student body, and half from the community of Detroit, Hamtramck, and Highland Park, greatly enhancing the diversity of lived experiences within the group. Operating as an atelier, the students were asked at the outset to leave behind any preconceived ideas, where the thinking is completed before the making begins (Dunnigan, 2013, p. 98; Ingold, 2013, p. 21-22), and instead be led by both the material qualities of the wood and, with lectures from external experts, the contextual situatedness of the brief. This is akin to Ingold’s (2013) morphogenetic mode “making in anticipation of what might emerge” (p. 21-22), but also respectful of design decolonization’s advancement of different ways of knowing (Schultz et al., 2018, p. 4; Ansari, 2018) – or “[...] different kinds of knowledges [sic]” (Mbembe, 2015, in Campbell, 2016, p. 2) in the emergence of creative practice as a form of research. There were no boundaries to modes of thought and reflection.

In terms of the diversion of waste streams, the overall contribution to carbon sequestration is negligible. It is in the narrative that there is evidence of impact. The artist statements exhibited alongside the artifacts provoked as much of a response as the artifacts themselves. Outcomes spoke powerfully to decolonization, land injustice, African American history, ancestry, place, and diaspora. Humans have been designing things since before there was a word for design, (Cross, 1999, p. 25; Friedman, 2000, p. 5), and so too with storytelling. In the twenty-first century, designers routinely bring shape and form to narratives, which in turn shape and form the way humans experience the world. The story of this project, arising from two important cultural institutions in Detroit, has provoked and stimulated thinking amidst the city’s community and is beginning to ripple into policy making.

Publisher

Cumulus: The Global Association of Art and Design Education and Research

Subject Terms

climate justice; social justice; African American history; making; trees; sustainability

Page Range

640-656

ISBN/ISSN

9798218079017

Peer-Reviewed

Yes

Files

Cumulus_Lambert.pdf

Citation

Ian Lambert; Leslie Tom, “Two Institutions, Three Trees, Twelve Makers: Curriculum Co-Design for Sustainability, Climate Justice and African American Material Culture,” CCS Research Repository, accessed May 18, 2024, https://omeka.collegeforcreativestudies.edu/items/show/13.

Output Formats