Digital arts students use art, animation to contribute to public good

BGSU students put their skills to work to promote environmental causes

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By Julie Carle

Fourteen Bowling Green State University digital arts students put their skills to work to promote environmental causes and make a difference in the world. Six nonprofit environmental organizations reaped the benefits.

The class project, which earned BGSU’s Kurt E. Hofmeister Outstanding Student Group Award in Spring 2019 for exemplary community-based learning experiences, was developed by digital arts Professor Bonnie Mitchell. When Mitchell did a class project with NASA in 2015, she discovered that many students did not know much about environmental issues and how they affect the world.

In Spring 2017, some of her students asked about an advanced course to continue working on stop-motion animation but there weren’t any for them to take. Mitchell decided she could combine those problems and teach an advanced animation class and incorporate an environmental component.

She reached out to six environmental organizations to get their buy-in; if they would talk to her students about issues important to their causes, the students would work on animations that could be used for public service announcements.

First, representatives from the organizations — Ohio Sierra Club, Ohio Citizen Action, Citizen’s Climate Lobby, Green America, Black Swamp Conservancy and the BGSU Office of Campus Sustainability — talked to students about their organizations and important environmental issues. The students worked in teams to create storyboards for the animations and with some back-and-forth input, landed on concepts for the final projects.

“Overall, it has been exciting to be working with these high-profile organizations,” Mitchell said. “The environmental issues became very real to the students, but they learned that they could use art and animation to make an important difference in their world.”

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The resulting videos include:

  • Ohio Sierra Club’s “Show Some Responsibility” urges individuals to stop excessive plastic use, describing the complications when plastics infiltrate food sources.
  • Ohio Citizen Action’s “Ohio’s Future is in Your Hands” features an animated paper airplane with a message to Ohio state legislators. It flies across Ohio and ultimately lands in the capitol building in Columbus along with other paper airplanes with similar messages, proving the exponential power of individuals working together.
  • Citizen’s Climate Lobby’s “Support the Carbon Dividend Act” beautifully illustrates the good things that have been accomplished as well as the negative impact of carbon emissions and asks viewers to contact legislators to support the Carbon Dividend Act (House of Representatives Bill 763).
  • Green America’s “Regenerative Agriculture” shows the value ordinary people becoming heroes by supporting farmers and companies that are adopting regenerative agricultural practices for the betterment of soil and health.
  • Chain reactions in the Black Swamp Conservancy’s “Grow Wetlands Not Algae” demonstrate the connections between farms, tiles, ditches and rivers, and the importance of land conservancy in the work toward improved water quality.
  • A new, reusable bag that was distributed to BGSU students this past fall is the star of “Let This Be a Reminder”, the video for the BGSU Office of Campus Sustainability. A Falcon-orange, BGSU-centric apartment set was cleverly constructed for the stop-action felt puppet character, who is reminded to take her reusable bag with her to the store.

“The videos were very well done,” said Dr. Nick Hennessey, director of the campus sustainability office. “The video will be a good promo for us,” encouraging students to pick up the reusable bags that will be available. “This was extremely helpful to my office.”

Anastazia Vanisko of Ohio Citizen Action praised the work of the students.

“Everyone had great ideas and it was cool to see how they incorporated what we talked about in class into their work,” she said.

Rob Krain, director of the Black Swamp Conservancy, used one of the images from the video to create a water bottle design for the organization.

“We are all really impressed by the students’ work, both their creativity and thoughtfulness,” he said.

“The class incorporated working with real-life organizations along with creating our artwork, which taught us to work with client deadlines and demands,” Deanna Granata said. “We also worked as large and small groups, which taught us to manage our time, delegations and workmanship.”

This project inspired some of the students to become more active, environmental citizens. For Marissa Kreinbill, she was “inspired to make changes in my personal life to reduce my carbon footprint.” They also learned that through their artistic work they could have a hand in creating public good.

“The students gained real-world experience working with community partners, learning about important contemporary issues and understanding that art and animation can be used for the public good,” Mitchell said.

The class is being taught this spring again by Mitchell and is working with three new organizations. It will also be doing another project for BGSU’s Office of Campus Sustainability and getting involved with the Eco Fair.

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