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A Week-long Look at Health, Safety, and Sustainability

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Muriel Horvath - Mycelium Sculpture

Above image credit: Image courtesy of Muriel Horvath, BFA + BA '22. Mycelium Sculpture, the winning project for the HSS Award.

In early March, the SMFA Sustainability Committee hosted our annual Health, Safety, and Sustainability (HSS) event which was extended from a day to a week of workshops and talks in light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Over five days, eight workshops were offered by five staff members, three alumni, three students, and two faculty members. Sixty-five kits were handed out for the workshops, and over 200 members of the Tufts community participated throughout the week.

The eight workshops covered a range of topics, from animating with compostable printing materials and creating planters out of reused clay to exploring art making in relation to the seasons and making ink from foraged materials. Many workshops were embedded within courses focused on similar subjects or art making techniques, adding another layer of context to the conversations being held.

A highlight of the week for many was the lecture by multidisciplinary artist and community organizer Seitu Jones. Inspired by the work of George Washington Carver and his use of everyday materials, Jones looks at food, sustainability, and visual art at the intersection of self-care and the Beloved community. In his HSS Week talk entitled 73 Stains: Sweet Potatoes, Sustenance & Sustainability, Jones discussed artistic responses to the environment, specifically how African American artists continue to shape and sustain their well-being. 

In addition to hosting a small group discussion following his talk, Jones conducted two studio visits with students Andrew Cain, MFA '22, and Cecilia Karoly-Lister, MFA '22.

"His insight on community building and his lived experience of working and creating artwork, to hearing about his time designing posters with the Black Panthers and his current community projects was incredibly helpful," Andrew Cain shared about his studio visit. The two talked about the way Cain works and collaborates with his community through artwork, with Jones encouraging him to write a how-to book on community building. "I was deeply inspired by his work and his words and am incredibly thankful for the opportunity to be able to talk to him," Cain said.

In reflecting on her studio visit, Karoly-Lister shared, "My studio visit with Seitu Jones gave me new confidence in the importance of my story, it helped steer me away from always trying to find ‘answers' and re-focus on solutions, and it opened up my imagination to envisioning different futures that revolve around community and food." She particularly appreciated speaking with someone "who works with his community, and who centers food accessibility, sovereignty, and joy as an every-day practice."

HSS attendees also had the opportunity to hear four project presentations for the Health, Safety, and Sustainability Award. Students across Tufts were invited to submit project proposals for ways of creating low-environmental impact and non-toxic art supplies or methods. The award-winning project proposal was by Combined Degree student Muriel Horvath who is pursuing both a BFA in Studio Art and a BA in Environmental Studies. Horvath's project focused on creating an outdoor sculptural installation grown from mushroom mycelium, painted/stained with natural inks.

Horvath had been considering this project for a long time and shared how her views on the project evolved along the way. "Working with my project advisor for the HSS award helped me to recognize the work as both the creation of the sculptures and the creation of a process methodology that could be adapted and utilized for other kinds of living art," Horvath said.

Though COVID-related protocols required many changes to this year's, event Silvia Bottinelli, chair of the SMFA Sustainability Committee, senior lecturer, and HSS event organizer, found it to be a huge success.

"The energy of this year's HSS Week could be sensed across laptop screens. While being held mostly online, the series of events provided safe spaces for the exchange of expertise and ideas, bringing together students, alumni, staff, and faculty. Participants could engage in hands-on activities thanks to the interactive format of the workshops, which promoted a reconnection with the body and place. For me personally, it was a joy to attend the events and an honor to collaborate with my fellow Sustainability Committee members, peer faculty hosts, and so many more that made the HSS Week possible."

SMFA's annual Health, Safety, and Sustainability event started in 2019 in honor of beloved former faculty member, painter, and photographer, Julie Graham who passed away from lung cancer and Tatia Cynae Depass, a former student who passed away in 2018.  Graham was passionate about raising awareness around the risks of being exposed to chemicals and toxins found in many art materials and for promoting safer art making practices for artists. Depass inspired the foundation of the Sustainability Committee at SMFA through her interest in biodegradable art materials.

Special thanks to the Tufts Institute for the Environment for supporting this initiative and the SMFA Sustainability Committee for organizing it.