Watershed cleanup event brings together university and local communities, environmental science and art

An interdisciplinary community event, “What’s in Your Watershed?”

November 16, 2022

By Renee Chmiel, Office of Marketing and Communications

Jennifer Vela ’23 and Sam Walls ’23, marine biology majors, at the cleanup event.
This is part of the planning team, from left to right: Prof.  Jackie Gleisner, sTo Len, Dr. Jean-Paul Simjouw, Dr. Amy Carlile and Dr. Karin Jakubowski with special bags to collect waste that could become art.
This is part of the planning team, from left to right: Prof. Jackie Gleisner, sTo Len, Dr. Jean-Paul Simjouw, Dr. Amy Carlile and Dr. Karin Jakubowski with special bags to collect waste that could become art.

Jake Puff ’23 and several of his fellow Chargers picked up trash along the New Haven waterfront recently. He and one of his classmates picked up about a bag and a half of rubbish, rubbish that could now have a second life after being picked up as trash.

The coastal cleanup event brought shippers and members of the local community to the Long Wharf waterfront not only to remove litter, but to add to their understanding of environmental science – and their appreciation of the art. The event, titled “What’s in Your Watershed? », combined education and the defense of the environment through the prism of art.

“It was a great way to promote arts and science education, as the event highlighted some of the major waste and environmental issues,” said Puff, a graphic design student. “The connection to art was also an important and interesting way to show the impact and volume of waste in our environment.”

“The value of interdisciplinary collaboration”

sTo Len, an artist based in Queens, NY.
sTo Len, an artist based in Queens, NY.

Organized by the University’s Citizen Opportunities for Accessing Science Training on the Sound (COASTS) program, the New Haven Climate Movementand record soundthe event brought together more than five dozen members of the university community, local high school students and members of the waterfront community.

Several college professors, including Amy Carlile, Ph.D., associate professor and chair of the Department of Biology and Environmental Sciences, helped pick up the trash. They also educated participants on sources of watershed pollution, discussing topics such as the harmful impact of microplastics and the disposal of cigarette butts.

“I hope people have understood the value of interdisciplinary collaboration,” Dr. Carlile said. “When people from different backgrounds come together with a common goal, we can accomplish a lot. Engaging people on environmental issues using art is very effective. It is important to involve the whole community and to inspire the next generation of scientists. It was wonderful to see so many young people involved and interested in preserving our blue backyard – the Long Island Sound.

“I can be a catalyst”

sTo Len examines the waste collected at the event.
sTo Len examines the waste collected at the event.

Fly, a Queens, NY-based printmaker and installation, sound and performance artist, helped transform the event into one that also embraced and celebrated art. He uses his work, which combines art and ecology, to raise awareness of the impact of pollution. Cleanup allowed him to advance this work by using waste collected in New Haven in his solo exhibition, To Dissolve into the Hydrocommons, One Drop at a Time. It is on display at the University’s Seton Gallery until December 9.

Funded by grants from the New Haven International Association and the Connecticut Sea Grant Arts Award Support Program, Len’s exhibition examines themes of environmental degradation and the interconnectedness of global ecosystems. He hopes it will inspire his audience to examine their own environmental impact while helping people discover new places nearby they may not know.

“Any time you bring a group of people together, it can be very inspiring and empowering,” Len said. “I know people have learned new things about microplastics and seen this pollution in a different light because of my work.

“Several people I spoke to said they had never been to Long Wharf before,” Len continued. “But they said they were going to start going. It’s the best. As a non-local, I can sometimes be a catalyst for people to discover places that may have gone under the radar.

“Visual and poetic”

Dr. Jean-Paul Simjouw, Ph.D. (right), a lecturer in <a class=environmental science and marine biology, with participants.”/>
Dr. Jean-Paul Simjouw, Ph.D. (right), a lecturer in environmental science and marine biology, with participants.

For Len, environmental education is personal. As part of the event, he told attendees about the devastating impact of industrial waste in Vietnam, a country where he has family roots, and something he saw firsthand during his visit. The prints he created documented the oil that had been spilled into the water, highlighting an environmental crisis that had not been widely reported in the media.

It’s stories like these that, according to Jacquelyn Gleisner, MFA, illustrate the importance and impact of artists’ work. One of the event’s organizers, Professor Gleisner hopes Len encouraged attendees – and inspired viewers of his exhibit – to think critically.

“sTo Len’s methods of conveying information are visual and poetic,” said Prof. Gleisner, Practitioner-in-Residence and Director of Seton Gallery. “Art and science can work together to enhance and strengthen their distinct points of view. Additionally, artists today use many surprising and innovative techniques to create meaningful works of art. In this case, sTo Len used debris and rubbish collected at Long Wharf to create an index of black and white prints which are displayed next to collected objects.

‘To look closer’

Students pick up trash along the waterfront in New Haven
Students pick up trash along the waterfront in New Haven

The cleanup was the first large-scale community outreach event hosted by COASTS, which is supported by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Long Island Sound Futures Fund. Over the summer, COASTS began training a group of local community members to become citizen scientists, and they will participate in future outreach events. There are three more planned as part of the “COASTS through the Seasons” series. The next event, scheduled for February, will feature citizen scientist projects and focus on sustainability.

For Puff, a graphic design major, this latest outreach event was as informative as it was interdisciplinary. It united the University and local communities, while connecting science and art in one thought-provoking event and exhibition.

“Participating in this event allowed me to take a closer look at the work and process of artist sTo Len,” he said. “It was cool to see some of the trash collected next to the artwork on display at the Seton Gallery.”

Dozens of loaders and local community members collected litter as part of the cleanup event.
Dozens of loaders and local community members collected litter as part of the cleanup event.

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