Arts for the Earth

Integrating the Arts with Environmental and Sustainability Education

Arts for the Earth hold the power to transform us and our world. They help us to think critically and creatively, and to feel deeply. They make us human, while connecting us to our more-than-human world.

Art and beauty have the power to nourish and refine our souls. Not only do they bring pleasure, but profoundly move the heart and mind. When touched by beauty and art, we place a higher value on life and on all creation; the ugliness of destructive behavior becomes apparent and loses its appeal.
— Shumei International Institute

Sadly, many of us work in school systems that consider the arts subjects
"a frill" to be cut when budgets get tight.

So where do music, theatre, dance and the visual arts intersect with environmental education and sustainability learning? How can "arts for the Earth" contribute to a future that sustains life?

In other words, what are the big "life and death" ideas about the arts and teaching the arts in our schools? Here are our ideas.

Arts for the Earth:

  • expose our students to the world's beauty

  • help them learn to see, to hear, to move through and to connect with the world in beautiful ways

  • show them how worldviews are created and transmitted

  • can provide students the lifelong "skill" and habit of Nature connecting

  • allow us to authentically share love and emotions with our students through our reactions to art and our compositions of art

  • give students ways to create and experience transformation, flow, equanimity, and deep connectedness.

Let's look at each of the arts separately — which is kind of funny and ironic after all my preaching about integration!

"The world of art has always played a critical role in provoking thought and generating dialogue. The UNEP Art for the Environment initiative aims to generate environmental awareness using the universal language of art as a catalyst for individuals, communities and leaders to focus on environmental values."
— United Nations Environment Program


Visual arts teachers can contribute to transformative sustainability education by helping their students

Nature Alphabet

  1. learn an appreciation for Nature (for example, through nature alphabets)

  2. learn especially to "see" Nature (through sensory awareness activities)

  3. watch for Nature-friendly worldviews in visual media

  4. develop the lifelong "skill" and habit of Nature connecting (through Nature journalling, for example)

  5. celebrate life and Nature through drawing, painting, and other visual arts

  6. develop a sense of place (through bioregional art mapping of your school
    and community surroundings)

  7. learn about biomimicry — practically everything humans have learned, we've learned from the rest of Nature (visit the Biomimicry website, or check out Mother Nature, Design Guru from the Wall Street Journal)

  8. become "sky aware" by getting outside or looking outside often and developing an awareness of light and a sense of direction

  9. contribute to the greening goals of your school by painting schoolyard scenes or wildlife and creating Nature art cards as a fundraiser

  10. see how art can be used to promote social change

"Perhaps it is music that will save the world."
— Pablo Casals


Music teachers can contribute to transformative sustainability education by helping their students

  1. experience the power of music to stir our human souls

  2. develop aesthetic-emotional sensitivity and learn to express their emotions through music

  3. integrate their right and left brains

  4. learn to "hear" and especially to hear "Nature"

  5. be inspired by Nature's music to compose their own music (for example, finding one's song in Nature), or music inspired by the seasons

  6. explore the living world through sound and discover how our evolving understanding of natural processes has influenced the idea of music (visit and explore the wondrous Music and Nature website with your students)

  7. celebrate life and Nature, as other animals become part of their music (for example, Paul Winter's Missa Gaia, whale song, bird song)

  8. form harmonious community and create vital synergy (music has the power to really bring people together)

  9. learn about the folk music genre that celebrates Nature, and about underground music and protest songs that sing out for social equity and environmental conservation

  10. contribute to the goals of your Green School such as a school-wide environmental ethic (for example, by celebrating Earth Week with music)

"Theatre in its wild variety was the gathering of a community to witness and participate in the stories that explained and gave meaning to their existence — stories that provided an image of their place in the cosmos. Theatre was participatory in its origins because it was a structure for connection, for relationship, and ultimately for influence with creation and the creator."
— Theresa May


The word "theatre" comes from the Greek theatron meaning "seeing place," and drama has always been a way to look closely at relationships. Going further back, it perhaps derives from the Greek thauma meaning "miracle" — ah, yes!

Drama and theatre teachers can contribute to transformative sustainability education by helping their students

  1. view drama and theatre as a way of seeing the other-than-human world, and as a way of examining our relationship to the elements of air, fire, water and earth and the animal and plant communities with whom we share the Earth

  2. give voice and representation to all the species that are voiceless (the Council of All Beings is one example)

  3. consider how theatre represents and participates in constructing humanity's relationship with the rest of Nature

  4. perform some "theatre in the wild"

  5. explore the spiritual purpose of theatre as a means of sharing stories that give meaning to existence (Theresa May)

  6. consider whether present-day theatre can fulfill the same "crucial, spiritual purpose within the community rooted in a deep connection with the land" that ancient theatre played (Theresa May)

  7. consider how theatre can contribute to sustainable development

    (George E. Clark: "Theater reaches audiences in a very personal and compelling way, touching both the heart and the mind. Because theater can also impart technical information and encourage action, it addresses one of the most notorious challenges of the sustainability project: moving people from the status quo to sustainability action.")

  8. invite and view or perform some environmentally related theatre

  9. explore the human / other-than-human connections in First Nations (Native American) and other Indigenous ritual theatre

  10. look for ways to green the theatre (eg, lighting and other systems, costumes, sets, waste and toxic materials, box office habits).

"Women, as well as men, in all ages and in all places, have danced on the earth, danced the life dance, danced joy, danced grief, danced despair, and danced hope. Literally danced all these and more, and danced them figuratively and metaphorically, by their very lives."
— Margaret Laurence, in Dance on the Earth: A Memoir


Dance and movement teachers can contribute to transformative sustainability education by helping their students

  1. listen for Nature's rhythms

  2. imagine and (re)create the ritual dances that traditionally turned the seasonal wheel (for example, springtime dances, rain dances, moon dances, harvest dances)

  3. see themselves as tribal beings, and choreograph their tribal dance

  4. reinforce ecological understanding through dance and movement, for example, picture small children dancing seeds germinating and growing, reaching for sunlight (With thanks to John Caddy of Earth Morning, who says, "Transformations can be efficiently learned by discovering them with your body in creative movement: dance a snowflake melting, dance a butterfly emerging from the chrysalis, dance the aging of a human being.")

  5. perform a dance that opens the hearts of the audience to a natural place, perhaps one that needs care and conservation

  6. through dance, take "a contemplative journey into the hearts and minds of other species in order to celebrate and honor our connection to those species, to see our lives and life choices from another life-form's perspective, and to explore other species' wisdoms that might help us create a more sustainable planet." (Check out Dance 4 the Species — it sounds like a lot of fun!)

  7. dance and move their way into a sense of flow with the universe and the sacredness of the natural world (see the philosophy of Dianne Eno of Fusion Danceworks)

"Making art is by nature celebratory. For example, we are intuitively inclined to smile when we see most wild animals. This simple smile contains a million years of human response to nature. It is worth celebrating. Showing kids how to say Yes! to that smile — in a drawing, a poem, a dance, a song — reinforces positive affiliation with nature, and making it personally expressive is likely to make the art itself powerful."
— John Caddy

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