Using arts as a way to manage waste

Paul Mayne // Western News

Western Education professor Veronica Pacini-Ketchabaw was one of 102 Western researchers who received funding from the Social Sciences & Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) Partnership, Partnership Development, Insight and Insight Development grant programs announced last week. SSHRC invested $7,218,803 in these programs at Western this year.

By showing them beauty in waste, Western Education professor Veronica Pacini-Ketchabaw is nurturing the next generation of creative problem-solvers.

“Our children will inherit the land we live on, the water we drink, and the air we breathe,” she said. “They will also inherit a 21st-century problem – the unmanageable growth of waste, which threatens to compromise their health and pollute the environment.”

As a result, Pacini-Ketchabaw believes teachers and educators need to rethink ways to teach waste-management practices and environmental studies at school. This will allow them to better equip the next generation to solve environmental problems. As an example, the conventional approach of the six ‘Rs’ (reduce, reuse, recycle, recover, remediate and repair) “takes waste out of sight and out of mind,” Pacini-Ketchabaw said, adding that this omission can make waste-management practices ineffective or, in some cases, worsen the waste crisis.

Pacini-Ketchabaw was one of 102 Western researchers who received funding from the Social Sciences & Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) Partnership, Partnership Development, Insight and Insight Development grant programs announced last week. SSHRC invested $7,218,803 in these programs at Western this year.

To support their efforts, the Honourable Kirsty Duncan, Minister of Science, announced Friday more than $265 million in funding for over 3,300 social sciences and humanities research projects across Canada. The funding is being awarded through scholarships, fellowships, and grants from SSHRC, one of the three federal granting councils responsible for supporting researchers whose work helps fuel a stronger economy, healthy communities and a growing middle class.

Pacini-Ketchabaw takes an unconventional hands-on approach. In her world, a piece of garbage is not a wasted opportunity, but a moment for young children to understand how waste materials have a transformation of their own. With the support of a SSHRC Insight Grant worth $170,076 over three years, Pacini-Ketchabaw will work with a team of educators, artists, researchers and children in Canada, Australia and Ecuador to determine the best ways to engage children and the arts to tackle the waste crisis and pioneer more effective ways to teach the six ‘Rs’ in schools.

Rather than teach children to simply throw waste away without thinking about its consequences, Pacini-Ketchabaw wants to use arts-based visual methods to harness the inherent curiosity and creativity of young children to make them comfortable with waste material. Children will work with various artists to understand the transformation of waste material like plastic to, essentially, think about waste in creative and novel ways.

Pacini-Ketchabaw hopes that the process of creating art out of waste will change children’s perception of waste material, which will be critical to eventually creating sustainable, environmentally friendly solutions for waste management.

Throughout the project, Pacini-Ketchabaw plans to conduct such outreach initiatives as public and online art exhibitions, film screenings, and blogs.

“Public engagement in this research will be critical,” she said. “The general public should be aware of the fragility of our dependence on the environment, and the need to mitigate the health, social and environmental risks of escalating waste.”