Coordinator: Molly Hankwitz, PhD
Media and Communications Scholar
Mailing: 3288 21st Street, #28
San Francisco, CA 94110
Telephone: 415 283 7757


A. Abstract
B. Introduction
1.1 Effective Special Programs
C. Reseach Observations Summary
1.2 Recent Program Directions
1.3 Suggested Actions
D. Quick Summary of Strategies
E. Conclusions


A. Abstract

Recent trajectories in engineering, environmental science, data visualization, and futurology show citizens’ art, science and community-based research at the center of innovation in  knowledge production, effective interdisciplinarity and active “diy” media culture. These trajectories, at the very least, involve open platforms, new technologies, new spaces, and complex collaboration as central conditions in the future of recording, making, thinking and  learning. Successful programs also require expertise and higher-level conceptualization, funding, and “directed” approaches.

This paper addresses social concerns for under-served community-based projects within a context of interdisciplinary approaches fundamental to the integration and sustainability of contemporary approaches within art and science. Of recent significance to media arts is  the gathering of “dynamic information” (sentient, environmental) being performed by citizen artists and scientists with which to analyze the environment, and another is developing critical “media literacy” for emotional health, education and the welfare of populations in the twenty-first century. The paper suggests strategies for the development of relevant projects for under-served communities which bridge evident gaps in media literacy and critical media-making or interventions and which utilize interdisciplinary collaboration between artists and scientists as a ‘first-step’ towards balancing information equity and the digital divide.

To ground the argument further, critical media literacy and media-making are two of the most important disciplines with which we can imbue participants to engage with ideas in the arts and sciences. Media literacy, in particular, digital literacy and the sophisticated use of digital media are essential survival tools for subcultures, alternative cultures, and minority communities. In this context, potentials for cross-cultural interdisciplinary projects and partnerships, in which cultures are encouraged to manifest their own ideas; make relevant concepts such as “green”, “land use” and the meaning of environment, and those which benefit public education through institutions are more than possible. The sustained development of and training in networked computing technologies must become a foundation for environmental equity, media literacy, and media arts. Minority and lower-income communities suffer from information lack; and poorer training in digital arts.

Art, design, engineering, and science collaborations offer unique possibilities for greater social relevance of environmentalism, science literacy, and sentient contemporary environmental systems in schools and institutions which can serve as learning tools.  Many poorer and minority  communities bear the brunt of environmental damage and suffering of long term health risks. It should be a national endeavor at the level of higher institutions to redress these imbalances in the process of developing “green” initiatives; and to work with communities to sustain environmental equity.

B. Introduction/Background

A growing concern for all citizens are environmental issues which threaten the livelihood of our planet. These issues range from the effects of climate change to the state of the oceans, to the impact of landfill, plastics, and toxins upon human and animal food. The “green” movement has manifested in numerous sustainability strategies for cities and towns from influential organizations such as the US Green Building Council and LEED to significant waste management analysis in industries from newspaper manufacture to supermarket bagging, while nationally in the US, there is federal pushing for achievement in “science” by young people.

Across this emerging proactive field of endeavor, however, some basic concerns with equity in  development of global environmental protections, access and engagement with information need to be addressed. It is a simple fact across rural and urban America, for instance, but also in other countries impacted by Big Agriculture and mining industries, that communities most affected by environmental degradation are those of poor, ethnic minorities. Statistically speaking, these communities are those least likely to possess adequate resources for substantive education or creative action when it comes to environmental arts and sciences. They are most most prone to lack of engagement in media literacy and information arts. At the same time, citizens within them, are some of the most highly concerned about the effects of policy, environmental decision-making, and proximity to industry upon the health and long term quality of resources such as land and water for their neighbors.

In a recent survey conducted by the Public Policy Institute of California on “Californians and the Environment”, data showed growing concern towards the impact of global warming among ethnic minorities. (Alonso, 2012) The New America Media organization, responding to the fact that “there was a lack of environmental coverage in the ethnic media outlets” gathered together a panel and group of reporters to respond to concerns brought about by introduction of the results of the survey at the World Affairs Council in San Francisco. (Ibid, 2012a) Panelists agreed that “Latinos, Blacks and Asians” were “often left out of public discourse on environmental issues” at the same time acknowledging the strong role that people of color play as environmentalists across the state of California. (Ibid, 2012b) Results of the survey supported this idea through indication that African Americans and Latinos linked action on behalf of climate change with job growth, when asked to respond in telephone interviews. (Ibid, 2012c) Roger Kim from the Asian Pacific Environmental Network contextualized findings from the survey in remarks about the explosive fire in the Chevron refinery in Richmond, and the asthma and cancer rates that go unexplained for workers and neighboring residents “particularly those in the plant’s immediate vicinity”comprised mostly of poor black and Hispanic residents”still urged to “shelter in place.” (Burness, 2012; Miller, 2012) Kim linked these facts to the strong sentiments that communities of color have about environmental pollution. Neighborhoods such Bayview Hunters Point and Treasure Island are frequently the subject of news concerning excessively high breast cancer rates, radiation, and regular subjection to other post-industrial toxins. These communities house disproportionate numbers of African Americans, and homeless people.
Data on drinking water quality, for example, in such neighborhoods and regions, suggests increased likelihood of health damage to minority populations. (Gross, 2012) Statistics on environmentally disastrous lead levels from Interstate 5, constructed geographically to avoid higher real estate areas, but then affecting largely Latino farming communities like Kettleman’s City, are horrifying. (Weinstein, 2010; Mother Jones, 2010 )  Such data, however, means a great deal to those most affected by it.

During this important panel discussion, consensus was reached that environmental impact is felt most strongly in minority and low income communities, while at the same time there existed a profound “disconnect between emerging policies and the members of these communities.” (Alonso, 2012d)

For these reasons, it must be a central concern for funders and institutions to ensure that all  communities are able to access and engage with meaningful information, use the information and data to promote relevant media literacy, and are capable of addressing, recording, or sustaining public response. How can under-served communities join in green and  sustainability debates, produce and develop cultures of information relevant to their needs, and produce information and visual art around these issues in order to foster effective understanding and environmental health?

1.1 Effective Special Programs: Bridging the Gap between Public Education and the Environment

It has been demonstrated, despite advances in networked technologies, wireless infrastructure and mobile communications, that even in progressive cities such as San Francisco, lower-income, elderly, immigrant, ethnic minority communities lack computer literacy and networked technologies for engaging with public information. (Berman, 2007). These profound technical and educational “digital divides” between the  predominantly whiter wealthier and older, lower income ethnic minorities reinforce inequalities in information and the quality of literacy for all. Given this context, how can  excellent initiatives in education, media literacy and new technologies be created and sustained for lower income populations?

Today, media literacy is integrally connected to computer and information literacy and  participation in the “digital public” is an essential component of adequate participation in education, government, and social well-being. From this perspective, several components of “excellence” must be achieved in order to satisfy the growing concern among leaders of ethnic communities about environmental information.

C. Research Observations Summary
Minority and low income neighborhoods need greater support for the development of media arts and networked technologies so as to foster comprehension, community expression and relevant response.

Creative support for community-based health, environmental arts and science education is very much needed across numerous under-served communities.

1.2 Recent Program Directions

a. The greening of campuses which bring gardening, soil science, compost, energy efficiency, and rainwater catchment to young people through art and design suggest a multiplicity of possibilities for rich collaboration between artists, teachers, and scientists. Educators have undertaken professional development for curriculum to foster creative thinking around state requirements in science and the use of gardens and processes in teaching.

b. Citizen science projects bring education in new technologies, how to read and visualize data,  along with environmental science and urban sciences to the public. Grassrootsmapping.org initially monitored the BP Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico and documented much of Katrina’s aftermath. The project has now spread to providing balloon-based mapping “kits” and public information on how to map, as well as holding workshops in mapping in public spaces. Open science platforms encourage creative hacking, innovation and community-made documentaries about local impacts on the environment. (See PLOTS)

c.  Bi lingual, English and Spanish programs for youth through Presidio Parks and Services, Chrissy Fields Nature Center and San Francisco Recreation and Parks. Latina environmentalist Maria Jose Alcantra, who grew up in San Francisco’s Mission District, a low income ethnic community, says that programs through the Chrissy Fields nature center starting at fourteen, “changed her life.” She works to “bridge the gap between the Latinos and the environment” showing “the newcomers and youth from under-served communities” that they do not have to live the stereotype of being out of the environmental “loop.” (Alonso, 2012)
d. Green school buildings designed to produce interest  building functions  and systems. Users of the schools measure and collect data on their own daily energy and water efficiency. US Green Building Council and LEED have worked to promote this initiative nationwide. Note:  Critically speaking the majority of these “green” schools are not home to the under-served It’s a valuable model, however.

e. Curriculum strategies to link educational learning and creative projects into the neighborhoods such that participants become engaged in creating information about their immediate environment, studying other environments, and where environmental design is learned through the “storefront” by the community at large.

1.3 Roadblocks and Inhibitors as the Basis for Suggested Actions in the Arts and Sciences

1a. Interdisciplinarity, which does not remove communities from art and science, but which places them in direct contact with critical processes and disciplines, i.e. experimentation, trial and error,  documentation, formulation of questions, execution of ideas is fertile ground for the ongoing development of community-based, citizen-lead arts and sciences and the deployment of science into public, educational streams, i.e. art spaces, special projects, consultations, and curriculum—is not without stumbling blocks. Public funding for innovative arts and arts education is poor if not non-existent in the United States and science education is frequently geared toward the expedient fulfillment of state curriculum standards and proficiency testing, rather than creative exploration of ideas or immersion in practice. Educators, in fact, have only so much time to spend expanding curriculum while still meeting state requirements effectively. Standardized testing routinely fails to include the positive effects of learning outcomes generated without quantifiable “results” and tends to harness student power in the form of wrote learning and multiple choice.

Suggested action: It is suggested that funding bodies, governing research foundations, and creative institutions such as the NEA, National Academy of Sciences, the National Research Foundation work together with federal technology programs and organizations such as Zero/Divide or the Broadband Technologies Opportunities Program (FCC) and with individual stakeholders such as artists, scientists and researchers (from within developed collaborative proposals) towards the  inclusion of robust funding for  projects where permanent installation of digital communications technologies and their ongoing support and implementation in the arts and sciences, through software development and research, is a significant criteria for the expression of the artwork, development of scientific study, and ongoing media literacy.

1 b. Social factors reinforce divisions in participation, comprehension, and skill that, unfortunately persist in the social stratification of the arts and sciences, their funding, and in the effective “reach” of higher education. What is critical for the implementation of artistic endeavor from which to “learn science” and science projects with which to “do art” is knowledge that addresses these social inequalities outright as the basis of design/art/science/and engineering.

Suggested action:
It is suggested that national funding bodies, federal technology agencies, state public art granting foundations, research institutes, and international organizations such as UNESCO– because impediments to career paths start young, gender imbalances in engineering and science persist, and lowered general participation and performance among poorer or minority communities abound –be drawn upon to devise funded projects to stimulate solutions to social inequalities  “digital divides” and in areas of media literacy and media arts, where  minority communities  have been shown to require information, skills, and technology for their sustained participationi in these fields. In this context, projects in support of gender equality or which close an “age-gap” can be supported.

1 c. Data on the environment can mean a great deal to those affected by it, providing it is known, understood and responded to. The central concern generated here is how to ensure that all communities engage with meaningful information, know how to use information and data, and are able to address, analyze, record, or sustain solutions around its impact.

Suggested action:  It is suggested that specifically designed funding and support for action-based and curriculum-centered public projects be targeted to under-served communities where designing for accessible data visualization, understanding locative and sentient media, critical media literacy and other higher level strategies for coping with information will assist in producing and distributing relevant information across communities. Stakeholders might be National Endowment for the Arts, Foundation for the Alliance of Community Media, Centers and Institutes for Digital Literacy, and the National Foundation for Educational Research, or National Research Foundation might all be stakeholders.

D. Quick Summary of Strategies

a. Foundation support at the federal level for localized urban programs which foster the growth of critical media literacy, i.e. access to technologies and curriculum to support its creative use among  under-served communities.

b. Grants for public education from major arts and science funding bodies to seed the development of  hacker spaces, grassroots technology labs and community-based arts projects in collaboration with community organizations, lower-performing schools, and local institutions in neighborhoods and districts most affected.

c. Adequate ongoing funding and infrastructural support, pro-rated over several years to install new technologies, computer labs, provide technical support, equipment monitoring, and substantial development of media arts projects geared at “hands on” learning and creative, critical awareness and use of media, i.e. development in media literacy.

d. Development of specific support for specialized projects in the arts and sciences targeting under-served communities which utilize the creative ideas of individual artists and scientists to form localized collaborations and from which can be designed community-based research, production, and exchange of ideas around media representation, media literacy, and media arts in conjunction with environment concerns and their impact upon community resources and community health initiatives. (See “Tobacco Free”–http://www.tobaccofree.org/)

E. Conclusions
Questions posed from this brief research are 1) How initiatives for arts and sciences in under-served communities can be substantially funded to support community participation in innovative practices of media literacy and environmental science, such that minority and low-income communities are capable of self sustaining artistic and scientific education around issues critical to their communities and 2) How can the culture of art and science, in terms of increased support for digital media communications and environmental science, ensure skills and relevance for all participants?


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