Art reflects environment

Ashley Wioskowski

A canvas on the wall, paintbrush in hand with music playing in the background is how Interdisciplinary Development through Education and Art (I.D.E.A.) has decided to tackle local sustainability issues in Kalamazoo.

Reflecting not only their own passions, but also the interests of the local community, I.D.E.A. co-founders Matt Lechel and Mark Thompson decided to create awareness through community involvement and art.

“It’s totally Kalamazoo, it’s a reflection of Kalamazoo, it speaks to the Kalamazoo community more than ourselves,” said Lechel, I.D.E.A. executive board president.

I.D.E.A.was created in 2007 to create an alternative to existing organizations that confront social problems in the Kalamazoo community.

Back in May and June of 2007 the association held two participatory events at the former Rocketstar Café in Kalamazoo. Attendees were provided a canvas to paint and local musicians played as a way to involve community interaction.

Lechel and Thompson asked the crowd what the most important issue they’d like to see solved in the community. That issue was sustainability.

“It was the perfect storm for our first issue,” Lechel said.

In order to tackle the subject of sustainability, Thompson and Lechel visited a lecture hosted by Bill McKibben, an American environmentalist, writer, and founder of

McKibben inspired Thompson and Lechel to bring the 350 movement to Kalamazoo.

The 350 Day, which was a global event, is a grassroots campaign to draw attention to the high level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. While 350 parts per million is the safe upper limit set, the current level is 387.

As 350 Day, Oct. 24, was celebrated in over 181 different countries, Kalamazoo had its own awareness campaign sponsored by I.D.E.A. and the Strutt, a local music venue.

At the Strutt, a two-day campaign from Oct. 23- 24 featured eight different musical acts, a panel on local sustainable development and presentations by environmental groups.

“We need local awareness not only for change at the household and city levels, but also to build the demand for higher level changes,” said Paul Clements, a WMU master's of International Development Administration chair and political science professor who participated in the Strutt event.

At this event, attendees were invited to paint images related to the 350 movement on a four-by-six canvas hung at the Strut. I.D.E.A. also collected pledges online, where people could submit their individual actions dedicated to local sustainability.

As a side project, the Strutt released a 350 album, a compilation of 17 local artists.

Fiona Dickinson, a local musician who is featured on the compilation and who performed at the event, said the event displayed how a community can come together to create awareness.

“It is also true that people are more willing to give their money to a cause when they get something back immediately. That being the Strutt's 350 Album. It was priced fairly and a lot of people bought it. People bought this album because they new their money was going to a good cause,” she said. “We must, must, must continue making these small efforts. We have friends and neighbors that care and will listen, so we should encourage them to grow and live more sustainably.”