“When a piece of art has to be more than interesting, has to be more than beautiful, the challenge really increases. When art has to stand for something, aiming to captivate people to take action or make small positive changes within their community, then it becomes Art Advocacy.” -Noelle Anderson
This statement was the basis for the artistic work produced by Noelle Anderson from the Spring 2013 Island School semester while she spent time in Napier, New Zealand this winter with PangeaSeed painting a mural for their Sea Walls project. Since returning from The Island School three years ago, Noelle has been busy. While still in high school, she founded a “Positivity Club” with fellow Sp ’13 classmate Greta O’Marah. The goal behind this club “was to make our community a less stressed one, and to get fellow students to focus on what is truly meaningful and important to them through positive thinking techniques.” Both Noelle and Greta agree that their inspirations for this club came to them entirely through their experiences at The Island School. Additionally, Noelle participated at the Varsity level in skiing and tennis as well as pursuing her interests in “the intersections of sustainability, social justice, and art by focusing on ‘EcoFeminism’ for my AP photography series.” Noelle has since been attending Dartmouth where she studies Geography and Studio Art as well as participating in the Dartmouth Ski Patrol which allows her to get out on the hill and put her Outdoor Emergency Care certification to good use.
Noelle initially became connected with PangeaSeed after discovering them on Instagram. She describes the app as being “a really incredible way for artists interested in similar initiatives to get connected through anything from hashtag use to following the same kinds of pages — pretty neat.” The “seed” in PangeaSeed is an anagram that stands for Sustainability, Education, Ecology and Design which are all considered by PangeaSeed to be its cornerstones. Once Noelle had found PangeaSeed’s Instagram page, she became “mesmerized by the work they and the artists they’re connected with do.”
PangeaSeed likes to describe many of the artists involved as “ARTivists.” Prominently displayed on their website is a definition for ARTivism as “An explosion of creativity, a marrying of art and activism.” Noelle feels that she can partially identify as an ARTivist. She explains that “when I was in high school and decided to focus on ‘EcoFeminsim’ for my AP Photography final series I think I was pushing the idea of using my art as a tool for activism, as a creative means of making a statement I felt more powerful than words.” PangeaSeed opened the door for Noelle to truly express her ARTivism on a larger scale than the canvases she was used to working with. Her project turned into a full-blown mural that commented on shark conservation. Of course, not everything Noelle creates is for the purpose of activism. Everyone needs to take a break and “simply reflect parts of me that love the beauty of a landscape or total abstraction.” This is because, for Noelle, “creating art and the very existence of it will always be a reflection of the artist.” Meaning that all aspects of Noelle’s work reflect back upon different aspects of herself. She loves “having the term ARTivisim in my toolbox, and empowering myself to own that side of my artistic self when it is right to do so.”
Noelle’s journey to New Zealand this winter began when PangeaSeed itself reached out to her. They asked her if she would like to join their Sea Walls: Murals for Oceans in Napier, New Zealand which is located on the North Island of New Zealand. In disbelief, Noelle spent the winter creating her initial sketch, and moving her final projects and exams at Dartmouth to an earlier time so that she could leave campus accordingly. When Noelle got to New Zealand, there were 30 other artists joining various other painting projects. Noelle was initially intimidated because many of these other artists were “internationally acclaimed professional street artists, and I am just a student who has never painted a mural before” but, once Noelle began work on her mural, she fell into her routines she had developed for her other projects and that allowed her to settle in and be confident in her progress as the mural took shape around her. As Noelle worked, the wall in front of her became “my canvas and the street was my studio!” There were certainly challenges to the process that included: “sketching out my shark figures without a projector, being rained out two of the 6 painting days and feeling the pressure of time, and lastly balancing answering passerby’s questions in an engaging manner while still trying to stay focused.” For Noelle, the process of creating this mural was extremely rewarding and she attributes this to feeling more physically connected to the work – “more so than any piece I have created at home or at the studio at Dartmouth, due to the way I had to move my body through space in order to apply paint onto my wall.
Noelle comes from a family with a fairly intense artistic background. Nearly everyone in her immediate nuclear family interacts with the arts on some level. Her “mother is a painter, a poet, a documentary film maker. My father is a drawer, a musician. My sister is a singer, a water-colorer. My family has always, always stressed the importance of creative outlets.” With that background, Noelle found that she jived with the art program at The Island School and gained much from it. Noelle says, “before attending The Island School I created art, but it was The Island School that taught me, that pushed me, to really make the art matter”. Part of the reasoning for Noelle’s shark conservation related mural stems from the fact that “The Island School also lead me to choose the environment, the earth, vulnerable ecosystems and species as a specific focus.”
So, what comes next for Noelle now that she is officially an international artist? Noelle begins by saying, “I would love to continue my involvement with PangeaSeed! They are an inspiring organization and I truly respect their initiative. As I have a passion for both art and the ocean, I would be really thankful to work with them again. That being said, I am still a student.” Noelle wants to take the experiences and knowledge she gathered by working with PangeaSeed and turn all of it into beneficial experience for her work at Dartmouth. She is already stepping into action by volunteering to help Dartmouth’s Sustainability Office paint a mural for Earth Week. Noelle’s goal for the future is to attempt to “identify places I want to make change in my various communities, and using the influence and power of art to inspire others to help make those changes.”
The completed mural above stands as a testament to and reflection of Noelle’s thoughts on sharks in our current global mindset. She sent along her complete artist statement which gives a clear picture of the meaning that drove each brush stroke along the wall:
"Sharks are depicted and presented to us, above all else, as dangerous - a personal threat to our safety. Yet the reality is: (1) Humans are the ones threatening sharks, killing nearly 100 million each year, (2) the removal of these apex predators will lead to total marine ecosystem structural collapse, and (3) we need to transform the way in which sharks are seen to make these matters most salient for the public. To help tackle that last reality, I hope my mural illuminates these misunderstood creatures in the beautiful, positive, esteemed light they absolutely deserve."
In closing, Noelle reflected back on her time as a student at The Island School and wrote a thoughtful summary of her semester:
“I still reminisce upon and cherish the time I spent at The Island School — choosing a single favorite memory is nearly impossible. Yet when people ask me about my experience studying abroad there, I am always asked about the marine research, the food, the run, the solo, the kayak, The Bahamas… Rarely do people realize that The Island School is a hugely academic experience. While the classroom differs from a typical high school, the learning experience is all the more meaningful. Projects such as interviewing local Bahamians for Histories class, creating my own research project for human ecology (we focused on substituting scallops for conch on local menus), or helping to curate the student art show are some of my fondest memories. And of course, all of the people. Never in my life have I met people, whether these were my friends, members of CEI, teachers, staff - everyone, who have cared so deeply about building a community that cares for one another and the environment supporting us all.”
Noelle, best of luck to you from all of us at The Island School! We hope that Earth Week was a blast and that your work continues to be an inspiration for all who see it!