Some of the faces are smiling. Others look contemplative. One has an exaggerated shocked look, others have in earbuds and are staring into the distance. Some are angry, concerned, disappointed.
Each face, blown up to about three by five feet and printed in black and white, tells a bit of a story about climate change. Each one requests—demands, even—that passersby consider climate change and its ongoing effects on the planet and society. Each asks the question, “what kind of world are we leaving our youth?”
That’s the question Robert Neustadt, a professor in the Department of Global Languages and Cultures, and local artist Shawn Skabelund, want people to consider as they walk past the art installation of the same name. Part of Inside/Out: The People’s Art Project, 122 photos line the sidewalk on the south side of the du Bois center. Each is a selfie of an NAU student, faculty or staff or a community member. Photos of President Cruz Rivera and his wife, Rima Brusi, lead the group in the direction of the teach-in. Each photo, in its two-dimensional state, is saying something that matters.
“Each one of these photos represents at the very least one conversation about climate change,” Neustadt said.
This project was accomplished in conjunction with the Climate and Justice Teach-In on Wednesday. The Teach-In was funded by a grant from the Frances B. McAllister Climate Education, Engagement, and Design Fellowship Program. Neustadt learned about Inside Out from the founder’s TED Talk. French street artist JR uses large-scale photos in public spaces to inspire conversation and action. He started the Inside Out Project, the largest participatory art project in the world; participants send photos to be printed—large, up close and in grayscale. They are then installed in public spaces—thus far, people in 148 countries and territories have participated to call attention to a spectrum of different issues.
Neustadt wanted to catalyze an Inside Out action in Flagstaff, and he and Skabelund discussed just how to do that. They landed on climate change. From there, they came up with the question—what kind of world are we leaving our youth?—and asked people to take a selfie while considering that question. Those photos were sent to Inside Out to be printed and shipped back to Flagstaff to be installed at NAU as the latest Inside Out Group Action.
The action involved a range of different people from the NAU and Flagstaff communities. Janeece Henes, lecturer in the School of Art, made the action a class project in her Trends & Issues in Art Education course. Neustadt invited graduate students from the master’s in teaching Spanish program to participate, and they, in turn, invited their students.
The project was not without complications—as he looked at the finished product on March 29, Neustadt knew that another winter storm was coming. There was no telling how long their collage of photos in front of the du Bois Center would last. It turned out to be short; the snow, rain and wind that fell the next morning left wet posters flapping in the wind. Neustadt and a colleague cleaned them up well in advance of the two weeks they had expected the installation to last but saved the photos for potential future use.
However, the difficulties felt metaphorically appropriate. After all, Neustadt said, climate change is a complex problem with which we all have to grapple and improvise.
“But here we are,” he said. “We’re still in it.”