Sunday, February 23, 2014

UCSC Alumna Kirsten Williams on re-purposed community art in Detroit

UCSC alumna Kirsten Williams learned to see trash in the street in a whole new way this past fall through an internship with the Heidelberg Project in Detroit, Michigan. Kirsten is a former student employee of the Sustainability Office, and she graduated in 2013 with a degree in Sociology.


Kirsten shared with us how she heard about the Heildelberg Project and how the work she did with the organization relates to sustainability.

She writes, "When I was about six or seven my mother took me to a neighborhood [in Detroit] that was filled with the most outrageously decorated houses. Each house was painted in a bright color and all types of materials were used as adornments. I was fascinated by how something so different existed in a neighborhood that was so plain."

Kirsten later visited Detroit again after graduating from UC Santa Cruz, where her mother passed away only a couple weeks into her visit. She says that after her mother's passing, she was encouraged by her sister to look into the Heidelberg Project, the organization that creates these decorated homes. Kirsten did, and she ended up getting an internship with the organization's Site Development Team. Kirsten writes that the "team works on collecting materials to re-utilize them to create art pieces" and that her job "was to find used, old, and recycled materials that would be used for art installations for various events as well as our site designs."

"Since the city of Detroit is experiencing economic downfall and environmental abuse from neighboring cities such as dumping waste in public parks around the city, my goal was to collect these 'wasted' items and use them to create art pieces that would show the public that city is not infested with trash but beautiful artifacts to be used to create artwork that gets the public questioning the world around us. Why should an old house be destroyed? How can an old tire still have purpose? How can you turn plastic into beauty? The organization seeks not to lengthen the environmental impact but start creating change by reusing what so many leave behind. Sort of like giving purpose back to something everyone thinks is purposeless, including the city of Detroit itself," she describes.

When asked about how her experiences at UCSC have influenced her work, she writes, "UCSC was my enlightenment to the events, happenings, and order of our planet, sustainability being the first! It amazes me how far humankind has disassociated itself from the natural occurrences of this world. Especially when they are so important to our creation but more importantly our livelihood."

Regarding her Sociology degree from UC Santa Cruz, Kirsten writes, "I feel like UCSC is the BEST university to attend for this discipline because it's honestly one of the most forward thinking socially active campuses left in the nation. The major touches on multiple areas of concern and even has several courses dedicated specifically to sustainability and its social impact."

The exposure to environmental issues through Sociology classes helped Kirsten better understand "the seriousness of the issue," and she was able to bring that awareness to her work with the Heidelberg Project.

"My goal is not only to live a life that is more sustainable and environmentally aware of my behavior in a space but to also lead by example and teach others too. I also feel more connected to the planet, like I am taking care of a loved one."

In her work, Kirsten not only was able to care for the planet, but she was also able to "give something back to the community that helped nurture [her] growth."


"The work that the Heidelberg Project does is extremely crucial to the rebirth of the city of Detroit," she says. "I cannot express enough how my city needs love, tender care, and individuals who want to make an effective change. This will all start by focusing on several crucial pillars which will support the city and one being that of sustainable development. It is important to usher in a new generation of people equipped with the knowledge needed to give birth to the city again and in turn lead the world by example. Detroit has done it in the past and I know it will happen again."

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