On a sunny day at the end of May 2017, more than 500 students attended the EcoArts Fest in Bloomington, Minnesota. A little girl stood in a line with her classmates, preparing to show off art during a parade into the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge visitor center. She held a large yellow bird made of papier-mache and when she was asked which bird she chose, she said, “A Scarlet Tanager.”
Then, with a proud smile, she added, “A female.”
ArtStart, a youth arts organization based out of Minneapolis, collaborated with Audubon Minnesota and the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge to teach urban youth about the Mississippi Flyway. Kids were also taught the importance of clean water throughout the Mississippi River watershed using a combination of environmental education and arts learning activities.
EcoArts Fest was the culmination of a three-month long project involving six elementary schools. Katie Burns, Audubon Minnesota’s outreach coordinator, worked with ArtStart to create a unique learning experience with school kids and she encouraged the kids to funnel their
newfound bird knowledge into creative avian art.
The art included bird replicas that each student created and they held the creations above their heads as they walked into the visitor’s center, proud of their work. Parents, teachers, and ArtStart staff then helped the students build their own bird feeders, learn more about the Minnesota River Valley, watch a bird-banding demonstration, and participate in other activities. Throughout the day, kids participated in lessons that reiterated why birds rely on the water resources that keep remaining habitat healthy.
This project was made possible by the voters of Minnesota through a grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board, thanks to a legislative appropriation from the arts and cultural heritage fund.