Fishing resources

Art and Science at the Great Lakes and 4-H Natural Resources Camp

Arts and natural science education at 4-H Great Lakes and Natural Resources Camp inspires creativity, cultural awareness, and emotional well-being in young people.

Each year, youth from Michigan State University’s (MSU) Great Lakes and Natural Resources Camp (GLNRC) 4-H Extension, held at Camp Chickagami in Près Isle, participate in many exploration activities. On beautiful Lake Huron, young people enjoy fun summer activities like sailing, snorkeling, fishing (off the dock or on a charter boat) and night hikes, as well as exploring the ecosystems of the Great Lakes and learning about natural resource management. In addition to increasing their education, the art and science of nature at 4-H GLNRC can inspire creativity, cultural awareness and emotional well-being in young people. After years of the COVID-19 pandemic, GLRNC 2022 nature arts and crafts also had emotional benefits.

Everyone has mental and emotional health, just like we all have physical health. Emotional well-being is when we intentionally exercise the ability to successfully manage stress, adapt to change, and move forward through difficult times. Mindfulness is a technique that provides a calming effect while encouraging people to slow down and pay attention to details and feelings. Emotional well-being is a boon to mindfulness, and the outdoors is the perfect setting for that to happen. Mindfulness practices can be connected to the outdoors as we explore natural resources through ephemeral art. When art meets nature, we have the ability to be mindful of the use of materials such as rocks, leaves, wood and water. At GLNRC, participants enjoyed pop-up art projects and learned how to implement this activity in other contexts.

Young people at GLNRC 2022 create their art

Ephemeral art is something ephemeral; it is supposed to be perishable and leave no lasting physical impact. Students who took this course studied examples from Hannah Bullen-Ryner and then led discussions about creating their own works of art. Things to consider when creating ephemeral art:

  • What can be used to make art? Some students only used objects found in nature, while others liked the addition of man-made objects. Several others wondered if found items could be edited. The students discussed the message they wanted to convey; raise awareness of waste in nature, find beauty where others only see ugliness and more.
  • Where should the artwork be placed? Some students created their artwork in a busy area where many people would see it, but knowing it would likely be destroyed sooner. Others chose out-of-the-way spaces, thinking their art might last longer but fewer people might see it. It also sparked a conversation about how to create art in public spaces. Is it okay to take up space that others would normally use? Is it okay to ask others to adapt their behavior to accommodate the art (i.e., circumvent it)?
  • What do you think of the temporary nature of your art? Some students had a very strong reaction to the idea that their art will disappear at some point, so it was helpful to acknowledge and explore those emotions. It was daunting to spend time creating something, only to think how short-lived it might be. For others, the ephemeral nature of the piece gave them a sense of freedom; it didn’t need to be perfect because the wind could blow it away anyway. Some chose to photograph their creations as a keepsake to reflect upon as they enjoyed nature and its beauty, tranquility and calm.

Ephemeral art is something ephemeral; yet, the emotional benefits of mindfulness outdoors on well-being will last a long time in young people who have participated. For others who want to explore the health benefits of art, consider attending the Michigan 4-H Creative Arts Celebration! (formerly Atelier Visual Arts, Crafts, Sewing and Textiles). This popular one-night workshop focuses on the health benefits of the arts. Participants (4-H youth ages 13-19 and adult volunteer leaders) will learn new things, make new friends, put their creativity to work, and have a fabulous time! This event will take place from November 11 to 13; register before Oct 28. A similar ephemeral art with the photo shoot will be offered.

painted rocks
Photo by Kea Norrell-Aitch

For more information about 4-H apprenticeship opportunities and other 4-H programs, contact your local MSU County Extension office. Join a Michigan 4-H club, which offers many areas of 4-H science programming to explore as young scientists impact our future. Science is everywhere; explore nature this summer and bring out the scientist in you!