Edge Forward or Leap? – Exhibit on Sustainable Community Development Blends Art and Science [Case Study]

Today’s Guest Post is by Jaime Clifton-Ross, Curator of Edging Forward, Research Curator for CRC Research and Changing the Conversation in the School of Environment and Sustainability at Royal Roads University.

We have enough knowledge, science, and innovation to act now on sustainable community development, so what is holding us back? How do we leap forward, towards new sustainable pathways and a carbon neutral economy?

This is the main idea behind Edging Forward: Reconnection, Reconciliation, Regeneration, a special art and literary exhibit that was recently on display at the Robert Bateman Centre and will be showing at the new Royal Roads University Library Showcase beginning November 22nd, 2017.

Bridging the Art & Science Silos

After realizing there was something missing in conversations on sustainable community development (ecological, social, and economic imperatives), social scientist and professor, Ann Dale, and artist, Nancyanne Cowell, realized that bridging art and science had the potential for a powerful story. Art and science are traditionally separate disciplines, with the former focused on expression and creativity and the latter centered on the pursuit of data and discovery. However, given the unprecedented nature and scale of issues our world is facing, they decided that bridging the two silos might stir both the heart and the mind.

Shades of Wonderland Web
“Shades Of Wonderland”, painting by Nancyanne Cowell, 2014-17, 60” X 36”, oil-mixed media on two canvases.

Dale’s forthcoming book, Edging Forward: Achieving Sustainable Community Development, weaves together over 17 years of research on sustainable communities arguing that

we can no longer merely edge forward; we must leap forward.

Each chapter, with a heading drawn from the myths and fables she learned while young, explores our relationships to one another, to other species, and to the planet. She contemplates how a single story of growth has come to so dominate our narratives and why we struggle to embrace diversity and difference. By blending storytelling with science, Dale reveals how the power of our narratives not only shape our view of the world, but also our beliefs about our ability to make a difference for more resilient and empathetic communities.

Their Percussive Heartbeats
“Their Percussive Heartbeats”, painting by Nancyanne Cowell, 2014-17, 60” X 36”, oil on two canvases.

Responding to the core themes in each chapter, Cowell created large scale oil mixed-media paintings to illuminate each chapter theme. Made up of two unified canvases, each painting flips the traditional landscape on its end and adopts the orientation of a portrait. This architectural feature also signifies the interconnection between our built and natural environments. The subtle detail of a rabbit hole running through the core of the canvas or a dragon-shaped cloud floating through the carbon filled atmosphere remind us of our connection to the natural world and the need for respectful coexistence.

View of exhibit
View of Edging Forward: Reconnection, Reconciliation, Regeneration exhibit at the Robert Bateman Centre. Photo Credit: Nancyanne Cowell

With literary interpretations from the book, 9 luminous paintings, and a rich online resource library filled with articles, videos, and podcasts (accessible on iPads), Edging Forward: Reconnection, Reconciliation, Regeneration offers a multi-sensual media experience.

Why this exhibit? Why us?

I became involved in this exhibit because I am member of Professor Ann Dale’s transdisciplinary research team, CRC Research, at Royal Roads University. Part of my job is to experiment with new ways to communicate our research in a timely manner and to integrate the arts and culture into our practice, so this project was a natural fit.

CRC Research has a mission to build civic literacy and useful knowledge for integrated decision-making around critical public policy issues, particularly, sustainable community development.

We are deeply committed to making a difference with our research and working in collaboration with a diversity of Canadians across the country. The Robert Bateman Centre’s mandate is to “challenge the public and society’s leaders to a new dialogue about our relationship with nature through strategic partnerships, research, collaboration and public education.”

I think the key takeaway from this project is the power of collaboration and what can be accomplished when people of diverse backgrounds and skills come together.

Measuring “success”

Visitors were invited to share their voice by filling out a postcard for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, asking that he make climate change an immediate priority. In blending art, literature, and science, this exhibit explores how embracing the transformative changes needed to reconnect, reconcile, and regenerate our world will help us leap onto new sustainable pathways.

On the postcard addressed to the Prime Minister, we included Cowell’s “Carbon Thoughts” painting on one side, which depicts a scene of Parliament Hill with a swirling carbon-filled atmosphere above.

Our goal with this participatory activity was to encourage visitors to share their voices and even inspire them to take action on the ground.

Furthermore, we wanted to provide a medium to visually draw attention to the urgency of climate change. In terms of measuring its success, it will be based on the number of postcards that were filled out and deposited in a box in the gallery (they will be mailed out soon). Postcards will also be available in the Royal Roads University Library Showcase exhibit, thereby increasing the number that will be sent to the P.M.’s office.

Edging Forward: Reconnection, Reconciliation, Regeneration will be on display at the new Royal Roads University Library Showcase, a space for promoting the University’s innovative, applicable, and real-world research. It will run from November 22nd, 2017 to January 31st, 2018. It was previously on display at the Robert Bateman Centre in Victoria BC from October 10th – November 10th, 2017.

To learn more about Professor Ann Dale’s research, visit the following websites:

  • CRC Research, a research space dedicated to the sustainable features of Canadian communities, exploring how to reconcile ecological, social, and economic imperatives through integration of our culture and arts.
  • MC3 2.0: Meeting the Climate Change Challenge, a major climate change adaptation and mitigation research project in British Columbia.
  • Changing the Conversation, a conversation space intended to re-enlarge public space and re-engage different generations in virtual real-time e-Dialogues

For regular curated content on innovations in sustainable community development, find us on social media.






*Jaime Clifton-Ross is passionate about digital storytelling and knowledge sharing via online communication channels, including blogs and social media. She holds a Bachelor of Arts, specializing in Art History, from the University of Victoria and a Master of Museum Studies from the University of Toronto. She currently works as a Research Curator for CRC Research and Changing the Conversation in the School of Environment and Sustainability at Royal Roads University.

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