Illustration by Maren Slobody.
Illustration by Maren Slobody.

For many people, sustainability has become an empty word, devoid of action. However, the term will find itself refashioned, expanded and refreshed under an artistic lens for UC Santa Cruz’s upcoming Earth Week celebration — Digging Deeper: The Arts & The Earth.

“Art is rarely seen as an important part of sustainability and other environmental efforts,” said Earth Week intern Kelsey Smith. “The arts are such a great way to form a bridge and express a connection to the planet. That connection is the first step to saving the Earth.”

Taking center stage at the kick-off event Festival of Arts, the UCSC student community will be showcasing their creative talents, contributing to a broader creative understanding of sustainability. The evening will include performances of spoken word, dance, song, poetry, theater monologues, photographs and paintings, to name only a few.

Many campus organizations concerned with sustainability and the environment will also be present, tabling and raising awareness of on-campus opportunities to get involved in Earth Week activities year-round. This is part of the Earth Week team’s larger effort to make the event accessible to all disciplines at UCSC, asserting the universality of sustainability.

“My hope is that [participants] will come away inspired and confident that they can affect change right where they are — in their study,” said McKenzie Laird, the Chancellor Undergraduate Internship Program (CUIP) intern and creative mind behind this year’s theme. “They don’t need to change their major, they don’t need to join numerous environmental organizations – it all is important and it all has a role to play.”

Gena Hoggard, who is scheduled to perform a solo dance piece to Michael Jackson’s “Earth Song,” views the event as a way to open up an educated and emotional dialogue surrounding Earth Week concerns.

“If I am reaching out to someone and expressing my ideas, I am hoping for a reaction from [my audience],” Hoggard said.  “If you have a successful piece of art, you have made someone think about what you’re doing … It’s a cycle between the audience and the expresser.”

Interactive installments will also play a large role at the Festival of Arts, including an open mic segment after scheduled performances and collaborative art projects. One such project is the “community art project,” where participants are encouraged to add their own painted fingerprint to a leafless tree painted on a large piece of canvas.

“That interactive art piece is to have people take ownership of what they are seeing and hearing,” Laird said. “Even though a majority of the students present will not be having art displayed … they can still contribute and leave their mark. It’s our way to say that you are powerful.”

The Festival of Arts will be followed by campus-wide Earth Week related events, publicized on the Earth Week calendar. Winding down the week of festivities, participants are urged to attend the College Eight Earth Week finale — a film festival.

Beginning with a screening of “Wasteland” followed by a panel and discussion and ending with “Borne into Brothels,” both documentaries focus on a sustainability that is artistic and human-centered.

Ultimately, as Earth Week intern Dana Frederick said, the College Eight Earth Week events aim to create a dialogue surrounding and acknowledging all definitions of sustainability.

“I’ve come to have a much greater appreciation for the complexity and weight that it carries as a term.” Frederick said.  “Now, to me, ‘sustainability’ is ultimately about promoting longevity — whether that be the longevity of an ecosystem, an individual or our civilization at large.”


Festival of the Arts kicks off Friday April 19 at 7 p.m. in the College Eight dining hall. The Film Festival is April 27 at 1 p.m. in the College Eight Red Room. Both events will have free food provided. For more information please visit