All of my current scholarly and creative work occurs through two organizations, both of which I co-founded, Inside the Greenhouse and SPEAK. This work is informed and enriched by earlier activist and artistic work through an organization I also co-founded, Mothers Acting Up.
Human Glacier Project performed in front of Macky Auditorium before an Inside the Greenhouse event interviewing James Balog
Inside the Greenhouse (ITG) takes an interdisciplinary approach to creative climate communication. It was created in 2012 with my co-founders Max Boykoff of Environmental Studies, Rebecca Safran of Evolutionary Biology, and later joined by Phaedra Pezzullo of Communication. My primary ITG project for the past five years has been Shine, an original musical performance for youth-led community engagement for resilience planning. Shine weaves climate science and artistic expression into a funny and powerful story that spans 300 million years of geological time to convey the interrelationship among energy, humanity, and climate. I toured Shine to communities in conjunction with the Rockefeller 100 Resilient Cities Initiative from 2015 to 2017. My most recent book Performance for Resilience: Engaging Youth on Energy and Climate through Music, Movement, and Theatre (Palgrave 2017) shares an account of each location reached and the lessons learned from facilitating local youth in performing Shine. Another ongoing ITG project focuses on climate comedy in partnership with Boykoff. Together we have published articles on the impacts of “good natured” climate comedy for youth participants that help them process negative emotions regarding climate change, feed hope, and sustain climate action.
Young women speaking at a Climate March in Boulder, Colorado
SPEAK supports youth in empowering their voices for self and civic advocacy. SPEAK co-founder, Dr. Chelsea Hackett, and I have partnered since 2014 with the MAIA Impact School for Indigenous Maya women in Guatemala to develop the SPEAK curriculum for vocal empowerment, which we define as reaching a state of comfort and ability with vocal expression that allows a person’s intended content to be expressed. Partnering with professors from CU’s Speech, Language, Hearing Science, we conducted research with our Guatemalan partners to establish our approach as an evidence-based practice for supporting vocal empowerment for participants. This curriculum has also been run with partners in Tanzania, Egypt, and the USA.
Our continued work on vocal empowerment through SPEAK will focus on the issue of sexual safety. In partnership with Boulder High School, we will pilot the SPEAK Vocal Empowerment Program in the Health classrooms from 2020-2021 as a mixed-methods Youth Participatory Action Research (Y-PAR) project to (1) utilize a Y-PAR model to support young people in identifying possible areas of support and solutions that they see to shifting sexual violence dynamics in their local community and (2) measure the impact of the program on youth self-efficacy and confidence, which is correlated to successful bystander intervention in sexual violence. This research is supported by CU’s Renée Crown Wellness Institute Seed Grant.
Mothers Acting Up Mother’s Day Parade in Boulder, Colorado
Mothers Acting Up (MAU) was a grass-roots, non-profit organization from 2002-2012 that inspired mothers to advocate for the world’s children. The goal of MAU was to inspires, educates and engages mothers—anyone who exercises protective care over someone smaller-- to prioritize children in our corporate and public policies. Mothers Acting Up sought to offers a new breed of joyful activism that is a positive assertion. MAU supported mothers in taking personal and political action on behalf of the world’s children. MAU inspired civic participation in mothers, an untapped, yet enormously powerful political lobby.
My entry into applied theatre was through my work as co-founder and program director for MAU. This brought me into contact with the Motherhood Initiative for Research and Community Involvement (formerly the Association for Research on Mothering) at York University. Through them I became active in maternal scholarship as it relates to social activism. My essay on Mothers Acting Up was included in the influential book, Stop the Next War Now: Effective Responses to Violence and Terrorism (2005) along with essays by Nancy Pelosi, Alice Walker, Eve Ensler, and Arianna Huffington. Based on an original one-woman show related to mother activism, The Mother Load, that I wrote and performed, I published two chapters, “Maternal Autobiography in Performance,” in From the Personal to the Political: Towards a New Theory of Maternal Narrative (Susquehanna University Press 2009) and “Performing Mother Activism” in The Maternal is Political: Women Writers at the Intersection of Motherhood and Social Change. (Seal Press 2008).
In 2008 Mothers Acting Up entered into a partnership with the Philanthropiece Foundation to fund a two-year international tour of an original one-woman show that I wrote and performed, (M)other (video recording of entire performance) and an accompanying vocal empowerment workshop that I developed entitled Empowering Mother Voices (instructional video for facilitating Empowering Mother Voices workshop). This program, called the MOTHER tour, traveled to communities around the world to create a global community of mothers moving from concern to action on behalf of their most passionate concerns. It is written about in a chapter I wrote with MAU co-founder, Juliana Forbes, “Mothers Acting Up” in The 21st Century Motherhood Movement. (Demeter Press 2011).
Mothers Acting Up closed its doors in 2012, but continues to cheer mothers and others moving from concern to action to create a bright future for all children.