Through River School, adults, children, and youth all have opportunities to get up close and personal with the plants, animals, insects, fish, and infrastructure that exist along the River, and to spend time learning about the interconnections between them all, using creative artistic approaches to build ecological ways of thinking and living in this local watershed. The program focuses on the main elements that impact river health, including the riparian (the plant dense transitional area between land and water), water flow, the substrate, plants and wildlife. Understanding geology of the riverbed through traditional storytelling and creating of pigments for painting from the rock of the river, are examples of hands-on interdisciplinary ways to immerse in the world of the river. Using several different ways of knowing, participants stretch their awareness and understanding about the place they are walking through. (See the Try This! Section for a list of combinations of topics, based on 4e’s River School.)
4e worked closely with a range of local experts, including staff from Manitoulin Streams (a local non-profit stream rehabilitation organization) and other experienced educators, engineers, geologists, biologists, First Nations elders, and artists to complement 4elements’ expertise in environmental art and workshop development. Several sessions for adults and older youth had them paddling in canoes to learn about the Upper River, but the majority of sessions took place along the river trail from Bridal Veil Falls downstream to Mudge Bay in Lake Huron. As one of the most frequently used of all the trails on Manitoulin, visitors to the area who happened along the trail on their own walks, would meet up with River School staff and attendees, learn about River School sessions, and even sometimes join in! Local Manitouliners deepened their knowledge of the River and its watershed through the program. As one participant exclaimed, “I have walked this trail every week, and never seen it like this!”
The Kagawong River Community Hoop Project We love outdoor art, and getting artwork off gallery walls and onto local trails. During the community hoop project students from Lakeview Public School and community members took walks along the Kagawong River with 4e, then spent time in the 4e studio drawing, painting stitching and writing onto pieces of canvas that were stretched onto embroidery hoops. We hung these works, with fishing line, along the Kagawong River. With 10,000 visitors to Bridal Veil Falls every year, the work was seen by many people.