An Environmental Art Experience with Portuguese Adolescents Giving Life to the Grape VineBy José Pedro Trindade and Sara Bahia This article describes a five-week art project “Giving Life to the Grape Vine”, in a small rural community in Portugal. The project provided a unique artistic experience, through an opportunity to create art out of non-traditional materials. This idea was conceived when several students asked their art teacher if they could experiment with non-traditional materials in an extracurricular activity. This inspired us to utilize a recently recovered watermill in the community – the Azenha de A-dos-Cunhados, as a site where students could participate in art making activities, and use natural resources that are available there to make art.Left: Azenha de A-dos-Cunhados watermill Right: Present condition of the watermillSuch resources and sites are typically not used in formal art classes, hence it provide a unique art-making opportunity for students. Furthermore, although the watermill had existed for several years, only few people visited the mill, hence this project provided an opportunity to revive the presence of the mill within the community.Azenha de A-dos-Cunhados watermill as a rich site for natural resources for artmakingIn view of these ideas, the overall aim of the project was to provide students an opportunity to express themselves in artistic and creative ways that integrated their local history as well as employed traditional art practices. It was hoped that the project might invite and engage others in the community and generate appreciation of the recovered watermill as a site of visitation and enjoyment. The specific art educational goals of the activities in the project were to firstly encourage co-operative art making, secondly, exploration of local environmental resources, and thirdly attribute meaning to objects.Environmental resources utilized as non-traditional art materials for the projectAt the start of the project, the art teacher invited students from three - eighth and ninth year classes, for a three-hour activity in the evening once a week from April to June in 2012. Although, several students wanted to attend, only twelve were able to participate in all the five sessions. These participants included eight girls and four boys, aged between 13 to 17 years. All of them lived in this community near the watermill, and belonged to different ethnic and socio- economic backgrounds, although agriculture, in particular vineyards, was the main source of income for those living in the community.The design and implementation of the activities in the project are grounded in constructivist approaches to learning and development, as iterated by Eisner (2008) and focused on engagement with materials, creative problem solving and cooperative learning approaches. Students were first invited to experience environmental materials such as vine logs, pines, natural string, carbon and raw clay - by touching, smelling, looking, feeling, listening and handling these materials. As a group, students were encouraged to associate memories with these materials, and then reflect on them them in order to recall even deeper connections. Students were then asked to share their ideas with each other.After exploration of materials, students discover a special meaning related to these objectsAfter this activity, they were asked to focus on some aspect of the material that held a special meaning to them. Based on these meanings, they were asked to add, remove or mix new resources to these materials that can further increase the meaning they had in mind.Student's work in progress, showing addition of new resources to these materials Students sharing meanings of these resources through various artistic media These processes finally resulted in various art products that they exhibited in class. At the exhibition, students explained details about their art products, and the inner meanings communicated through these creations. These art works addressed a variety of themes, ranging from a supernatural figure, to dragon, mermaid and a school of fish.Left and Right: Students' artworks "Dragon" and "Supernatural Figure"Student's artwork: "Mermaid"An analysis of students’ experiences in this project and the art products created revealed that all the participants had a transformative experience. They were able to elaborate and give expression to their initial ideas in ways that surprised them. They demonstrated sensibility and appreciation of nature, their own art products and those of others, and an inclination to communicate thoughts, opinions and ideas through art. As one 13-year-old girl said “I have grown since the time I first came here. I am able to appreciate the beauty of nature more than before. I am no longer afraid of experimenting and being creative. This kind of activity should be opened to the whole community”.Student's artwork: "School of fish"When the project concluded, all the participants asked the art teacher for other similar experiences, and ten of them voluntarily participated in another community project with gifted children.The experience from this project shows how non-formal educational contexts can promote the construction of meaning and a stronger sense of community through people’s expression of identities and narratives through art. Furthermore, this art project provided an opportunity to promote symbolic expressions, which fostered the creation of deeper meaning - towards their self, others, nature and the environment of this small rural community.Reference:Eisner, E. (2008). What Education Can Learn from the Arts. The Lowenfeld lecture. NAEA National Convention. New Orleans: Louisiana.For more information, please contact José Pedro Trindade, Art Teacher at Colégio Pedro Arrupe. Sara Bahia is Professor at Faculty of Psychology, University of Lisbon (FP-UL), in Portugal.