River of Words 2010 Art and Poetry Contest Winners Announced

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I heard a beautiful story recently. It was a story about a young girl, a refugee from a war-torn country in the Middle East, who was able to create something beautiful in the midst of destruction and poverty. Tearing out pieces of magazines collected here and there, she created a collage, which eventually found it’s way to Berkeley, California, and into the hands of the staff at River of Words.

River of Words is a non-profit dedicated to improving the environmental and art literacy of children in the US and abroad. Every year, they host a poetry and art contest, which draws hundreds of participants from places as different as Iran, Hong Kong, and Georgia. What these contestants share is a love of and appreciation for the natural world. 

I attended the regional awards ceremony this past weekend, which was held at the SF Public Library. The story I heard was told by Pamela Michael, the founder of River of Words. Among the poems and beautiful works of art by these children ages 6 through 19, Pamela’s story stood out as a strong example of the power of art and the environment to inspire, to heal, and to give hope. It was a reminder that not only are our rivers, forests, animals, and other natural resources crucial to our physical health, but they are also intangibly valuable for our spiritual health. Oftentimes, the spiritual and existence value of free-flowing rivers is overlooked or dismissed as something soft and unimportant, but for many people worldwide, especially indigenous communities that have lived for centuries as stewards of their natural environment (click here for one example), the spiritual value of their rivers and other resources are as important as the economic value that comes from utilizing those resources.

One way of sharing these values is through art. Art, like science, tries to answer some of life’s hardest questions. By bringing art and science together, we can delve into difficult subjects and reveal the answers in a new light, reach and touch a broader public, and imagine new worlds and solutions. The best place to start is by brining art and science, especially the study of our natural world, together in the classroom, early and often. Art teaches students to observe nature, interpret it, and both own and be a part of it. I would call that a sustainable path towards environmental stewardship.