Kenyon College

The Art of Trees: The Fight for Clean Water


The Art of Trees is a research and planning project steered by Gund Gallery staff and a committee of Kenyon faculty, staff, and Gund Associates who are working together to develop a Spring 2021 exhibition that explores trees as the real and metaphorical touchstone for conceiving a new social imaginary, through which we can reinvent our relationship with the natural world for social and ecological betterment.  A team of Gund Associates focused on curatorial practice are synthesizing the committee’s research to structure a collaborative curatorial endeavor and community dialogue about the current environmental crisis. In this series, Gund Associates share aspects and outcomes of their ongoing research.

The Fight for Clean Water

I was able to attend an event on March 8th hosted by The Whitney Museum of American Art and produced in partnership with the Natural Resources Defense Council. This event, The Fight for Clean Water, was inspired by the discovery of high lead levels in the water in Flint, MI, and later in Newark, NJ. In conjunction with an installation, entitled Pope L: Choir, the artist, Pope L., and NRDC reached out to experts and conducted a panel with a pediatrician, teacher, and attorney, all of whom experienced the effects of lead poisoning at a personal level or through association. 

Elizabeth Corr, Director of Art Partnerships at NRDC, played an important role in organizing this event.  Corr came to Kenyon in February as a guest speaker for the Gund Gallery’s The Art of Trees series. In speaking with the Gund Associates curatorial team during her visit, she explained how she has used her liberal arts education and passion for artwork to connect NRDC to a broader audience. This event at The Whitney is one of the many examples of how Elizabeth Corr has brought legal, personal, and artistic lives together, with the hope that this collaboration will bring about cultural and policy change. 

The panel discusses the issues of environmental injustice and discrimination as they explore how and why these crises occurred. Most of us think of clean water as a public good, as something guaranteed, especially in the United States. But, when water isn’t clean, who is there to blame? Who is accountable when water contamination is going against the law? The panel explores how minority communities suffer the most from this contamination, both in their health and finances. They also discuss water affordability and the importance of primary prevention–because there is NO safe level of lead.

Although this crisis has caused trauma among the affected communities, efforts are being made to overcome and grow from the current circumstances. The Centers for Disease Control has funded the Flint Registry, a community health registry that promotes and oversees accessibility to health and development resources. A Flint resident suggested that the logo for this registry be the image of a Sankofa bird, a mythical Ghanaian bird. This bird is flying forward, looking back, and holding an egg in its mouth, symbolizing an initiative to move forward and act for the benefit of our children, while still never forgetting any injustices committed. As we continue to encounter more environmental challenges and inequity on the global scale, this symbol delivers an inspiring message–the need to dedicate a profound mindfulness for the people with whom we surround ourselves, and places in which we live. The Gund Gallery curatorial team hopes to stand for this message as we carefully choose art for the debut of our exhibition The Art of Trees

Katie Hileman ’22


The Gund Gallery exhibitions and programs are made possible, in part, by the Gund Gallery Board of Directors and the Ohio Arts Council.


Image: An illustration of the Sankofa bird, courtesy of


still from planetary respirations recording

Faculty Gallery Talk with Orchid Tierney...

Ep. 23: Forest Listening Rooms...
A screenshot of a single still in the beginning of the virtual curators' tour.

Virtual Curators' Tour of The Art of Trees recorde...
Image of the Oliver Dorfer painting Baltic Woods on view in the exhibition The Art of Trees.

Join us for a short video walkthrough of the exhib...

The Gund Associates interview internationally-know...

Inspired by the exhibition "Urban Cadence: Street ...