Singing about earth, wind, fire and sustainability

The third annual Sustunes concert celebrates the connection between art and environmentalism.

City Love preforms at the second-annual SusTunes concert in the Learning and Environmental Science building on St. Paul campus on Dec. 2, 2016.

Courtesy of Dustin Carlson

City Love preforms at the second-annual SusTunes concert in the Learning and Environmental Science building on St. Paul campus on Dec. 2, 2016.

by Maddy Folstein

Music has long been a politicized, impactful form of art, and the University of Minnesota’s department of sustainability education is harnessing that power. 

On Friday, the department will host the third annual Sustunes, a concert focused on sustainability with music and student art. The concert is a part of the department’s commitment to examining environmentalism from multiple perspectives.

“We really look at sustainability and all the intersections it has and how it can connect to art and music,” said Mikaela Isaacson, a sustainability education communications assistant studying strategic communications. “It’s really important for us to help students communicate that… sustainability can be incorporated into any major or any interest.”

Sustunes was started three years ago by Andreas Fenner, a University graduate, during a project for a sustainability class. 

“He was really passionate about music and sustainability and saw that there were a lot of connections,” Isaacson said. “He thought it would be really cool to have student music groups perform a live concert and have each of the groups connect to an environmental theme.”

This year’s concert will feature the Music Therapy Student Association; Vocal U, an on-campus acappella group and musicians Willows and Henry James Patterson. For these performers, the concert presents a unique opportunity to ground their art in their environmentalist interests.

“We talked about it as a group… and everybody was really interested because many of the people in the group already had an interest in sustainability,” said Leah Henriksen, a member of Vocal U and a senior studying psychology and public health.

Each musical group is given a different theme to shape their set, ranging from Patterson’s theme “solar” to Vocal U’s theme “lunar,” and is allowed to interpret that theme as they see fit.

“I think I’m going to do a mixture of my own original tunes and songs about the sun,” Patterson said. “Obviously ‘Here Comes the Sun’ is an option… but I kind of do want to be more creative about it.”

Focusing on an environmental theme also lets musicians find new meaning in songs that they already had in their repertoire. 

“We didn’t find any new songs because of the time constraints… but it was cool to find a connection between the music,” Henriksen said. “When you think of things in a different way… you can find the connections, which is so cool.”

For these musicians, performing music about issues like sustainability allows them to pay homage to other musician activists that they admire and be a part of an impactful conversation.

“Art is the forum of which people can discuss things. There’s visual art, murals and then even documentaries… It’s how we can educate and it’s how we can influence and say some things that are not in the corporate… agenda,” Patterson said. “I know that Bob Dylan was a big guy for that… and Bob Marley especially is one of my inspirations. He was always giving money back to the people and writing songs about freedom.”

By giving musicians the platform to enact such change, the University’s Sustainability Education program is attempting to rewrite what some might expect from a conversation about climate change. 

“I’m really passionate about this because when people hear about environmental issues like climate change and pollution, I think there’s this idea… that people expect to hear a mouthful of scientific facts and data [and] just being told that you’re a bad person because you didn’t recycle,” Isaacson said. “Finding other ways to reach people… makes the conversation much more communicable and understanding.” 

What: Sustunes concert

When: Friday, 6-9 pm 

Where: UMN Learning & Environmental Sciences Building, 1954 Buford Ave, Falcon Heights

Cost: Free