In Touch with the Environment
Art student uses design skills to open eyes to microscopic pollution
Oil spills and air pollutants are familiar environmental problems, but most people don’t usually consider that micropollutants also contaminate the planet. University of Idaho undergraduate Cydnie Gray, however, uses her artistic skills to promote environmental protection and conservation at a microscopic level.
Gray, 21, a senior art and design major in the College of Art and Architecture, hails from Rathdrum, Idaho, where she graduated high school with an interest in art. She will graduate from the university in fall 2016.
This spring, Gray took a graphic design class in which the students picked their own project topics. Her choice was the impact of microbeads on the environment.
Microbeads are tiny beads of plastic found in products such as facial cleansers and are used in place of naturally derived materials because they are cheaper to produce. However, as these microbeads leave household sink and shower drains, they are distributed into main waterways, contaminating wildlife and food resources.
Gray wanted to create a visually intriguing experience to help people learn about this complex issue.
“While researching microbeads and their impact, it took me over a semester to have a somewhat comprehensive understanding of what they are and what they do because there were hardly any visual ways to go about learning,” she says. “If I just wrote a paper about what I'd learned, who would ever really read it?”
Gray rented UI’s Ridenbaugh Gallery with a fellow student and constructed a hands-on exhibit discussing microbead pollution.
“By creating an interactive installation, I was bringing my research to the audience and encouraging them to take the rest of the experience into their own hands by participating,” she says.
Since Gray herself is extremely passionate about this issue, at the end of the gallery exhibit, she set up a pledge board for each participant to sign stating that they would no longer use microbeads. To her surprise and delight, each person that entered the gallery signed the petition on the way out.
“It made me feel like other people were as passionate about it as I was,” she says.
Gray wants to pursue experiential graphic design as a career, creating exhibits that spread knowledge and spur people to action.
“The more senses you can engage — sight, touch, sound — the richer the experience is, and there's a better chance of recall,” she says.
Writer: Lauren Orr is a freshman at the University of Idaho majoring in English (emphasis in professional writing) and psychology. She hopes to be a magazine writer or perhaps a travel writer once she graduates.
Photographer: Madelen Johansson is an international student from Tibro, Sweden, and is majoring in interior design. In the future, she hopes to be able to settle down in the United States and design residences.