Frost Amphitheater

By Grace Wallis

Grace Wallis is a multimedia ecoartist and master’s student studying environmental communication. She majored in human biology as an undergrad and created an audio-immersive drama about a root vegetable for her Honors in the Arts project. Photo courtesy of Grace Wallis

In fall 2020, around the time I started working as a curatorial fellow at Stanford Live, I received my very first teacher evaluations. I had just finished serving as a teaching assistant for the first time for Intro to Earth Systems, and I was exhausted but proud. I had successfully taught an environmental science class—and gotten paid! My teacher evaluations arrived in my in-box over winter break. And they crushed me. The almost unanimous criticism: “I wish Grace had shared more about SOLUTIONS to climate change. Otherwise, she was alright.”

Climate change is this century’s and my generation’s biggest challenge. How could I have taught a whole course on the Earth’s disrupted systems and not have provided my students with solutions? Because, contrary to popular doom-and-gloom messages, the solutions do exist, and they are far more economically sustainable and equitable than the systems we rely on now. We just need to find ways to make them “cool” enough in popular culture that policy has no choice but to follow. This is what art can do and what has largely informed my work with Stanford Live.

An actor-director-writer, I focus on creative climate media that pushes for cultural change focused on environmental stewardship and corporate accountability. I chose to pursue a master’s degree in environmental communication this year because I believe the arts have the power to help us think through the most diabolical and daunting problems in a way that other media simply can’t.

Before joining Stanford Live, Grace directed multiple shows for student theater groups, including the Ram’s Head Theatrical Society 2020 spring musical Pippin. Her artistic vision for the show focused on global warming and mental health among young people. Photo courtesy of Grace Wallis

Specifically, art can generate the most radical dialogue around climate—how we relate to other human and nonhuman beings, how we come to terms with repairing the land and repairing one another while acknowledging histories of violence and oppression, how exactly we envision a future in which we solve (not just mitigate) climate change. Art can do all those things! Today. In one season at Stanford Live. In your living room. On Zoom. Through your headphones.

These elements of change-making drive the work I do at Stanford Live. I’ve had the pleasure of collaborating directly with some of Live’s artists on the Public Domain Cabaret—a group of singer-songwriter-performers I helped assemble with Emmy Award–winning composer Lance Horne. I’ve also spent time broadening Stanford Live’s community to include members and research from Stanford’s School of Earth, Energy, and Environmental Sciences. I’m working with my brilliant co-fellow Ramiro Hampson-Medina (’22) on curating community-based experiences for Stanford students that center personal wellness within the vibrant landscape of sustainability.

It is my hope that audiences who come to see some of the exciting work at Stanford Live learn more about why, in the face of global warming and ongoing environmental injustices, artists are more important now than ever. They help us see how we can do better—instead of just being “alright”—and help us understand how and why we need to work harder (and together) to get there.