An aerial view of the Minneapolis skyline and the Mississippi River taken September 23, 2012.

Professor Earns Sustainability Award for Art and Environment Course

Art History Professor Craig Eliason is the recipient of the University of St. Thomas 2022 Curricular Innovation in Sustainability Award for his course that blends art and the environment.

Craig Eliason

The annual award recognizes Eliason, a professor in the Art History Department, for his work developing and integrating sustainability into his course, Art and the Environment (ARTH 105).

Art and the Environment investigates the relationship of humans with the natural environment as traced in art, beginning in landscape painting traditions of different cultures and culminating in contemporary artists who address sustainability themes in their work. Eliason explained that the foundation for his course was part of his former introductory art course. He expanded this module to develop an entire course that deepens students’ exploration of ecology and sustainability through art.

The award selection committee was impressed by Eliason’s thorough integration of sustainability through historical and contemporary analysis of art. The committee also highlighted Eliason’s innovative student engagement with sustainability through reflection and experiential learning. The committee noted that Eliason “scaffolded the integration of sustainability, beginning with appreciation of art through historical reflection to engaging with art as an agent for change.” 

After a series of reflective and experiential assignments to explore art and sustainability, Eliason’s final assignment provided students the opportunity to apply landscape analysis to inform policy. As part of his multiyear collaboration with the Metropolitan Council and the Sustainable Communities Partnership, Eliason’s students contributed guidance to local governments to identify areas along the Mississippi River for “viewshed” protection.

Eric Wojchik of the Metropolitan Council described the project’s real-world impact: “Through the application of art history perspectives to our landscapes, students are providing insight to the Metropolitan Council and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to inform community identification of Mississippi River Public River Corridor Views. This work will contribute to guidance provided to local governments to protect and preserve the Mississippi River Corridor Critical Area.”

Eliason said he hopes that his course will empower students to address contemporary challenges through art. “Reconsidering the agency that art can have in facing the challenges of our times is one of the most important realizations I hope students take away from the course,” Eliason said.

Since 2013, the annual Curricular Innovation in Sustainability Award has recognized faculty for innovation and excellence in integrating sustainability into a single course, both through innovation in sustainability content and demonstrated student learning and engagement with sustainability. Past honorees have included professors Joshua Stuchlik (2021), Sergey Berg (2020), Olga Herrera (2019), Sheneeta White and Tim Meyer (2018). An ad hoc, interdisciplinary faculty panel reviews nominations and selects the awardee. Read more about the past nine winners. An ad hoc, interdisciplinary faculty panel reviews nominations and selects the awardee.