School of Art scholars draw attention to climate change with refreshing murals

Climate Engagement through Art in Cities Fellows will create murals with reflective paint in New Haven’s hottest neighborhoods to raise awareness about climate change.

Pranava Dhar

1:27 a.m., October 14, 2022

Collaborating journalist


Yale News

Two newly announced fellows at the School of Art will paint to protect the planet, placing murals around Elm City to promote climate awareness – and cool the environment.

Victoria Martinez ART ’20 and Daniel Pizarro ART ’12 were announced on September 29 as the first recipients of the Climate Engagement through Art in Cities Fellowship, a cooperative project between the School of Art, the School of Architecture and the School of the Environment.

The one-year fellowship runs from September 2022 to August 2023 and will engage fellows in dialogues with the New Haven community to design artwork that raises awareness of climate change. With its use of cooling reflective paint, the project will also launch an urban science experiment to explore how cities can adapt to global warming.

“The arts move people,” said Karen Seto, Frederick C. Hixon Professor of Geography and Urbanization Sciences and key organizer of the fellowship. “Whether it’s music, sculpture or painting, they move people. The idea is to use art to move audiences about climate change and see science alongside it.

According to Seto, the initial idea was spurred by the feeling that empirical data and research on climate change were not reaching enough people. Seto realized that art had the potential to bridge the gap between scientists and the public. From there, the project evolved into a collaboration with the School of Art and the School of Architecture to explore new ways of communicating science.

Along with science communication, the creation of the artwork will examine the science of how cities can fight climate change. To this end, the mural will be made with paint designed to cool its surroundings by reflecting ultraviolet and near-infrared radiation.

“The project is like a Russian nesting doll,” Seto said. “It started as an art project to engage the community, then we came across cool paintings and came up with the following doll: what if we cool buildings with murals? And why don’t we cool buildings in neighborhoods hottest in town?And from there, we continued to uncover new possibilities, from environmental justice to community engagement.

The Yale Earth Observation Center will help test the project’s hypothesis. By flying heat-sensing drones over the city skies, YCEO will record the heat emanating from city neighborhoods before and after the mural is completed.

YCEO Remote Sensing Specialist Tarek Kandakji explained that multi-spectrum drones will help provide quantification of the city heat in terms of thermal energy. The data thus collected will allow them to track the temperature over time and study the cooling effect on the climate of the city, if any, from the mural.

“When I was offered [fellowship,] I was immediately excited to imagine the possibilities of art and architecture woven into the city landscape,” Martinez told the news. This will be my first public art project on such a large scale with the city of New Haven. I have directed and facilitated public art projects throughout my career. I look forward to working with Yale to create a public art project that includes New Haven communities.

As a Climate Engagement Fellow, Martinez will bring together his artistic training with input from the New Haven community to create the design for the mural.

Textiles play a crucial role in Martinez’s work. The Chicago native believes in the power of fabric to bring all walks of life and cultures together. She envisions her mural in a similar vein – a metaphorical quilt bringing together local communities and their diverse ethnic backgrounds.

“In terms of wall aesthetics, I envision patterns, textures, and color palettes inspired by my research into the vast history of textiles.” says Martinez. “I would like to incorporate plants and trees into the public art project. In addition to incorporating experimental cooling paint, I plan to incorporate nature as an art material and share it with those experimenting with the piece. I would like the mural to be a neighborhood landmark, a site of engagement, where people experience art and can enjoy the oxygen from the trees. I hope this mural can become a contemporary classroom for the public.

On the other hand, Pizarro – a longtime resident of New Haven – will lead the project’s graphic identity and creative strategy as a Communications Design Fellow. It will also document Martinez’s creative process, from initial mockups to painting the mural.

Previously, Pizarro has addressed issues of Latinx communities in his design practice, with projects on COVID-19 vaccine equity and the housing eviction crisis. He centers his work around themes of race, class and the urban environment, with an emphasis on bilingual design.

“The biggest design challenge is to develop effective new ways to communicate climate change to

the communities that will be most affected,” Pizarro said. “As the eldest child of immigrants from Chile, I grew up in a translation environment, and I bring that into my design work. I look forward to leveraging the networks I have created in New Haven to make this project a success.

The scholarships are funded by the Yale School of Art and the Climate Impact Innovation Fund and are made possible through the Yale Planetary Solutions Project.

Teresa H. Sadler