When Creativity and Climate Action Collide: Celebrating Earth Day 2020

Honoring 50 years of positive change and innovative solutions in sustainability, Arizona State University (ASU)’s Earth Month 2020 is a month-long celebration. As part of this, ASU Online is spotlighting an upcoming graduate who has made a mark on her community, blending her passion for art, innovation and sustainability.

Kate Howe is not only an award-winning artist, mother, climate activist, global traveler and cancer survivor, she is also a full-time student studying online and will graduate in a few weeks with her Bachelor of Arts in Art History through ASU’s Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts. In the process, she is spreading awareness for Earth Day and inspiring others through art.

The Winding Road Back to Art

Kate’s passion for and interest in art history started at a young age when she used to wander countless halls of art museums with her mother, who was an artist herself. Kate’s love for art continued to grow throughout adulthood, but after life’s obstacles pushed her art career path on the back burner for a bit. Years later, an unfortunate circumstance ended up leading Kate back to her passion; her 2017 bout with breast cancer reignited her dream of being an artist and going back to school to do so. “I realized I couldn’t lay in bed anymore and do nothing. I was 46 years old and figured I might as well do something with my time, so decided it was time that I go back to school. Obstacles are just opportunities – they are nothing but puzzles to solve.”

After her favorite Red Sox player spoke to his life as a Sun Devil, Kate researched her first choice - ASU. Her passion for strengthening a knowledge base in art history sealed the deal: “That alone, was enough to get me reading about the Art History program at ASU. I figured if I was going to get a bachelor's, it should be in something that would help me once I was strong enough to get into the studio. So, I applied, got in, and was absolutely thrilled.” So along with her recovery journey, Kate embarked also on her journey to finish her degree.

Blending Art with Climate Action

Now, a successful artist and soon-to-be-graduate, Kate works to elevate her passion of art with important causes she deems larger than herself. This year, she celebrated leaps in her career, participating in tech-startup, Graviky Labs’ Imagine Climate project, aimed to bring together art and science in a motivational message around Earth Day 2020’s theme of climate action. “I think every day now is Climate Action Day. Right now, we’re facing an extinction-level series of events – there’s no time to lose.” Using AIR-Ink technology that transforms air pollution into ink by collecting the raw carbon soot from diesel tailpipe emissions, Kate created a billboard of the carbon emissions collected. Her first piece, Undamaged Destiny, recently sold for $10,000. This collaboration with Graviky Labs is just the beginning for Kate’s artful sustainability efforts. Soon, she hopes to work on their “Trade Routes” project, creating a series of large works on raw canvas with the pollutant collected from cargo ship emissions. “My goal is to encourage trade, while doing something useful with the emissions.”

Balancing Education and Passion

We sat down with Kate to chat through her online learning experience and how ASU helped push her to where she is now, balancing her education and passion. Read more below.

Question: How do you think your education fuels your work and vice versa – how is your work impacted by what you learn in class?

Answer: My coursework lights my brain on fire! Almost every sentence I read makes me understand the world differently and makes me want to go make more work in my studio. I have to study with my sketchbook open next to me so that I can write down and draw all of the inspirations I have.

A piece I recently made of upcycled carbon emissions, is directly influenced by my studies of Rubens in Renaissance art, Japanese prints, and the activist art of the AIDS era. For the piece that I created for Imagine Climate, I drew heavily on conventions from Renaissance images of hierarchical altarpiece paintings.

My ASU Online education in Art History has provided me with a pathway to grow my studio practice exponentially, taking me from doodling on a sketchpad on the couch to being a resident artist with a piece in a museum and to be accepted to the Royal College of Art for graduate studies in Painting.

Q: What are the perks online education offers that you value most?

A: Online school offers you opportunities to focus down, there’s no class to be late to, to walk to, you really have a huge amount of responsibility taken off your plate. Be wise with that time. If you can do something, do it.

For me, being able to do my entire course load from bed was a huge advantage. I didn’t have to be anywhere on time, I could study when I was coherent and sleep when I needed to. I didn’t even have to brush my teeth to show up for an exam. I could do a condensed course load at 2am in my pajamas and sleep all day if that’s what I needed.

Also, the resources! The Office of Disability Services was indispensable. Nikki-Clonts Hatch, my Success Coach, was a huge help in understanding that it was okay for me to apply for disability benefits. It helped me get flexible deadlines with my teachers, and without her pushing me, it would have never even occurred to me that I would qualify for, or benefit from, those services.

Q: What advice would you give someone starting out a degree online?

A: 1) Make your education your job. Be committed to your own experience. Be curious, not to pass the test, but to understand the material. Be kind to yourself, but also push yourself. Set yourself up for success by making it your personal responsibility to understand everything you are responsible for – start early, work hard, and turn stuff in on time.

2) I would also say, your instructors are there to help you. Communicate early and often with your teacher. Along with resources, your advisor and your success coach can make things much easier for you. All the resources are there, you just need to use them!

3) Lastly, open every module at the beginning of the semester and really look at the course load. I have my exam and due dates on my calendar, and I check school online two or three times per day at least. Everything that is expected of you is right there online.

Q: Do you have advice for students looking to get involved in their community, particularly around sustainability efforts?

A: I think the most important thing is to say “Yes.” My nickname is “Ready, Fire, Aim” because I often say “yes,” and then ask, “What are we doing?” That’s how I got involved in the Imagine Climate action put together by Aspen C.O.R.E.

So first, say “Yes,” and put your hand up. Second: Don’t compromise – do what you are going to do as well and as thoroughly as you are capable of doing it. Third: Ambition is not a dirty word. If you want to make change, you need visibility, so you have to aim high and be unapologetic for doing so.

This Earth Day, and every day, take a note from Kate’s book and leverage your passion to get involved in your community. It’s never too late to set new standards and accomplish new goals – Kate’s story of inspiration and impact is testimony to all one can achieve. Be sure to check out Kate’s work at: katehowe.com, facebook.com/katehowe and on Instagram.

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