Climate Hope: Action Rooted in Visual Arts + Nature Education (2024-2025)


When children and teens connect with nature, both young people and the environment benefit. Research demonstrates the advantage of nature engagement, which promotes children's physical and mental health, and cognitive performance. Likewise, pro-environment behavior in adulthood is associated with regular engagement with the natural world dating from childhood. Yet climate change impacts how, when and where children may connect with nature and cultivate an awareness of, empathy for, and sense of responsibility towards nature. 

Scholars’ early warnings about the impact of climate change on emotional well-being seem sunny compared to recent findings. For example, a majority of surveyed youth report feeling very or extremely worried about climate change, believing the future is frightening, that people have failed to take care of the planet and that humanity is doomed.

While the field of psychotherapy has begun to address climate change and ecological grief with young clients, such efforts in U.S. schools are lagging and increasingly politicized. Climate education standards are often inadequate, unevenly adopted and unlikely to integrate scientific knowledge with socio-emotional learning or the use of a trauma-informed approach. Notably, “meaning-focused” approaches to coping with eco-anxiety, some of which incorporate the arts, have been linked to both self-reported subjective well-being and a sense of environmental efficacy in children.

Project Description

This project team will design a visual-arts-based program where children and teens can learn about climate change while being introduced to healthy coping strategies. Team members will work with The Nasher Museum of Art’s upcoming exhibition – Second Nature: Photography in the Age of the Anthropocene – and use a Literacy Through Photography (LTP) approach to design and pilot climate change-themed arts programming that seeks to create new frameworks with which to communicate the urgency of the ecological and social crises of climate change and provide innovative ways to prevent despair and paralysis, especially in children and teens.

Team members will conduct a literature review focusing on climate anxiety, coping strategies and arts-integrated and/or museum-based eco-education. Team members will assess the state of climate education in North Carolina and, prior to the exhibition opening (August 29, 2024), partner with museum educators to develop teen- and child-focused discussion prompts coupled with guided-looking exercises on specific works exhibited in Second Nature. The team will also receive training in LTP methods – an approach first developed thirty years ago at Duke’s Center for Documentary Studies in collaboration with Durham Public Schools. 

Duke and community contributors will provide critical local context and training on communicating climate science, understanding the intersection of racial and environmental justice, using best practices for trauma-informed lessons and more. Initial qualitative research will involve observation and informal interviews during visits to various Durham classrooms to explore how they integrate art, science and self. The team will host a day-long convening with Durham teachers to reflect on art, climate change and climate grief and despair.

Past LTP projects have allowed students to learn about and express themselves while simultaneously exploring societal themes such as local history, racial identity, fake news, bereavement and bullying. The team will create new LTP lessons encompassing self, community and the environment. Using the camera in creative ways, students will act as explorers discovering and connecting with nature, scientists observing and recording the environment and artists expressing thoughts and posing questions about climate change. After Second Nature closes, the team will create and pilot site-specific curricula.

Anticipated Outputs

Literature review; local teacher meetings; educational resources; field trips; future art exhibition 

Student Opportunities

Ideally, this project team will include 2 graduate students and 10 undergraduate students from diverse backgrounds with interests in art, art history, visual arts, documentary studies, journalism, education, environmental science, sociology, psychology, cultural anthropology human geography, philosophy, divinity and theology and/or engineering. Graduate students from the Master of Arts in Teaching, Art, Art History and Visual Studies and Master of Fine Arts in Experimental and Documentary Arts programs are especially welcome. Prospective students with experience teaching and/or working with children are preferred. 

All students will gain skills in interpreting and making photographs and designing and teaching climate-themed lessons with photography. Team members will build collaborative skills and practice creative thinking and team-based problem solving. Students will have opportunities to speak, write and present on visual-arts-based approaches to communicate climate change, cope with ecological grief and connect with nature. Team members will take turns leading weekly meetings. Students especially interested in LTP can enroll in a Spring 2025 course about LTP. 

In Fall 2024, the team will meet on Mondays from 10:05 a.m.-11:20 a.m.

Undergraduate students will conduct a literature review and collect and interpret qualitative data (field notes and interviews) that will inform their early design of arts-programming. As they pilot lessons based on Second Nature, their ongoing qualitative research will help refine the arts curricula and shape further research.

Graduate students will learn leadership skills and determine the direction, specific questions and methods of further research. A graduate student will be selected to serve as project manager. 


Fall 2024 – Spring 2025

  • Fall 2024: Seek IRB approval; perform literature review; start research; convene with Durham teachers; host LTP design lab; pilot art lessons; host field trips
  • Spring 2025: Evaluate arts programming; convene with Durham teachers; continue LTP design lab; perform additional research; host youth art presentation


Academic credit available for fall and spring semesters


Image: Literacy Through Photography photograph made by students at the Chungbori Children's Center, 2013; Eumseong-gun, Choongcheong North Province, South Korea; project was facilitated by Duke Trinity graduate Michelle Jeon

A person wearing sneakers with pink shoelaces holding a pink flower.

Team Leaders

  • Rakan DiarBakerli, Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University
  • Katie Hyde, Duke University-Center for Documentary Studies
  • Ellen Raimond, Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University
  • Gabrielle Tenedero, Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University

/graduate Team Members

  • Nora Zubizarreta, MFA/Experimental and Doc Arts

/yfaculty/staff Team Members

  • Kavanah Anderson, Duke Gardens
  • Harlan Campbell, Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University
  • Leslie Maxwell, Thompson Writing Program
  • Kristen Stephens, Arts & Sciences-Program in Education

/zcommunity Team Members

  • Amanda Van Scoyoc, Dogwood Psychology Center and Community Faculty, Yale Child Study Center, Yale School of Medicine