Picture Perfect Sustainability

Andrea Frank, assisant professor and director of SUNY New Paltz’s photography program, recently received a SUNY Research Foundation (RF) Network of Excellence grant.

Alongside New Paltz associate art professor Emily Puthoff and other faculty and students at the University at Buffalo and the University at Albany, Frank will work with a small team of students to explore movable, sustainable architecture and design for towns and cities. The New Paltz community will be their focus.

With $20,000 of financial support from the Arts and Humanities sector of SUNY RF, Frank and Puthoff hope to bring together different expertises from the SUNYs to engage with the New Paltz community and discuss more specific visions for sustainability.

Frank, who was the driving force behind this grant, said she was inspired by the integrated nature of the natural world. Nothing in natural ecosystems is wasted, a concept with which humans, Frank said, have become unfamiliar.

With her art and design expertise and passion for sustainability, Frank aims to open a community-wide dialogue about sustainability, ideally incorporating as many unique perspectives, different disciplines and varying levels of expertise as possible. Visual art, architectural design, engineering and science are only a few of the skills Frank’s lineup of professors and experts will bring to the table.

“We have to understand how to be inclusive and provide a space for the community,” Frank said.

Frank specializes in an area of artistic engagement called systems thinking, or systems drawings. This process involves using maps or models as visual aides to discuss and play with possible ideas for design and architecture. According to Frank, systems drawing stimulate participants around issues of sustainability. Students are encouraged to physically place their ideas on these maps or models, which gives them tools to visually conceptualize ideas that are often too complex to explain or understand otherwise.

Puthoff also utilizes systems drawing in her classes. Last semester, she taught Site Projects: Art in the Environment, during which she invited her students to draw their ideas for architecture and design directly onto these maps.

Through her expertise in sculptural practice, Puthoff plans to build models of the New Paltz community. These mobile structures or systems will be wheeled out into the community and locals will be invited to participate in similar systems drawing sessions. By engaging the local community with systems drawing and thinking, Puthoff and Frank hope to inspire residents to share their personal ideas of what sustainability means and how to actualize it in our community.

Their work, Frank said, is intended as a catalyst for New Paltz residents to address challenges offset by climate change and extinction of species.

Puthoff said that the majority of the grant money will go toward developing a 3D-printed model of the New Paltz community.

“I’m actually looking for funding to be able to hire students to help with the portable apparatus part of it,” Puthoff said. “The students who were in my class last semester are certainly engaged in the conversation and know the process of building these apparatuses.”

Puthoff, Frank and their team will meet with village Mayor Tim Rogers and other Village and Town Board members Sept. 14 to discuss their ideas for this project and community engagement. After that, Frank said, this project will be all systems go.