In the Charlottesville community and beyond, a warming planet has disproportionately affected marginalized communities through the increased likelihood of heat islands, higher average summer temperatures and reduced green space. To draw attention to the issue, the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center has partnered with The Equity Center – a UVA Democracy Initiative Center for the Redress of Inequity through Community-engaged Scholarship – and UVA Sustainability to host an exhibit titled Picturing Climate Justice.

The free, interactive exhibit seeks to highlight the inequitable effects of a warming planet on low-income communities and communities of color through youth artwork and interactive data tools. Understanding the nuances of an inequitable environmental experience can be challenging, so the exhibit aims to break down barriers to understanding differing experiences through personal anecdotes and data visualizations.

Interested community members can visit the exhibit Tuesdays through Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. through May 28. 

The pieces of artwork included in the exhibit were created in the summer of 2021 when youth from the Greater Charlottesville community were brought together in a collaboration between local groups to create collages, paintings, and commentary that clue the observer into the daily experience of climate change in the community. 

heatstripes
The "heat stripes" represent average global temperatures over the past many decades, producing a visual representation of the warming planet.

What originally began as a way to teach youth about global warming and its implications through programs in art evolved into a full exhibit exploring climate data in the region. The exhibit also amplifies a valuable conversation about the significance of youth involvement at the intersection of equity and the environment.

The displayed artworks include a painting of heat stripes depicting rising yearly temperatures in Charlottesville from 1895 to 2018, a photovoice project in response to expansion proposals for Buford Middle School that threaten the Buford City Schoolyard Garden, and a compilation of collages indicating youth preferences for summertime activities may be changing.

The exhibit also utilizes public data from the Census, the American Community Survey, and more for use in a variety of data tools that provide insights to its users and help them gain a more robust awareness of climate injustice. Through the Charlottesville Regional Climate Equity Atlas, visitors can explore the relationship between various factors, such as socioeconomic status, race, age, and health conditions across census tracts in the Charlottesville region.

picturing-climate-justice-art

Another available interactive data visualization is a collection of data stories based on a combination of demographic, economic, and environmental data titled “Picturing Climate Stories.” The data stories cover heat islands, health outcomes, and energy burden as well as the factors that are related to their prevalence. 

The final data tool is a digital project called Local Warming by the Democratization of Data Initiative at the Equity Center. This visualization draws on a mural painted by Charlottesville youth and artist James “Jae” Johnson of the Bridge Progressive Arts Initiative to demonstrate the local effects of global warming. The mural, which is located in the Rose Hill Neighborhood of Charlottesville, was based on the heat stripe artwork also on display in the exhibit. Through this tool, visitors can listen to the unique pattern of changing temperatures in each locality of the Charlottesville region. 

Through the use of these tools and the compilation of youth artwork, the exhibit aims to increase understanding of climate injustice in Charlottesville’s very own community. It further acts as a starting point for an equitable response to climate change and a call to action in the sphere of climate justice. At the end of the exhibit, visitors are encouraged to express their thoughts on the insights they’ve drawn throughout their visit and any suggestions they had for data they would like to see included in the future development of the data tools.

“There are a lot of individuals, organizations, and institutions that care about the issue of climate change and climate injustice,” said Michael Salgueiro, Research Programs Manager at The Equity Center. “Youth-based programs led by organizations like Cultivate Charlottesville and the Community Climate Collaborative also have the creative imagination and the data to be able to understand the problem and produce a just response. We have it all, it’s just a matter of local stakeholders taking the steps necessary to animate that response."

Michael Salgueiro, Research Programs Manager at The Equity Center
Michael Salgueiro, Research Programs Manager at The Equity Center, talks to two attendees at the March opening.

This multifaceted exhibit is the product of multiple community partnerships with foundational community organizations including: Community Climate Collaborative (C3), Cultivate Charlottesville, Wildrock, the UVA School of Architecture Project Pipeline Youth Design Mentorship Program, the Bridge Progressive Arts Initiative, Charlottesville Boys & Girls Club, the Uhuru Foundation, the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center, The Equity Center -- a UVA Democracy Initiative Center for the Redress of Inequity through Community-engaged Scholarship -- and UVA Sustainability.

Jia Williams

Jia Williams is a 3rd-year student at UVA studying Leadership & Public Policy and Economics. She's an intern for the Outreach, Engagement and Communication team at the Office for Sustainability, working at the intersection of equity and the environment. Her goal is to remove barriers to sustainability and ultimately make it accessible for all students and community members. 

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