Finding flowers

Sheila Colla says that the late Mi’kmaq artist Mike MacDonald created pollinator gardens as spaces for contemplation. | Photo courtesy of Pixabay

The late Mi’kmaq artist Mike MacDonald (1941–2006) planted a number of butterfly gardens across Canada to bring awareness to people about habitat destruction and the impacts on wildlife and medicinal plants. Many of his pieces focused on his surroundings, especially nature, and one of his main projects was the series Butterfly Gardens. He drew inspiration for his work from his aboriginal background as well as Western sources and science.

Finding Flowers: Examining Intersections of Art, Ecology, and Pedagogy, inspired by MacDonald’s vision, is an online seminar aimed to bridge art and science in order to promote conservation and a better understanding of human connection to the natural world. The seminar will be held on Feb. 11.

Sheila Colla, a trained ecologist and co-leader of Finding Flowers, says MacDonald created the pollinator gardens as spaces for contemplation. These spaces were also a form of resistance in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Given how mainstream they are today, Colla thinks how interesting it is to see the effects of MacDonald’s work. He also created a video installation called Touched by the Tears of a Butterfly in 1994. As someone with a deep connection to nature, Macdonald remains a significant contemporary artist to this day.

“Our project builds on his work to further the conversation around relations between people, pollinators, plants, and land,” says Colla. “We incorporate scientific study, like understanding pollination systems, community service, and art to deepen the conversation and facilitate knowledge-sharing.” Finding Flowers is a two-year project funded by the federal tri-council New Frontiers grant, which supports interdisciplinary research.

The seminar will go into detail about the Finding Flowers project and include the Colla’s and co-PI Lisa Myers’ research findings.

An admirable dedication

As an ecologist and assistant professor, Colla has been studying pollinator decline for over a decade and was one of the first to document the decline of native bees in North America.

“I am a conservation scientist and have worked on a variety of government documents and politics around pollinators in addition to publishing scientific research on the subject,” adds Colla. “My Native Pollinator Research Lab also focuses on the conservation management of at-risk species and bringing the research to the policy-science interface.”

Colla is eager to bring her experiences to Finding Flowers. In her studies, she found that the loss of pollinators and native landscapes threaten natural ecosystems’ sustainability and the people connected to these biological processes. The Finding Flowers project includes various activities such as the replanting of MacDonald’s Butterfly Gardens across Canada, pollination studies of medicinal plants, and knowledge-sharing events like the upcoming seminar.

Raising awareness through conversations

“Our disciplinary work values diverse knowledge systems to connect people to the environment they live in,” says Colla. “These kinds of conversations are important to have so that people can see that there are multiple issues and perspectives.”

Colla argues that solving environmental challenges requires a holistic understanding that can only be reached through these types of discussions. For now, she remains hopeful to see even more progress on conservatism in the future.

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