Juvenescence: Amherst Regional Students Combine Love Of The Arts With Passion For Activism

Photo: Marisol Bonifaz

Rebekah Hong promptly picks up my FaceTime call, her face coming into focus as she sits on her front porch. The grumble of lawnmowers and faint screech of songbirds can be heard in the background, indicative of a long-awaited spring. 

Hong, an Amherst Regional High School (ARHS) junior, is the face behind the recently-founded student initiative Art for Clean Energy, in which students ages five through eighteen submit artwork or creative writing inspired by nature and environmental action. The art will be compiled into an anthology soon after the April 23 submission deadline. 

“I wanted to kind of combine my love for the arts and my passion for activism and environmental sustainability into a project. That’s kind of how this came about.” said Hong, in regard to the project’s inspiration. 

“We were both actually really inspired by the huge wave of activism within the past few years, especially with environmental action like Greta Thunberg,” said Art for Clean Energy co-founder Elaine Wu. 

Hong and Wu, also an ARHS junior, reached out to Amherst Sunrise to put the plan into action. Amherst Sunrise occasionally partakes in political campaigns and phone banking although environmental activism is the primary focus. Said Hong, “I knew I needed to have a strong team of people who were equally motivated as me to actually do this project and follow through with it.” 

From my observations, the past year of COVID circumstance has prompted a wave of community youth activism, due largely in part to the Black Lives Matter movement and organized encouragement from BIPOC. Social media remains central to high school engagement, where content can be reposted and spread across various platforms. 

As such, activism outreach requires adaptation to our virtual environment. Aside from reaching out to various local newspapers and posting on the school morning announcements, Hong and Wu utilized Instagram to publicize Art for Clean Energy. 

“Honestly, with everything online this year, I don’t know how many people are actually looking at that kind of stuff,” said Hong. “So we ended up contacting teachers directly at the elementary school and middle school and high school, to ask if we could do a presentation to put a face on the project.” Members of Amherst Sunrise joined the co-founders in presenting to elementary level online classes. 

According to Wu, submissions have been successful, with more expected up until the final deadline. Wu loved viewing the art and writing, much of which was creative and passionate, she said. 

“The people who are willing to submit art for something that doesn’t have a very direct reward shows that the people who are submitting are genuinely very passionate about this subject,” said Hong. “You’re not submitting to get some sort of accolade. You want to care for the environment and get your message across to the older people who are going to eventually read this.”

Profits from the anthology will eventually go to Beyond Coal, a campaign through the Sierra Club that aims to “close all coal plants in the U.S. and replace them entirely with sources of clean energy,” according to their website

“When we were venturing out for environmental organizations to donate to, I was looking for a more successful organization that would work through local grassroots and things like that,” said Hong.

For Wu, the coal industry’s detrimental effect hits close to home. Growing up in West Virginia, she experienced the environmental impact of coal mining first hand. 

“Coal mining itself [is] super unethical. The wages and the mining conditions especially [are] extremely dangerous, and also it’s just terrible for the environment in general,” she said. “It ruins the soil and they just completely cut off the top of the mountain. You can’t really grow anything there, so it’s just wasteland. Also, a lot of the liquids they use they just dump into natural rivers, and it contaminates the water.”

Hong and Wu are optimistic about Art for Clean Energy’s potential to continue and even expand after this school year. . Hong explained that some students expressed interest in performing arts submissions. “[One student] was planning on doing something related to composing to raise money for a specific cause. It’s more indirectly related to the environment itself, but when people pay for the actual composition, the money [would go] towards an environmental organization. That’s just one example of how this could potentially continue,”

The potential for a performing arts event, gallery, or general Art for Clean Energy expansion serves as a reminder of the coming coronavirus recovery, highlighting the potency of environmental action. While Hong and Wu approach their senior year, continual youth participation remains necessary for environmental action in the Amherst community. 

Anthology submissions and preorders are available here

Juvenescence is a monthly column focusing on area youth. Readers with suggestions for future stories can reach the author at annaliseipeterson@gmail.com.

Annalise Peterson is a senior at Amherst Regional High School, where she can be found running cross country, stage managing, and playing ultimate. Her writing has appeared in ARHS’s The Graphic, the New England High School Journalism Collaborative’s The Vanguard, and the Amherst Indy.

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