In a world fraught with environmental challenges, the synergy of art and activism has emerged as a potent force for change. Meet Hannah Tizedes, an extraordinary artist and environmental activist. Raised amidst the natural splendor of Michigan and the majestic Great Lakes, Hannah witnessed the disheartening sight of litter washing ashore on these pristine beaches. This experience ignited her passion for environmental conservation.
Hannah’s journey epitomizes the transformative potential of creativity. She embarked on a mission to collect plastic debris from beaches worldwide, fashioning these discarded fragments into captivating works of art. Her art serves a dual purpose: raising awareness about plastic pollution and climate change, and inspiring individuals to take concrete actions for a cleaner, more sustainable planet. In this exclusive interview, Hannah shares her inspirational odyssey, the genesis of The Cleanup Club, and her insights on the intersection of art and environmental advocacy.
Dive into her world, where vibrant creativity converges with climate activism, and discover how Hannah is kindling hope amidst the formidable challenges of our time.
Can you tell us about your journey as an environmental activist and artist? How did you become interested in addressing environmental issues through art?
I was raised by creative and resourceful parents. My mom was always crafting or pit-stopping at garage sales and my dad was always entertaining my elaborate clubhouse buildout ideas or building something functional out of scrap materials. But it wasn’t until later in my life that I came to appreciate those acts for who they made me today.
At university, I paired my creative studies with sustainability studies, worked at the campus recycling center where I was able to explore fun creative projects, and began collecting trash from my travels around the world & the Great Lakes for art pieces I was brainstorming. After learning more about plastic pollution and seeing it from coast to coast, but especially its impact on my home state’s shorelines, I knew I wanted to use my creativity as a vehicle for change. My hope is and was to create art that makes people take a deeper look – literally and figuratively – at the impact plastic pollution has on the planet. I hope people feel inspired to do what they can, with what they have, wherever they are for a less trashy earth.
You have a very unique style of creating your artworks with plastic, and microplastic. Why did you choose this medium?
I’m from Michigan, so I grew up surrounded by the Great Lakes. These lakes hold ~90% of the US’s freshwater, provide drinking water to 40+ million people, offer endless amounts of beauty, and are home to thousands of plants and animals. They’re so special. And yet every year it’s estimated that around 22 million pounds of plastic pollution enters them. At the same time, I have always been captivated by the rainbow of plastic I find on their shorelines. So I created something with those pieces to help tell the story I was witnessing.
As the founder of The Cleanup Club, could you tell us more about the initiative and its goals? How do you encourage others to get involved in cleaning up their communities and reducing plastic waste?
The Cleanup Club is a nonprofit dedicated to educating communities on Great Lakes plastic pollution while having fun through cleanups, collaborations, conversations & creativity. I think so often people feel overwhelmed with climate news or plastic pollution news, yet they want to help make the world a better place. And I wanted to help make that super simple while building a community of people that care. It doesn’t matter if you’re an engineer, local barista, or school teacher – everyone is welcome to join in. I also do my best in providing uplifting experiences for everyone so instead of walking away from a cleanup thinking “shit, that was a lot of trash, what now?” people can walk away with resources to local zero-waste shops & refillers, with fun sustainable giveaways in hand, and more. That way, their positive impact doesn’t just stop at the cleanup.
What challenges have you faced as an environmental activist and artist? How do you navigate these challenges and stay motivated to continue your work?
I always try to look at the bright side of things. The little actions add up and it’s really incredible to have people tell me that they’re inspired by my work and because of it, they did X, Y, or Z. I’ve definitely hit bumps in the road where I’ve thought, “what is this all for?” or “does my work even matter?” but then I go outside and I’m reminded of my why. The beauty of this amazing planet we get to call home is the best reminder out there and that’s why I continue to advocate to protect it.
How do you believe art can be a powerful tool for raising awareness about environmental issues? What role do you think art can play in inspiring action and driving positive change?
I believe art is an incredibly important tool in raising awareness about environmental issues. Art makes us feel something. Art is powerful. Whether it’s through music, painting, literature, photography, and so on, art has the ability to story-tell so many different narratives when it comes to issues we feel deeply about. I think that inspiration can then be transformed into action and the art can be used as a vehicle for positive change.
How do you think artists can collaborate to make the climate movement stronger and more fruitful?
There are endless possibilities for artists to collaborate and help convey moving messages regarding climate change. I think we’re continuing to see more collaborations around these topics which is wonderful, however, I think we do need to be aware of greenwashing when it comes to brand collaborations and partnerships and stay true to our ‘why’ in this work (aka Earth).
As an artivist, how do you balance the artistic and activist aspects of your work? How do you ensure that your art remains impactful and thought-provoking while also conveying a message of hope and empowerment?
I love making my work colorful. For me, that’s really important because I think colorful things are joyful. I also do my best at providing context behind materials I use to help educate people on things I’m finding on the beach like microplastics, mesoplastics, etc. while providing ways to take action through policy and local advocacy efforts.
What’s your take on climate optimism?
I think optimism in all aspects of life is a wonderful thing. The world we live in nowadays can be filled with so much doom & gloom, so like José Gonzalez, Founder of Latino Outdoors said, we need more “do and bloom” instead.
What would your advice be to someone in the climate movement who feels hopeless and burned out?
The weight of the planet does not need to sit on your shoulders. It is a collective effort towards a better future for all. Whenever you’re feeling down, get outside. Kick off your shoes and go play in nature. Then, find a local organization making a positive impact and get involved. A community can be so healing too – to both ourselves and the planet.
How do you envision your future?
Filled with gratitude and love for the people, places, and spaces I get the opportunity to know, explore, and nourish. I’m less focused on how I want the future to look and more focused on how I want it to feel.
Who are your biggest inspirations?
There are so many but at the end of the day, I love watching people thrive and grow doing what they love. Those are the people who inspire me most, people who follow their passions – and bonus points when it’s an earth-friendly passion, of course.
How can others join you in the climate movement or support your work?
People can feel free to follow my work on Instagram, @hannahtizedes, (where I share the majority of my art & advocacy), and/or follow my nonprofit’s work and learn more about Great Lakes plastic pollution and our efforts to protect them at www.thecleanupclub.org.
This is a part of a series where Green & Beyond Mag explores the stories and takes a peek at the lifestyles of incredible people like green entrepreneurs, innovators, climate advocates, activists, community leaders, and content creators, all around the world, who love the planet, and are working tirelessly to make the world a better place.