Students learn an environmental lesson from collaborative art project, Drawing C.O.R.A.L.

Christina Vandiver

CORAL MosaicAs carbon dioxide levels increase in the atmosphere due to burning fossil fuels and other activities, so do the ocean’s acidity levels. These changes in acidity have a direct impact on sea life, specifically organisms such as scallops, oysters, clams, sea urchins, phytoplankton, and hard corals that produce their own shells and skeletons through calcification. This was the lesson that nearly 1,000 students from 13 high schools and student organizations in South Carolina learned from the Drawing C.O.R.A.L. (Calcifying Organisms in a Rising Acidity Level) Project, an SC Governor’s School for the Arts and Humanities led outreach program sponsored by Duke Energy.

“As an arts-integrated project, our objective was to teach students about a current scientific problem and how artists can use their media to convey information that may positively contribute to public awareness and understanding,” said Elaine Quave, Governor’s School visual arts faculty member.

Students working with coral

The Drawing C.O.R.A.L. Project incorporated biology, chemistry, and visual arts concepts that students learn about in the ninth grade. Students examined real coral skeletal and fossil fragments, practicing the close observation skills of scientists and artists, while using basic drawing techniques, such as contour and cross-contour lines, to draw the unique forms of the coral. Each drawing was then used to create a larger mosaic image featuring coral diversity and a color gradient trending from blue to yellow. The color transition represents the change happening in ocean chemistry. As the yellow increases, so does the acidity level. 

As part of the Governor's School's mission to serve as a resource for teachers and students in South Carolina, initiatives like the Drawing C.O.R.A.L Project, are a part of a comprehensive series of outreach programs designed to bring together artists, educators, community organizations, and students. These initiatives seek to match the Governor’s School's resources with the needs and interests of schools and partners statewide.

Participating schools included Broome High School, Camden High School, Carolina High School, Gaffney High School, Greenville High School, Kingstree High School, Manning High School, South Aiken High School, Southside High School, Travelers Rest High School, and Wren High School. Students from the Laurens School District 55 Gifted and Talented Program, and the Pecan Street Boys and Girls Club of the Upstate also participated.

The C.O.R.A.L. mosaic is currently on display until September 1 at the Chapman Cultural Center, 200 East Saint John Street, Spartanburg, SC, in the Coldwell Banker Caine Youth Art Gallery in the Moseley Building (West Wing) on the second floor. Admission is free, and visitors are welcome Monday-Saturday, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.