Drawing the Line on Climate: String Survey

Natural Leadership

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From downtown Minneapolis to Lowertown Saint Paul, the 7th annual Northern Spark all-night arts festival took place from dusk on June 10th to dawn on June 11th. The event engaged more than 45,000 attendees in all forms of public art, all tied to the theme “Climate Chaos: People Rising.”
Among the 415 artists who presented their work, Arlene Birt (MASD faculty), Jack Becker (’76), Nichole Goodwell, and Randy Walker created “String Survey,” a 50-foot data visualization of participants’ thoughts and opinions on climate change.
With strings color-coded by age group, survey takers answered a series of four, scaled questions:
  • How much do you believe extreme weather is tied to climate chaos?
  • To what extent will climate chaos affect you, personally, during your lifetime?
  • How important to you is addressing climate chaos?
  • How much of a role do you feel you currently play in addressing climate chaos?
At the end of the survey, participants were invited to write down their thoughts onto tags that were attached to the end of their string. By the end of the 9-hour installation, these tags spread up into the branches of the tree holding the last question panel.
Data collected showed that 570 participants engaged directly with “String Survey” (those that tied on a string response), although it is estimated that thousands more participated in the overall installation — including those who accompanied the string respondent (but did not tie their own string), onlookers, and passerby who stopped to read the tags or appreciate the ever-expanding wall of color strings.
The age range of participants included:
57% — 20-29 year-olds
12% — 30-39 year-olds
12% — 19 years and younger
10% — 40-49 year-olds
5% — 50-59 year-olds
3% — 60-69 year-olds
1% — 70 years and older
The installation sparked numerous conversations related to climate change. Many participants debated their answers with their friends, and observed how certain age groups tracked throughout the survey. One trend that emerged from the installation: “String Survey” showed that while people feel a strong need to act on climate, they see their individual role in addressing the challenge to be less apparent.
Watch the time lapse video below of the String Survey event at Northern Spark in 2017

“String Survey” was presented and supported by the Master of Arts in Sustainable Design Program and the MCAD Gallery at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design.

Image courtesy of Christopher Selleck.

Arlene Birt

Arlene Birt is an infodesigner, visual storyteller, public artist and educator. 

Founder and visual storyteller at Background Stories—an information design consultancy that works with organizations in the US, EU and UK—Arlene’s work translates complex ideas, systems and metrics into clear visuals that help people understand sustainability.

Her work on sustainability communication has resulted in several grants—including a Fulbright grant, invitations to present internationally and has been featured in numerous publications.

An alum of MCAD’s ES program, Arlene holds a Masters in Design from The Netherlands and has been teaching in MCAD’s Sustainable Design program since 2008. Following a 5+ year stint in Brussels, she is currently faculty in the ES program.

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