What or who gets to be the face of climate change? For years, imagery of polar bears on melting sea ice have been used to convey the pressing reality of the environmental crisis. While the effects of climate change are undoubtedly pronounced in the Arctic, its impacts in our local communities are often overlooked. “My Story is a Climate Story” reshapes the narrative of climate change from one of a distant and abstract danger into one of a threat that is increasingly impacting how our neighbors work and live today. The exhibit is currently on display at the Wrigley Marine Science Center (WMSC) on Catalina Island. Commissioned by Allison Agsten, the inaugural director of USC Annenberg’s new Center for Climate Journalism and Communication (CCJC) and the Wrigley Institute for Environment and Sustainability’s first curator, the project reflects CCJC’s mission of telling people-first stories that humanize the impacts and science behind climate change. “My Story is a Climate Story” consists of portraits of South and East Los Angeles residents taken by Maria Eberhart (B.A., Journalism ‘23), with accompanying text by Shreya Agrawal (B.S., Geological Sciences, B.A., English; and M.A., Journalism ‘23) detailing the residents’ experiences in September 2022’s historic heatwave. During the heatwave, which covered Los Angeles in a “heat dome” over ten days, temperatures reached all-time record highs. Initially, Eberhart sought to identify portrait subjects through Los Angeles-based social justice organizations. When Star Montana (M.F.A. ‘19) – who served as the visual advisor for the project and whose own art centers the stories of her Boyle Heights community – suggested that impromptu in-person interactions might elicit the most compelling photographs, Eberhart shifted course. “I started walking around different neighborhoods in Los Angeles that faced the highest risk of climate impact,” Eberhart said at USC’s 2023 Climate Forward Conference, where the project was first displayed in early April. “These communities lack the cooling infrastructure that wealthier neighborhoods take for granted, resources like trees and parks that can absorb heat.” “I spoke to people outside cooling centers in South L.A., walking to class at L.A. City College, selling t-shirts near Exposition Park, and working at a restaurant in Boyle Heights. Most of them were born and raised in Los Angeles and noticed the unusually severe heat affecting the city.” Carlos Cortez, a longtime L.A resident and Boyle Height restaurant owner, shared in his interview with Eberhart that he normally experiences a drop in sales in the summertime as customers avoid venturing out due to the heat. In September’s extreme weather, however, he had to completely close his restaurant for a week-and-a-half. In capturing the portraits and listening to each resident’s story, Eberhart realized that not only is climate change happening now in her own city, but also that its most adverse impacts are felt by low-income communities and communities of color. Her hope for “My Story is a Climate Story” is to convey both messages and to spark a sense of urgency to bring forth meaningful change. Given the project’s alignment with the Wrigley Institute’s mission to inspire actionable and equitable solutions for environmental challenges, it was only fitting to bring the art installation to the Wrigley Marine Science Center’s outdoor Art Park. Artist Maria Eberhart (left) and Wrigley Institute Curator Allison Agsten (right) worked in close collaboration on the “My Story is a Climate Story” project, which elevates people-first climate journalism. (Nick Neumann/WIES) Installed in the middle of the WMSC campus, the exhibit will be on display during the research center’s busiest time of the year. From May to early August, WMSC will welcome a wide range of visitors: undergraduate students in the Wrigley Institute’s Maymester Program, divers-in-training from the Scientific Diving Discovery Program, faculty and graduate students conducting field research on the island, and more. “As a physical space, the Art Park shares little in common with stark, temperature-controlled museums. I am curious to see what our visitor experience will be like this summer, when people encounter work about heat while [experiencing] the heat themselves,” Allison Agsten says. As Agsten continues her role as Wrigley Institute curator, she plans to develop more site-specific projects that are responsive to people and their environments. “I also think it would be great to create more opportunities for artists and scientists to intersect, on Catalina, at USC’s main campus, and beyond,” she says.
The Arts @ Wrigley
Harnessing the Power of Art for People and Planet
As part of our comprehensive, cross-disciplinary approach, the Wrigley Institute for Environment and Sustainability has made artistic endeavor an integral part of what we do.
The arts have a unique ability to capture people’s attention, seed change, and spur action. Our hope is that the projects on this page–and many more–will bring a new dimension to the climate conversation and galvanize people to create a more sustainable and equitable future for our planet and the people who live on it.
How We Do It
Through our ongoing environmental communications internship and standalone opportunities, such as spring 2022’s “Cool Globes” course, we train arts students to communicate science–and science students to integrate the arts into their work.
Faculty scientists become storytellers through our annual Storymakers program. We also support faculty who are merging the arts and sustainability through the creation of original works, such as poetry or paintings.
Reaching the public
By sponsoring or co-programming with public, climate-focused art exhibitions, we help reach a wider audience with the message of a more sustainable and equitable future.
News About our Arts Engagements
As part of the USC Wrigley Institute for Environment and Sustainability’s Earth Month 2023 celebrations, we amplified the work of eight talented nature photographers from the USC community on our Instagram feed. From awe-inspiring moments captured below the ocean’s surface to chilling sights that depict the inextricable relationship between people and their environment, these photographs not only remind us of the beauty of life on our planet, but also the importance of efforts that help to protect it. See the photos and their stories below. Burst courtesy of Tyler Schiffman “On this particular winter day, the break wall in Monterey Bay had over 40-foot vis for 3 days straight – a very rare set of conditions. I had been shooting kelp bursts all day while the light exploded through the canopy above. I sat on the bottom of the sea floor with my camera set, waiting for a California Sea Lion to swim by. After five minutes, one curiously swam up to me and paused for a few seconds. I took three quick photos, and as quickly as he appeared, he was gone in the blink of an eye.” Tyler Schiffman ’17 is an award-winning international photographer who has devoted his career to taking photographs and making films that will make a true impact in our world. While at USC, he majored in environmental science and health. To see more of his work, visit tylerschiffman.com. Rhino Ranger courtesy of Davis Huber “While on an evening game-drive in the Sera Rhino Sanctuary, we saw Loijipu and Salome in the distance and headed their direction. As Loijipu walked around picking off the occasional green leaves from the rugged brush, Salome would follow him, uttering quiet Swahili words to the orphaned baby. As I saw the sun setting behind Salome, I framed it just beneath her shoulder, stopped down for the starburst, and waited for the composition to reveal itself. When Loijipu raised his head, flared his hooked upper lip, and Salome tilted her head back in an almost mimicked fashion, it all came together and I pressed the shutter. I knew I had a powerful image so I stopped taking additional images, and just enjoyed the moment. In many areas in northern Kenya, Black Rhinos have gone extinct in the wild. This was the case in the Sera Conservancy but thanks to efforts by the Sera Rhino Sanctuary and the Northern Rangelands Trust, this fascinating, innocent species may soon be reintroduced to the wild. This is Loijipu, a two-year-old black rhino orphan, and Salome, a ranger that looks after and cares for the baby rhino. Loijipu’s mother abandoned him at birth so rangers at the Sera Rhino Sanctuary have taken him in and are raising him until he is old enough to fend for himself. Salome is one of a handful of rangers that watches over Loijipu 24/7 to ensure the orphaned rhino is safe from poachers who may seek interest in his horn. The bond that has formed between rhino and ranger is incredibly powerful to see. This image conveys hope that when enough dedicated, passionate individuals care about our world and the wildlife that we share it with, true positive change can take place. Among all the turmoil surrounding the environment, it is inspiring to see local communities come together with boots on the ground to protect wildlife and other endangered species.” Davis Huber ’18 is a California-based filmmaker, photographer, and conservationist. Davis specializes in documentary filmmaking with a focus on conservation storytelling, underwater cinematography, natural history, and outdoor lifestyle branded content. While at USC, he majored in marine biology and environmental science and health. To see more of his work, visit davishuber.com. Giant Sea Bass courtesy of Yannick Peterhans “Over the summer while working at the Wrigley Marine Center Center, I swam with a 500-pound giant sea bass for about 90 minutes. I dove with the gentle giant along the shore of Big Fisherman Cove, diving below, around and sometimes right at this massive fish. He never really seemed super bothered and always came back for another look, regardless of what I was doing with my camera. Once we swam back to the docks the sea bass ended the dive right where I started, going back into the open waters as I exited the water.” Yannick Peterhans BA ’22, MA ’23 is an award-winning photojournalist with a passion for spot news and conservation storytelling. He is the senior photo desk editor at USC Annenberg Media and designated student photographer for USC Athletics. This spring, Peterhans is graduating with a master of arts in specialized journalism from USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. To see more of his work, visit peterhansphotography.com. Dell City courtesy of Joe Árvai “In June of 2021, I was riding a motorcycle east, from California through Texas, when I came upon a billboard advertising the ‘growing community’ of Dell City. It was 104 F (40℃) when I made the photo; a hot, uncomfortable, and thirsty 104 F. I found the landscape to be beautiful. And eerie. Eerie because, in spite of the billboard, I couldn’t see anything nearby that even resembled a city. On a lark I turned north and I found Dell City about 13 miles later. It turns out it’s a real place. Incorporated in 1948 after the discovery of an underground water supply by oil prospectors, Dell City attracted farmers to the area. But the community never took off. Its population in the 1950s was around 500. A few years ago, it was more like 350. And, year by year, that number is dropping. Visiting Dell City, I found the toughness of its residents to be surpassed only by the harshness of its environment and climate. And, in the end, it was that contrast which took me back to this billboard: In spite of promises made by people about opportunity and prosperity, nature will always have the final say.” Joe Árvai is the Director of the Wrigley Institute for Environment and Sustainability; a professor of biological sciences and psychology at USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences; and a 2022 Wrigley Storymakers Program Fellow. His research focuses on how people form opinions and make decisions that have social and environmental consequences. Although primarily a researcher and professor, Árvai also leans into photography as a creative outlet and medium for storytelling. He aims to convey the emotions experienced by whoever and whatever lives in the places he photographs. To view more of his work, visit thatguyfromla.com. Courtesy of Montana Denton “I hiked the Kepler Track in November of 2022. Located in Fiordland National Park on the South Island of New Zealand, this was one of several of the Department of Conservation’s Great Walks that I completed during the seven months I lived there. Over four days I hiked 60 kilometers (just over 37 miles), taking in a plethora of New Zealand’s best natural scenery — plunging glacial valleys, towering limestone bluffs, stark ridgelines coated in scrubby tussocks and patches of snow, ancient beech and podocarp forests, and native plants and birds (especially the inquisitive kea, the world’s only alpine parrot!). I documented my adventure in an article for the country’s leading conservation magazine, Forest & Bird, in the hopes that my words and photos will inspire others to experience the track for themselves!” Montana Denton ’22 holds a bachelor’s degree in environmental studies from USC and plans to return this summer to begin coursework for her master of arts in specialized journalism from USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, focusing on climate issues. To view more of her work, visit montanadenton.com. Courtesy of Marcela Riddick and Stevie Gray “We visited Yosemite Valley on our week-long trip to nine California National Parks in August 2022. Our trip lined up with the peak of the heatwave, and we were forced to reflect on the state of our climate as we passed through numerous burn scares across the state. While we were in Yosemite, the valley was consumed by the thick smoke of a nearby wildfire, a smell we’re all too familiar with; the rainbow visible in this image is being cast over the smoke. Observing beauty in the midst of a natural disaster felt simultaneously jarring and grounding. However, it has allowed us to continue dialogue about the future of our natural spaces and our place in them.” Marcela Riddick ’22 (who is also the Wrigley Institute Engagement Coordinator!) and Stevie Gray ’22are the co-founders of riddick & gray, a consultancy specializing in impact-centered media projects, start-up social enterprises, and sustainable concept design. Riddick holds an MS in social entrepreneurship from USC Marshall School of Business and Gray holds a BA in film and television from USC School of Cinematic Arts. To see more of their work, visit riddickandgray.com. Courtesy of Nick Neumann “In the spring of 2015, just days after graduating from college in Rochester, NY (my hometown), I decided to take a leap and drive across the US with a couple of friends with no route, timeline, or solid plan in mind. For several months, we drove from state to state, national park to national park, taking in the diverse beauty this country has to offer. My final destination ended up being Southern California. Little did I know, this impromptu adventure would lead me to starting a new life in California, where I have been residing ever since. The last picture in the series was taken on my very first night in California. Throughout the day, the horizon was lined with beautiful clouds with hints of green and pink. It wasn’t until the sun set that I realized they weren’t clouds at all. Even from 40 miles away, you understood the wildfire’s power.” Nick Neumann has a strong passion for outdoor exploration, storytelling, and environmental conservation. Nick is always looking for a great story with visual appeal, so if you’re in the Wrigley universe and have a lead, feel free to shoot him an email at email@example.com.