Earth Week paints Bovard green

Four speakers sit on teal couches on the Bovard stage. There is an Arts & Climate Collective design on the big screen projected behind them.
The event featured artist showcases, sustainable food tastings, a Resource Fair and speaker presentations from the Arts & Climate Collective about advocacy and environmental justice. (Louis Chen | Daily Trojan)

People perused showcased artists and sustainable food tastings flooded the yard in front of Bovard Auditorium Wednesday evening for USC’s Earth Week celebration. Students walking past on Trousdale Parkway could see the tables set up advocating for sustainability and environmental justice.

The celebration consisted of a Resource Fair, held outside the auditorium from 4:30 to 5:45 p.m., followed by speaker presentations from 6 to 7:30 p.m. The event featured Ron Finley, also known as the “Gangsta Gardener,” and the Arts & Climate Collective, a collection of student activists and artists involved in the movement for climate and environmental justice. 

The speaker part of the event began with a welcome from President Carol Folt, before continuing with presentations from the Arts & Climate Collective facilitated by Colin Maclay, a research professor of communication and an ACC faculty adviser. ACC members Jaime Lopez, a doctoral student studying urban planning and development and digital media and culture, Diana Salinas Vargas, a junior majoring in public policy and Eytan Stanton, a sophomore majoring in geodesign, spoke on their projects in the organization and their journeys in environmentalism. 

Following these presentations, Finley launched into his speech.

Finley began his work in 2010, driven by a goal to resolve the issue of forgotten patches of dirt within the neighborhood parkways of South Central Los Angeles. He began gardening then and fought for his community’s ability to plant and grow food. The region’s low access to fresh produce inspired him to use gardening as a tool to change lives.

“Food is a cornerstone of civilization,” Finley said. “We need to start saving our seeds and saving ourselves and saving the country. That’s what this whole thing’s about. We together must … redesign our communities.”

The idea to bring in Finley as the event’s guest speaker came from Alyssa Tan, a graduate student studying public policy and USC Office of Inclusion and Diversity’s diversity coordinator.

Tan said Finley felt like the right person to bring because he is “right in our backyard.”

“[Finley’s] story is such a powerful testimony to what can happen when people start where they are and believe in something and go about making it happen,” Tan said. 

After Finley’s speech, he, along with students from the ACC, led a conversation about increasing and broadening the impact of “artivism,” activism through art. The conversation was facilitated by the University’s Chief Inclusion and Diversity Officer Christopher Manning. The three students included were Irene Franco Rubio, a junior majoring in sociology; Hannah Flynn, a graduate student studying landscape architecture and urban planning and Imani Johnson, a USC alumna.

Franco Rubio, an organizer with Communities for a Better Environment through Dornsife’s Agents of Change program, complimented ACC as a great community to be a part of. 

“Everyone kind of has their own approach to environmental justice work,” Franco Rubio said. “Whether that be, in my case, creating a community podcast that I’ve started in Arizona and am working on, or in other student cases, doing artwork.”

In an interview with the Daily Trojan, Manning said students should be curious about ways to further connect with sustainability in L.A. 

“There are so many justice-oriented sustainability movements in L.A. and Southern California,” Manning said. “Learn what’s out there and try to find something that matches your heart’s desire to make an impact, and, when you find it, throw yourself in.”