Comics in the Classroom, Environmental Lessons Made Fun

Stories shape us, our beliefs and our culture. Those seeking to create a better world must engage in self-reflection and explore the narratives that guide our lives. As we recently learned from Robin Grille, the time and place where our brains are most susceptible to influence is during youth. Positive and conscious effort put towards the healthy education of children’s developing minds is perhaps one of the best things we can do to create a better future. In an age where technology and media is everywhere, many education models are often boring for students. They want to engage, they want learning to be entertaining, colorful, interactive and some educators are embracing these growing possibilities to enhance education with all sorts of media, including comic books.

Teaching through story is universal across cultures since the beginning of time. Indigenous people sat around the fire through the winter learning stories and oral histories. Sacred texts like The Bhagavad Gita teach moral lessons through parable. Folk music around the world bring wisdom through ballads about love, war, and loss. Today we obsess about heroes and villains through movies, television, novels, and comics.

I wrote a piece called Comics Instead of Textbooks a few years back when I first learned that schools in South Africa were having great success teaching about the life and legacy of Nelson Mandela through comic books. In it I write:

A few years back I read an inspiring book by Valerie Kirschenbaum called Goodbye Gutenberg: How a Bronx Teacher Defied 500 Years of Traditions and Launched an Astonishing Renaissance. Valerie’s students had the worst reading scores in her district, so she began making the text more visually pleasing for her students. Changing the colors and font of text, enlarging important words, using forward and reverse italics and incorporating design flow into the reading assignments. Her students reading scores rose to the top of the district in no time!

Since that time the field of transmedia, which is the technique of telling a single story or story experience across multiple platforms and formats using current digital technologies, has continued to erupt across the planet. There are endless opportunities to use this technology consciously to shape a new narrative that includes social justice, environmental stewardship, and cross-cultural respect. Graphic artist, Charlie LaGreca is one individual who is leading the charge.

In a recent project in collaboration with the CUNY Center for Urban Environmental Reform (CUER) and the Environmental Protection Agency, a comic book was created called Mayah’s Lot. Written by LaGreca and Rebecca Bratspies this story is about a young girl who plants a garden in a vacant city lot but then learns that they want to use the lot for storing toxic waste. The story follows her on her journey of organizing people to become active in protecting their community. It teaches students the importance of getting involved, and the process of making positive change in their neighborhood. In true transmedia style, the comic book is accompanied with lesson plans for a range of grade levels that work with Core Curriculum and a video (animated by Norman Dillon) which is suitable for classroom adoption. You can download the comic here.

I had the pleasure of working on a similar project with famed illustrators, Bret Blevins and native artist Ryan Huna Smith that teaches the importance of following your dreams and honoring the interconnectedness of all life in nature. The story, called Giggle Bubble Dreams also encourages children to add color to other peoples dreams thus fostering a sense of cooperation and creative expression. Indian Super Hero, Frybread Man, shares historical wisdom about the origin of frybread, the deep cultural resilience of indigenous people in North America, and the importance of eating healthy food.

Stories and creative media are not just for children, but conscious attention should be directed at developing stories that positively influence their psychological and emotional development. What kinds of stories are you drawn to, and what does that say about your own deeply held belief systems? Together we can support each other to develop new stories and dream of a better future for all. The next step is to take action for the things we truly believe are possible and manifest them. We have never had access to so many tools and technology to create a better world, let’s do it!

***This post originally appeared on UPLIFT Connect***

A Love That’s Louder Than Rage: the Beautiful Revolution

At first I thought… The most powerful thing that you can do for your people, your future, your land, your air, your water is to fight and die for what you believe in. But it’s not true… you have to LIVE for what you believe in.

So begins the wise words of 13-year old Sliammon Native Youth, Ta’Kaiya Blaney in a recent video (below) by Indigenous Rising. If you are like me then you will be moved to tears by hearing what she has to say after that in the video, but you’ll have to watch it to find out. I recently had the pleasure of talking with Ta’Kaiya about the video while delving into the changing face of social engagement that is bringing healing for our communities and the environment.

We have to live for what we believe in.


Often when we look at anger, heartache, grief, that is all that we see, but the deeper truth is that these are expressions of love, of awakening. Whether we are seeing these tough emotions in ourselves, or others it is never easy but it is imperative for growth. Ta’Kaiya speaks from the perspective of being native, but the sentiments are universal, spanning cultures, continents and time:

When I first started attending rallies that were protesting the actions of large companies, I saw a lot of rage with very little focus on solutions, on what’s next. Sometimes you don’t have the luxury to be diplomatic when you are being oppressed, but it is still always important to show love whenever you can. Communities are wounded and in disrepair and that is common to all of us. By representing love and inclusivity other people will feel less threatened which makes it easier to find commonality.

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Indigenous activists, Ta’kaiya Blaney and Kandi Mossett at The People’s Climate March in NYC.

I remember in the early days of the Idle No More Movement being awe-struck by seeing natives take to the streets and public places with drums, singing and dancing. It was beautiful, cultural, positive, and yet it was bringing attention to some very painful truths. In Idle No More, Hints of a Global Super-Movement I write about this emerging phenomena and close with a video of Ta’Kaiya speaking at a rally when she was only 11. Together we have seen so much growth and evolution since then, it is a very exciting time to participate in our unfolding future.

Velcrow Ripper has made enormous contributions with films like Scared Sacred, and Occupy Love that encourage us to bring a spiritual perspective to our work for positive planetary change. Takaiya mentioned a sentiment that many activists often hold, “Spirituality is not a bypass for being active about things that matter in the world.” We reflected together how powerful it is when activists embody love and spiritual practitioners take action. The result is an all-inclusive beautiful revolution, and exactly what we need right now on planet earth.

Last year at this time Ta’Kaiya collaborated with Unify on the World Water Day Campaign, #lovewater. The result was a very powerful video that ended up making the rounds on Upworthy, Huffington Post and many other outlets. Since this years #lovewater campaign is about to launch for World Water Day on March 22nd- a collaboration between UPLIFT, Unify and some other amazing partners-  I asked her how she felt about working with Unify:

Working with Unify evoked a hopeful spirit in me. (it was) A really beautiful exercise in representing love. I hope to work with them again.

Rage can become addictive and it is sometimes exactly what is needed but we are here to remind ourselves to go deeper. Ta’Kaiya is doing that through her music and writings on her website, and also through her conservation efforts with other youth at Salish Sea Youth. She is poetic even when talking informally on the phone:

Like a plant that disrupts the soil making room for the roots to grow we have a lot to live for. Don’t react to the negative, instead make it a platform for something beautiful. We have a wonderful future waiting for us, I wish to know that I participated in that change.

I think we’d all like to feel that! So the question is, “What is your contribution to the Beautiful Revolution?” There is a growing community of people who want to support you in rising to the occasion. You can start by watching this videos above, as I have made sure not to tell you everything in this article, and share this with your friends and networks. Together we are loving louder, and that is something that will become more beautiful as it continues to grow.

**Post originally appeared on UPLIFT Connect**

Allied Vision

Our planet is imperiled. This has been clear to me since I was a small child. All of my life I have wanted to “save the planet”, but it wasn’t until I embraced my passion and gift as an artist that I realized that Art was how I’d do it. But I couldn’t do it alone. This is why I created Allied Vision. We can no longer afford to wait and watch as the planet crumbles; if we want a future, it is ours to make.

Allied Vision is dedicated to the preservation of life on earth as well as the evolution of human consciousness and culture. Our mission it to select organizations serving the highest good and amplify their impact through a continuing series of celebrity auctions of original visionary art. Though our auctions we generate funds and raise awareness for the organizations working not merely to create a better world, but working to create of a truly thriving human culture in balance with the world around us.

The idea that has become Allied Vision started more than two years ago with the painting  “Man in the Middle” – a painting I have nearly completed. As I lay in a hot spring, I saw floating before me a totem pole; a yellow eagle perched on the shoulders of a red man who rode on the back of a blue whale. “Man in the Middle” is about man’s unique position as keeper or destroyer of balance. Heavily integrated into the imagery is the theme of extinction; overlaid onto the eagle, man and whale is anatomically inspired skeletal imagery, which not only hints at mortality and extinction, but also emphasizes that beneath the surface, we are all the same. I hope this piece helps bring an end to whaling around the world and awakens the hearts and minds of the people still partaking in this barbaric tradition. I immediately understood that I would paint this vision and auction off the painting to raise money for Sea shepherd Conservation Society.

"Man in the Middle" Acrylic on Wood 30"x72". Work in progress by Vajra
“Man in the Middle” Acrylic on Wood 30″x72″. Work in progress by Vajra. More detailed photographs are included at the end of the article.

For those of you unfamiliar with Sea shepherd, SS is a direct-action group founded by Captain Paul Watson in 1977 in uncompromising defense of earth’s marine life. At the heart of their mission is the protection of whales and dolphins—self-aware, socially complex creatures of vast intelligence and incalculable consciousness. For more on Sea Shepherd’s fascinating history and to learn what they’re doing today, please visit

What began as a single painting I was making to donate to Sea Shepherd blossomed into a vision of an alliance of many individuals sharing their gifts and fortune, with the goal of planetary salvation and cultural evolution. Just as similar sound waves align to amplify one another, so to do we amplify our impact.

The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Allied Vision provides a perpetual platform for the evolution of consciousness where artists have a chance to share their work with a larger audience, and celebrities have a chance to use their wealth and status for the common good.

As a visionary artist, I make art to express the voice of my heart. My art is my chance to share my philosophy, hopes and dreams with the world. And I am not alone. As part of Allied vision, artists have a platform to share their purpose, mission and art with a large, attentive audience. To further encourage artists to participate and also to financially support the awakened artists of our time, 5% of the sale of the paintings created for the auction would go to the artist who created them (up until a point at which funds-to-the-artist are capped in favor of the benefitting organization).

Obviously, celebrities also stand to gain a great deal – but also to give a lot in return. By bidding at these auctions, celebrities earn the chance to win some of todays most brilliant and beautiful visionary art, through a tax-deductible donation to an organization they may even already support. Furthermore, supporting AV and the benefitting organizations is great for their public image. More importantly, celebrities who align with allied Vision have the opportunity to act as responsible role models for the world, using their influence and fortunes for the greater good.

Upon finishing “Man in the Middle” I intend to jump fully into the foundation of Allied Vision. To make this dream a reality, I will need a strong team of artists, organizers, networkers, media and publicity specialists, legal advisors, funds and celebrities. If you are one of these people and feel called to join the alliance, please use the contact form below or email me at Also, if there are any website developers (using Rapid Weaver) interested in donating their service, please contact me as well. Together we stand the chance to create something truly beautiful. Now is our time to act, let’s make Art work.

If you are interested in participating, please contact us and we’ll be in touch! Up-close images below…



Thunderbird detail: "Man in the Middle" Acrylic on Wood 30"x72" 2012-2014. Work in progress by Vajra

Shaman detail of "Man in the Middle" Acrylic on Wood 30"x72" 2012-2014. Work in progress by Vajra

Whale detail of "Man in the Middle" Acrylic on Wood 30"x72" 2012-2014. Work in progress by Vajra

Whale detail of “Man in the Middle” Acrylic on Wood 30″x72″ 2012-2014. Work in progress by Vajra


Art is Activism in Public Places

Advertising is used everywhere, on billboards and posters cluttering our visual landscape with messages to buy this or that. What if public space was used to convey an idea instead of a brand? What if advertising was used to inspire thought instead of encourage mindless consumption? For many years I thought everyone agreed that education was a good thing, but then I considered just how profitable it can be for some businesses if everyone remains ignorant. The internet is changing this sad truth and with the advent of social networks, people can share endless information about everything from politics to environmental or social issues. But what about public space, how can that be reclaimed transformed?

Recently I watched “Exit Through The Gift Shop“, which I highly recommend to anyone who hasn’t seen it. It’s about street art, reclaiming public space with creative and thought-provoking expression and it features Banksy, Shephard Fairey, Invader and many of the world’s most infamous underground artists. From cave drawings to urban graffiti, images and words shape the way we perceive the world yet the paradigm of competition and consumption continues to rule the visual landscape of the modern world.

Some argue that is human nature, but it isn’t exactly true. Humanity evolved from cooperation as much as it did from competition. Tribes, bands, communities have been the support network that has raised generations of people in cooperation. Even wars between tribes or nations showed much cooperation in each individual side as they fought the enemy. Where do we see messages of cooperation, of compassion, of inspiration in public spaces?

The life of a street artist might be a little too daring for the average person, but there are ways that artists find their own ways to inspire the community around them. Jeff Daverman of Root Concepts is one of them. He has made a successful business giving people a voice in public space with ideas that inspire. I had the opportunity to visit Jeff in his studio and see his philosophy in action. You’ve probably seen his stickers on Prius’s, hippie vans, in health food stores, street light posts, bikes, kids lunch-boxes sand yoga studios.

Jeff has the inspired notion to use stickers as a way to encourage dialogue, to make people think and to dream. Like many artists, and primarily street artists, Jeff understands that there is a battle of ideas occurring in public spaces. Another thing his stickers do is remind us of the words and lives of social justice heroes, encouraging us to reach our highest potential. Whenever I see his stickers around I am reminded that I am not the only one who dreams of something better. I am reminded that there is still a huge community of people who believe in cooperation, in working together and dreaming bigger for the sake of our future and our planet. When you watch this video, I’m sure you will recognize the work of an artist who has left his fingerprints all over the country.

I know there are many many other artists out there doing this kind of inspired works, tell me a few of your favorite…

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Chalk for Change: Students Inspire Community

In the fall of 2010 Culture Collective collaborated with Buildon in San Francisco and Oakland to create a video for the Chalk for Change program initiated by Tom Silverman. Chalk for Change challenges youth to inform themselves about important political, social, or environmental issues in their community and take to the street with a message. Students depict issues that are important to them using chalk in public places to spark dialogue with people passing by.

Tom invited Culture Collective Director, Jacob Devaney, to speak with the High School Students in this program about using social media and art to create positive change in their community. Afterwards, a video was created about the project for students to share through their Facebook and other social networks. We are happy to re-release the video on Facebook that it might encourage others to create something thought-provoking and beautiful in their community.

If you’d like to make something like this happen in your neighborhood, click here to download a PDF and go buy yourself some colored chalk 😉

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