In any STEMM field, it is essential to engage the public – this is particularly true in the realm of environmental sustainability. We asked Julia Landford, Founding Director of NatureArt Lab, a series of questions relating to her career journey and the relevance of art in the world of science.
- What is NatureArt Lab?
NatureArt Lab is a social enterprise established to promote engagement with nature and the environment through art/science classes, photography courses, field trips and nature tours. Our approach and programs focus in Australia is unique, with teaching programs which integrate art and science. They focus on creativity, curiosity and observation skills coupled with developing a better understanding of ecology, symbiotic relationships, biodiversity and threatened species. Most of our teaching team are women and our programs engage women from all walks of life.
“Over the later years of my government career, the need for a greater focus on our environment in Australia became increasingly clear to me.”
- What skills did you learn during your STEMM studies that helped you transition into roles in government and entrepreneurship?
My academic studies included social sciences, human ecology and botany. I completed a Graduate Diploma of Education (Monash University) and a Master of Applied Anthropology (Australian National University). This led to a career in international development for nearly twenty years with regional coordination roles in South-East Asia. I also served as a senior analyst and author of a global report for the United Nations in New York. I established the community arts organisation Wildlife and Botanical Artists (WABA) in Canberra which continued for around twenty years. On my return from New York, I began a consultancy business based on fascinating anthropological research concerning the impacts of emerging infectious diseases and differential impacts of disease on women and men in the Pacific region. I led the establishment of the Australia-ASEAN Council for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and worked with inspiring Australian and South-East Asian leaders through our many bilateral programs.
Over the later years of my government career, the need for a greater focus on our environment in Australia became increasingly clear to me. The community arts organisation that I’d established was also coming to a close. That’s when I decided to establish NatureArt Lab to provide a comprehensive art school with an environmental focus for Australia!
“Art and science go hand in hand, and both are closely interrelated with problem solving, critical thinking and innovation.”
- Why is it important to be blending the worlds of STEMM and art?
Art is an incredibly powerful medium for learning, observation and communication. By using art to explore scientific concepts and information, we can increase our understanding of natural phenomena and structure and create empathy for the environment. This will also build generations of people with a passion for nature and the environment. Art and science go hand in hand, and both are closely interrelated with problem solving, critical thinking and innovation. Art brings additional elements of emotional intelligence, imagination, creativity, empathy and connections with your subject. Some of the world’s greatest scientists were also artists. For example, the genius of Leonardo da Vinci and Albert Einstein – both of whom used observation and creativity to develop their scientific knowledge.
- Was there one defining moment which motivated you to pursue education in environmental sustainability?
Watching the unfolding disaster of Australia’s environmental decline and species loss over the last few decades is what has motivated me to focus on environmental education for sustainability. It was also apparent to me that we need to build a groundswell of public interest in nature, to ensure our population is environmentally literate, and able to defend our natural environments through a better understanding of its complexity and beauty.
“Making the transition from working in government to being an entrepreneur was an exciting new challenge.”
- What was one of your greatest challenges when establishing NatureArt Lab? How did you overcome it?
Making the transition from working in government to being an entrepreneur was an exciting new challenge. I brought a lifetime of interest in education, arts and the environment, but I also learnt many new skills – everything from setting up insurance, websites, design collateral and much more. I love a challenge though, and with a combination of consultation with experts, colleagues and friends I was able to get my business successfully established.
- What is something you wish you had known when you started your career and who has supported you in your career journey?
I would love to have taken the leap from public sector to private sector much sooner! It’s been so exciting running my own business and following my passion for art and nature. My interests and experiences, along with my many networks and colleagues over the last twenty years, have been inspiring and nurturing as my ideas and goals developed.
“I would love to have taken the leap from public sector to private sector much sooner! It’s been so exciting running my own business and following my passion for art and nature.”
- What type of leadership do you admire? Has this influenced the kind of leader you try to be?
I admire inclusive leadership, and leaders who work with empathy, intelligence and kindness. One of the leaders who I worked with closely, and who impressed me most during my career, was CEO and Australia ASEAN Council Board Chair Christine Holgate. Leadership qualities of honesty, emotional intelligence and integrity are important and were embodied in all facets of her work as a leader.
- How can we engage in STEMM and art on our own? Is there anything else you want to add?
Our contemporary society has created an increasing dislocation from nature for many people, and this has contributed to chronic illness and mental health problems. Each one of us can take control of our own wellbeing, by simply taking time out for something as easy as a quiet walk in nature. Perhaps taking a nature journal and pencil and spending some time listening, observing, breathing deeply and slowing down to notice the natural world around you. Engaging with art and science through simple pleasures can make a world of difference.
“Engaging with art and science through simple pleasures can make a world of difference.”
Julia Landford has devoted over three decades to environmental education and natural history art. Born and raised in Papua New Guinea, Julia developed a lifelong love of nature and conservation. Alongside a career in international development, Julia established Wildlife and Botanical Artists Inc. (WABA), providing leadership and guidance for almost twenty years. In 2017, Julia established an innovative social enterprise – NatureArt Lab – the only Australian environmental arts education centre of its kind offering comprehensive art/science education programs. Julia is Vice President of the Australian Association of Environmental Education (ACT) and received an Environmental Educator of the Year (ACT) Award in 2019.
For more information, find NatureArt Lab on Facebook or email email@example.com.