Common interpretations of sustainability and environmentally-friendly practices tend to skew more mathematical or biological than they do artistic. Even so, art and design are essential to the marketing and execution of many sustainable projects.
Siara Designs instituted its Sustainability in Environment, Art, and Creativity Scholarship in hopes of encouraging today’s students to think about the different ways art can influence sustainable practices and vice-versa. This year, the team proudly awards its scholarship funds to Cynthia Salcedo, a sophomore at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
Salcedo is majoring in architecture with a history of practical art design. She plans to graduate from the University of Illinois at Chicago in May 2026.
Breaking Down the Sustainable Basics
Today’s conversations about climate change have increased general awareness of sustainability and environmentally friendly practices. That said, what is sustainability, and how do today’s students interact with it? That’s the question Siara Designs begins to probe with the creation of its Sustainability in Environment, Art, and Creativity Scholarship.
Salcedo’s essay provides a comprehensive answer to that question. According to Salcedo, sustainability as a concept embodies the consistent practice of environmental awareness. It encompasses familiar basics, like reducing, reusing, and recycling, while also encouraging creative approaches to the care and keeping of the planet.
Inspiration for a Career Found in Art
Salcedo says that she first found herself drawn into the conversation about sustainability while in her parent’s hometown in Mexico. There, she saw a statue of a red heart intentionally speckled with bottle caps. Given the statue’s positioning next to several disposal bins, Salcedo interpreted the art piece as a statement on the power of recycling.
It was the statue’s depiction of the “rapid accumulation of plastic use,” in Salcedo’s words, that led Salcedo to independently explore other connections between art and sustainable practices. She revisited the use of recyclable materials in art during her high school career when she created a turtle sculpture out of straws.
Her sculpture, she says, emphasized “the harmful relationship between plastic straws and marine life.” The piece caught the attention of Salcedo’s instructors and peers, driving home the way that powerfully creative works can inspire conversations about sustainable practices.
Pursuing the Study of Sustainable Architecture
Salcedo’s unique experiences with sustainable art inspired an interest in sustainable architecture after she graduated from high school. She applied and was accepted into the University of Illinois at Chicago with the plan to study architecture with an environmental focus.
Her drive didn’t come entirely from art, though. When asked about inspiration found closer to home, Salcedo speaks highly of her father, or her “Apa.”
“My father has always been a perfect example of what it means to work hard, persevere, and be selfless,” she says. “He came to this country with a limited set of skills that has provided my family and I with abundance: a home, an education, a loving family, endless memories, and so much more.
I want to embody that same giving mindset he has so my education will not only benefit me, but benefit others around me as well.”
The Complex Realities of Sustainable Practices
The longer a person spends studying the finer points of sustainable practices, the more complicated sustainability as a concept becomes. Salcedo points this out in her scholarship essay as she recounts conversations with both Dillon Pragner and her university professors.
In a guest lecture offered at the University of Illinois at Chicago, Pragner breached a difficult conversation about sustainability and consumerism. The lesson Salcedo relays describes the complex and often opposing relationship that exists between sustainability and consumerism.
According to Pragner, modern industries prioritize a creative process that encourages products to break down over time. That pre-planned breakdown, oftentimes referred to as planned obsolescence, encourages consumers and B2B entities to purchase replacement products, increasing corporate profits.
Salcedo says that Pragner finds sustainability as a concept inherently antithetical to these productive processes and notes that if sustainable practices want to usurp them, sustainability’s marketing may need to change.
Lessons on Interdisciplinary Sustainability
Salcedo says that her professors take these lessons one step further. One professor in particular noted that while sustainability in the architectural field serves a valuable purpose, it is not a cure-all for today’s climate problems.
Instead, Salcedo says that her professors encourage an interdisciplinary approach to climate change and problems like it. It’s in that interdisciplinary approach that creative practices, including architectural design, can more effectively transform the future.
Salcedo’s Plans for the Future
Salcedo intends to complete her architectural degree before pursuing a career in design. She ideally wants to work with a design firm that promotes the use of sustainable practices and community.
Until graduation comes, Salcedo intends to keep attending meetings with Latin American Recruitment and Educational Services, which she says allows her to immerse herself in her culture. She also plans on taking challenging courses through the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Honors College.
About the Siara Designs Sustainability in Environment, Art, and Creativity Scholarship
Siara Designs opened up its Sustainability in Environment, Art, and Creativity Scholarship in 2023. The scholarship promises $2,500 in financial support to a student who offers new insights on possible partnerships between creative efforts and sustainable activism.
Students must complete written essays of between 500 and 1,000 words detailing their thoughts on creativity and its place in practical sustainability. Siara Designs also requires students to meet certain eligibility criteria, including a minimum 3.0 GPA.
All parties interested in applying for this scholarship should visit its terms and conditions page ahead of the 2024/2025 academic year. Siara Designs’ scholarship selection committee will not accept applications submitted without all applicable materials or after its closing deadline.
Siara Designs Celebrates the Continued Evolution of Creative Sustainability
Siara Designs once again congratulates Cynthia Salcedo on her receipt of the 2023 Sustainability in Environment, Art, and Creativity Scholarship. Salcedo brings great insight into a conversation about creativity and sustainability, highlighting the marketing power of creative works while also emphasizing sustainability’s need for interdisciplinary partnerships.
The team wishes next year’s Siara Designs’ scholarship applicants the best of luck compiling their application materials and hopes that Salcedo’s example will pave the way for the next generation of sustainably-minded creators.