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  • Genevieve Fontana

Canisius University's art history professor becomes an environmental heroine on campus

By: Genevieve Fontana, Features contributor

Yvonne Widenor is an active member of the Canisius campus community, holding multiple key positions such as director of the art history and music program, director of ArtsCanisius and curator of Makerspace. She serves on various committees, including the Laudato Si’ initiative, which aims to promote climate and ecological justice. Widenor strongly advocates for Canisius’s study abroad programs and supports adopting earth-friendly ideas from other cultures.

At Canisius Makerspace, students can explore their creative side and escape the demands of their academic schedules. She promotes several earth-friendly projects, such as teaching simple mending stitches to students to help them repair their clothes and reduce textile waste. Makerspace has facilitated the New Griff Orientation community service event painting rocks for campus garden spaces, combining art and gardening. At home, Widenor has a passion for gardening, especially with her family. Widenor aims to do more with the pollinator garden and have a Makerspace where students can start growing seeds in their room and practice keeping something alive. At the end of the semester, students can plant them outside. Additionally, one of the most notable maker spaces she has worked on was inspired by turning “trash” into art. The Canisius community created art using the caps of used plastic bottles sorted by color. These projects can be an eye-opening experience for the community to see how many bottles they use.

Widenor would be interested in having more active discussions, such as book clubs, and expanding the Laudato Si’ meeting to a more accessible space. This way, anyone can learn more about how to positively impact the planet and approach this topic more gently in their homes. Widenor spoke about the travel courses she holds for students and noted how sustainability is implemented in other cultures different than in the U.S. With her interest in the art space, she reflected on her trip to Berlin, where she touched on the small-scale art that was made from sustainable materials that degrade over time, becoming part of the earth which then opens up other opportunities for another layer of art on top of the deteriorating pieces. She also encouraged students to buy local and in-season produce.

Widenor believes sustainability should be an active conversation with faculty in the humanities, not just the sciences. She said, “It is crucial because without sustaining our environment, we will not have a history to study or cultures to investigate.” The wildlife around us is essential to her, and she hopes to next work on an art project that will prevent birds from flying into clear windows. She expressed interest in having bat and insect houses on campus. Being a devoted cat mom, she hopes encouraging the presence of community cats will cut down on any mice issues, especially in the dorms.

Widenor is obsessed with making earth-friendly choices in her home. She hopes that in time, her family members will join her in transitioning to shampoo bars, toothpaste tabs, using scarves for holiday and birthday wrapping and rechargeable batteries for electronics. Growing up with an eco-conscious father, she has become more aware of sorting her recycling and will often pick up any materials she finds on the ground. She even brings up a friend who will do the same but will count how many steps it takes to get to the garbage can to see how many steps that person had to take to help keep our planet clean.

If you are interested in learning more about Widenor, you can listen to the Canisius University podcast with her on the Canisius Eco Heroines Youtube page @canisius_ecoheroines. For more information about Makerspace and other programs mentioned in this article, email

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