I grew up in a small farming village in Ohio in the 1950s, camping out in pastures with cows, gathering berries and hickory nuts from the forests, and sharing food from our garden at potluck suppers in church basements. My world expanded when we moved to Appalachia, then as a student in Ohio, Michigan, and France. My parents, Bill and Laura Barndt, were social activists, and growing up in the U.S. in the 1960s, I was shaped by the Civil Rights Movement, as well as the women’s, anti-poverty, and anti-war movements.

Teaching at a community college in 1970 stirred my passion for alternative education and led me to pursue a doctorate at Michigan State University on the pedagogy of the oppressed methodology of Brazilian educator Paulo Freire.

Since then, I’ve worked to integrate the activist, artist and academic in all my work as a photographer and multimedia artist, arts-based participatory researcher, popular educator and social justice activist. In the late 1960s and 1970s, I travelled the world, my camera, my right arm, and lived in Strasbourg, Geneva, New York City, New Jersey, Michigan, Lima, Ottawa, Montreal and Toronto. In the 1980s and 1990s, solidarity projects took me to Central America which fed my own popular education and arts practice in Toronto.

Between 1993 and 2014, I was privileged to teach and learn in the interdisciplinary Faculty of Environmental Studies at York University, which honoured arts-based and community-engaged learning. I founded the Community Arts Practice program and engaged in arts-based participatory research in three transnational projects (Tomasita, Viva, and Earth to Tables Legacies) creating books and exhibits to share the collective knowledge in diverse communities in the Americas. 

Since 1985, my son Joshua has been my greatest teacher, and now I enjoy his five nieces and nephew and the five grandchildren of my partner, John Murtaugh. For the past 50 years, I have been blessed with a loving community of activists, artists, and academics, sharing gardens and meals, conversations and collective actions, in my home base in Toronto.

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