Material World, a student-made exhibit about the use of sustainable materials in designing 

A pop-up exhibit in the Gant Science Complex about sustainable materials made by seventh-semester student Cameron Slocum. The exhibit focuses on materials made from mycelium, a part of mushrooms that is useful as a textile. Photo provided by author.

The University of Connecticut has many talented students who want to make a change in the world. This is the case of Cameron Slocum, a seventh-semester senior and the creator of the Material World pop-up exhibit.  

Her creation is a pop-up exhibit made from sustainable materials. The structure is made of wood, textile, plywood, paint and mycelium (“the vegetative part of a fungus, consisting of a network of fine white filaments” according to Oxford Language). 

Slocum said that these materials were more sustainable options, which are not more expensive than traditional options. She described this as the purpose of her exhibit.  

This project is the result of an internship Slocum took with Professor Christopher Sancomb during Fall 2022 semester. During this internship, she developed a strong interest in sustainable design. 

“I’ve always wanted to design in a way that benefits the world and I feel like sustainability is a really pressing issue today that needs to be addressed in all fields,” Slocum said.  

What makes an exhibit sustainable is either the source where the material comes from, its danger for the environment/humans or its reusability. Something that was really important for her was to make sure that once the exhibit was taken down, it would not go to a landfill.  

Her plan to avoid this outcome was to try to display it somewhere else. When the exhibit structure becomes obsolete, she plans on creating tote bags with the textile, composting the mycelium and reusing the structure for a future exhibit.  

One of the advantages of making her exhibit sustainable is the possibility to break down the structure and rebuild it, offering a chance for less pollution during transportation.  

Slocum will be graduating with a Bachelor of Fine Arts with a concentration in Industrial Design, and a Bachelor of Arts in Digital Media and Design this upcoming December.  

A pop-up exhibit in the Gant Science Complex about sustainable materials made by seventh-semester student Cameron Slocum. The exhibit focuses on materials made from mycelium, a part of mushrooms that is useful as a textile. Photo provided by author.

When she started at UConn, like many students, she was unsure of what she wanted to do. She always loved making things and creating sculptures, which led her to industrial design. Her affection for digital media came with the idea that she wanted people to interact with what she was creating and learn something from it.  

After graduation, she hopes to make exhibits for museums, specifically children’s and science museums. 

“In those venues, it’s really like all about hands-on learning. And that’s kind of what I love,” Slocum said. 

This project started in Sep. 2022 and the exhibit went on display for the first time in April 2023.  However, she still works on it a little. 

“Shipping an exhibit somewhere where it can be displayed is a huge cost, both environmentally and monetary because you have to ship it somewhere. I wanted to increase its impact by creating a digital version of it,” Slocum said.  

For her project she received help from the Institute of the Environment and the Office of Sustainability at the University of Connecticut who provided an Environmental and Social Sustainability Small Grant. She also received a change Grant from the UConn Co-op Legacy Fellowship.  

Along with Professor Sancomb, the Connecticut State Museum of Natural History served as an advisor for Slocum by providing feedback on the physical aspects of the exhibit and its intellectual content.  

Elizabeth Barbeau is the program and administrative coordinator for the CSMNH and the Museum informatics specialist. She saw the project from its 3D conception to the actual built structure. As an Art and Art History major alumni, she felt proud that students don’t fear working to make their ideas come to life.  

“I think it’s important that students get support from their advisers to be ambitious, and it’s almost more important that leaders and organizations around campus provide support when they can to help students see their ambitions be realized,” she said 

Barbeau is hopeful when she sees students like Slocum who care about changing their consumption habits and transferring their knowledge to others. According to her, the creation of ethical models of consumption, along with conversation, is the best way to teach future generations how to consume more responsibly. 

The purpose of this exhibit is not only to give people knowledge about sustainability and what’s possible, but also a way to inspire other students and show that creating doesn’t always include pollution and waste. 

“The primary goal of the whole thing is to educate on sustainability and sustainable design methods and materials while kind of acting as a proof of concept for those principles,” Slocum said.