South Africa sketchbook, Ysemay Dercon

We offer scholarship support for artists and scientists who enroll in study abroad courses taught by Creature Conserve founder Dr. Lucy Spelman, and administered by the Rhode Island School of Design. Examples include ART AND SCIENCE OF CONSERVATION in South Africa (summer 2018) and EXPLORING THE ART AND SCIENCE OF BIODIVERSITY in Guyana (winter 2019.) 

All are open to undergraduate, graduate, and recently graduated art, design, and science students with an interest in art/science/public engagement/conservation action. All are offered for optional course credit, through RISD.  

Each destination is known as a biological hotspot, and each study tour is designed to give travelers a unique and exclusive look at the challenges associated with studying, celebrating, and saving species. The itinerary, guides, lecturers, and specific locations have been selected with extreme care. The cost of each trip, while substantial, is far less than it would be for a commercial booking. 

Study tour participants will learn how conservation works - behind the scenes - from biologists, ecologists, park naturalists and managers, park rangers, public health experts, veterinarians, and wildlife guides. They will gain practical experience with the scientific methods used to study and monitor endangered species; observe and critique conservation efforts at work; and, participate in saving species by creating works art that engage the public more fully and effectively.




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South Africa


"I'm so excited for everyone who gets to go next year! What a unique experience."

Kiana Suchecki, RISD Industrial Design

Kiana, left with Angela Hseih RISD Illustration

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"As a member of the scientific community, this trip not only provided an unforgettable safari experience, but showed me the immense importance of connecting science and art. I can’t thank Lucy and the Bushwise team enough for this life-changing trip."

Sasha Curtis (LEFT), M.S., Royal Veterinary College, Class of 2020

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"My time in Guyana completely refocused my direction as an artist, and taught me that I don’t have to choose between passions for art and science in order to start making an impact in the world - I only have to combine them.”

Emily Poole, RISD Illustration

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"Thank you for the wonderful experience and for everything!"

Peixang (Nana) Gong, RISD Apparel Design 

Nana, far left with Xuefei Yang, RISD Industrial Design and Kelly He, RISD Interior Architecture

"It was a phenomenal experience...I started drawing while I was there – for the first time in ages – and have a number of ideas for sculptures in my travel journal. I want to start with the parrots that roosted near our tents every evening."

Raina Belleau, RISD MFA Sculpture

Course Description

Art & Science Conservation Safari to South Africa

Dr. Lucy Spelman, RISD Liberal Arts

Zebras, Kruger National Park, South Africa

Zebras, Kruger National Park, South Africa

For artists, designers, and science communicators interested in biodiversity studies, endangered species protection, and human-animal-environmental health interactions. Students in this 3-week travel course to South Africa will learn how to apply their art/design/science communication skills to improve conservation outcomes. Led by zoological medicine veterinarian and RISD part-time faculty Dr. Lucy Spelman, the itinerary includes two weeks at the Bushwise Field School near Hoedspruit, and five days at the University of Pretoria Southern African Wildlife College campus at the edge of Kruger National Park. Students will learn the scientific concepts and methods used to study and monitor wildlife populations, including camera trapping, direct observation, and photography. They will have a rare opportunity to hear from a variety of experts about five of South Africa’s most pressing problems: 1) habitat destruction by elephants; 2) wildlife trade involving pangolins; 3) wildlife trade involving rhinos; 4) wildlife poisoning, especially of vultures; and, 5) infectious disease transmission between domestic and wild animals and people. Students will select from among these conservation challenges, explore the problem in depth, and collaborate to produce original works of art or design that inspire conservation action. The results will be shared with local audiences. Skills gained during this course include analyzing, collecting, interpreting, and recording scientific data; teamwork; and, practice visualizing and communicating science.

A family of elephants, Kruger National Park, South Africa

A family of elephants, Kruger National Park, South Africa


  • Dates: Travel in South Africa from June 17-July 7, 2018. [Dates +/- 1 day]
  • Locations: and
  • Costs: Estimated total $7500, includes $6080 for RISD tuition. Tuition is all-inclusive: food, guides, insurance, lodging, meals, and ground transportation including safaris. The course starts and ends at the Johannesburg airport. From the US, roundtrip airfare JFK to JNB is $1500.
  • Instructors: Dr. Spelman will lead the course; a teaching assistant will provide art instruction and critical review. Additional lecturers include Bushwise staff, invited experts, and faculty from the University of Pretoria.
  • Eligibility: Open to 12-16 students and recent graduates with a minor or major in art or who have completed at least one foundational studio art class and one additional studio class, or with a minor or major in science communication.
  • Credits: RISD 3 LAEL (may be applied to NCSS.) Non-RISD students can request academic credit through their institutions.

Syllabus Overview

The main work for the course is a research project: the assignment is to choose from among five conservation challenges, gather as much information about it as possible using all available resources, including direct observations; interviews with scientists and other experts who study it; review of published scientific literature that describe the threats to its survival as well as efforts to protect it; and, interviews with local people who have information or stories to share. Students will work together to propose an intervention for each of the five conservation challenges that can be accomplished by art or design, such as a series of info-graphics or a social media campaign. In addition, students will keep a naturalist/observer field notebook to document their experience, including scientific concepts and methods learned and data collected for their research project. They will also create an artist archive of photographs, notes, sketches, sound recordings, and videos for future inspiration.

The final grade will be based on the following elements: 1) class participation 20%, 2) field journal 20%, 3) reference archive 20%, 4) research paper 20%, and 5) original art or design work that inspires conservation action 20%.

Questions considered during the course

  • How do we define the terms biodiversity, endangered species, and conservation? Do these definitions depend on context? Do you expect them to be different in South Africa?
  • How do we decide what species and/or ecosystems merit conservation? How does the role the animal plays in our society (ecologic, economic, political, and social) affect the choices we make?
  • What concepts, theories and debates inform our efforts to protect animals that we consider “endangered?” Who takes part in conservation? How and by whom are conservation science studies conducted? What professions are involved? How are the results applied to conservation?
  • What are some examples based on the literature, of successful conservation efforts within South Africa? What about elsewhere in the world? What are the common measures of success, and of failure?
  • Once the case for saving a species is made by scientists, who is involved in making the decisions? Who is involved in taking conservation action? What is the role of art in motivating people to get involved?
  • How as an artist can you become involved in conservation? What are some ways you could collaborate with a scientist or science-based organization? What about other types of organizations?

Accommodation, Transportation, and Studio Facilities

Students will be housed singly or in pairs in cabin-sale lodging will full amenities including electricity, hot water, showers, filtered drinking water, and self serve dining in addition to prepared group meals, access to guides, and Wifi. Special dietary requirements are easily met. Housing at Bushwise is shown below.  


1) Bushwise campus (2 weeks)

2) University of Pretoria – stay at Southern African Wildlife College campus (4 days)

Also visits to University of Pretoria Hans Hoheisen Research Station


We will move together as a large group (from the airport and between study locations) in an 18-seater van. At each study location, we will move in 12-seater open or closed air game drive vehicles.   Studio Facilities: While at Bushwise, students have access to several creative spaces, including a covered lecture area (also with a pool), and multiple other open air sheltered spaces. The cabin rooms are also spacious and quiet. We will have exclusive use of the campus so the students will be free to work wherever they prefer. At the University of Pretoria, there is additional studio space as needed including classrooms.

Studio Facilities

While at Bushwise, students have access to several creative spaces, including a covered lecture area (also with a pool), and multiple other open air sheltered spaces. The cabin rooms are also spacious and quiet. We will have exclusive use of the campus so the students will be free to work wherever they prefer. At the University of Pretoria, there is additional studio space as needed including classrooms.


The course is open to art and design students and recent graduates, and science students interested in art/science collaboration anywhere in the US or abroad. Please email with questions. Space is limited.