Photo Credit: Stefanie Keenan, courtesy of MUSE School CAWhen it comes to gifts, James Cameron really knows what wife Suzy Amis Cameron loves best—and no, that wouldn’t be diamonds. On May 19th, the Avatar and Titanic director unveiled his present—solar Sun Flowers that he designed for the MUSE School Campus, of which his wife and her sister Rebecca are co-founders. The solar-powered Sun Flowers were designed as functional art pieces to power about 90% of MUSE School—a private, non-profit school offering individualized, passion-based learning with a mission of sustainability. Nearly 30 feet in diameter, each of the five Sun Flowers on the MUSE campus utilizes “petals” bolted together to create the sunflower table, with a tracking base that moves the flower head the way a real flower will grow toward the sun. We sat down with Suzy to discuss the importance of such a gift, why it was so necessary for her school and what she did when James told her about the eco-friendly flower he had designed out of love for her.
Why does this gift personally mean so much to you?
The solar Sun Flowers beautifully represent what I’m passionate about: sustainability and MUSE School. Jim designed solar Sun Flowers while he was working on the Deep Sea Challenge. As he was undertaking the exploration of the deepest part of the ocean, he created the ultimate birthday gift for me—functional pieces of art that generate energy and reduce our carbon footprint.
What was your reaction when Jim first told you he was giving you this gift?
We were celebrating my 50th birthday in Sydney, Australia. After a day with our children, Jim planned a dinner for just the two of us in a restaurant overlooking the Sydney Harbour. We hadn’t even ordered dinner yet, and Jim placed an accordion-like wooden box in front of me and said, “Happy birthday.” Inside were photographs of MUSE campus, and in these photos he had photo-shopped mock-up designs of huge solar-like flowers—the Sun Flowers! I’d never seen anything like it, and I promptly burst into tears. Our waitress thought something might be wrong and was afraid to approach the table; “No, she’s just really happy, she’s fine,” Jim had to explain. I was so deeply touched by his thoughtfulness: he knew how important it was to me that MUSE was a sustainable campus in every way. Even though I’ve been with Jim for 19 years, he continually surprises and thrills me with his creative and technical vision—and this was definitely one of those moments.
Why is this gift more important than something along the lines of say, diamonds?
Designing the Sun Flowers was a labor of love. They will create energy in a life-sustaining way for generations to come. Jim and I take our responsibility to pursue and develop solutions for the wellbeing of our biosphere very seriously. So with the Sun Flowers, in addition to providing 90% of MUSE School’s energy needs, it’s a design that can help future generations and our planet right now. That’s deeply meaningful and the best possible gift I could receive. Hands down.
Why are the Sun Flowers such an asset and so necessary for MUSE School?
MUSE School’s mission is to prepare young people to live consciously with themselves, each other and the planet. By having the Sun Flowers on the MUSE campus, we can show students every day how solar energy works, measure the positive impact on the environment, and explore the innovative engineering concepts involved in creating them. The Sun Flowers are already part of the MUSE curriculum: we’ve created a real-time, web-based dashboard that monitors the amount of energy generated, MUSE’s energy consumption, and the offset environmental equivalents, such as the number of trees planted, gas saved, and carbon dioxide removed from the atmosphere. It’s thrilling for the kids to see this in action and feel empowered to make a difference.
What made yourself and your sister decide to found MUSE School?
With our older children, Jim and I had explored different schools. We knew from our experience what engaged our kids and what didn’t. MUSE grew out of a desire to create a place where children could be precisely who they are, a place where their light could shine uniquely and brightly. My sister Rebecca had experience in starting schools and, after some persistent convincing, she agreed to help found MUSE. Nine years down the road, MUSE is a place where learning is personalized for each student, students’ passions are embedded in the curriculum, and they learn on one of the most sustainably built and run schools in the country.
What are you proudest of in its creation since its inception?
I’m proud that MUSE is a place where young people have the opportunity to explore their passions early and deeply. I’m proud that MUSE students have the freedom to learn the way they learn best. And I’m so proud that every day, MUSE students are learning to be champions of the earth. It’s really an honor to witness it all.