Yearly Archives: 2019

About Snails, Extinction and Hope

by Yasmine Ostendorf

Apparently a lot of people experience this: you get ill the moment the holidays kick in. It happened to me this Christmas and for this reason, I missed my deadline for the New Year’s What Gives You Hope? article published on Artists and Climate Change on December 31, 2018.

Nevertheless the posed question “What gives you hope?” remained on my cloudy mind. Even with the slightest interest in politics and the current state of our natural world, it can feel naive and unrealistic to “hope for a better future” – and worse if you actually engage and care. It would be more appropriate to instead invest our energy in what MoMa design curator Paola Antonelli proposed this week in an interview about her forthcoming exhibition Broken Nature: Design Takes on Human Survival. “We’re proceeding faster than many other species that have become extinct,” Antonelli said. “I don’t see any other possibility than to designing an elegant ending for humanity.”

We are not only hurtling an astonishing number of non-human species towards extinction; we are rapidly making the planet unlivable for ourselves. I thoroughly enjoyed the interview with Antonelli, in particular when she refers to Todd May’s recent article in the New York Times, which questions if human extinction would actually be a tragedy. I’m not sure if this was the illness talking, but a beautifully green planet without any people on it suddenly didn’t seem that terrible. It would definitely make the non-human species on this planet a lot more hopeful, I thought.

A theory that is often heard in our field – the intersection of art and climate change – is that the general public finds it hard to engage with climate change because none of the “potential solutions” can be implemented within the capitalist system. When financial profit is prized over anything else, the environment always pays the price. It makes it easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism.

The optimistic response to that line of thinking is often that this is exactly why we need artists. Artists can supposedly propose alternatives to the system, tell positive and inspiring stories. Out with the doom-and-gloom, we say and in comes HOPE and POSITIVITY! Aside from the fact that I’m losing faith in this narrative, which I was always the first to embrace, it lacks a description of what it is we hope for and how we can work towards it. After learning about the death of George the Snail – the last of his species – last week, I re-read Thom van Dooren’s essay “The Last Snail: Loss, Hope and Care for the Future” published in the great book Land & Animal & Nonanimal. Van Dooren, an environmental anthropologist and philosopher, writes about what he is hoping for, why and what it will cost. He asks:

Can our hopes be translated into meaningful action and taken up in a way that recognizes the myriad losses and expose the dangers that lie buried in the things we hope might yet come to pass? I see this kind of hope as a practice of ‘care for the future.’ Care must be understood here as something far more than abstract well-wishing. […] The grounded and responsible hope that we need today, hope for a world still rich in biocultural diversities of all kinds requires this kind of care for the future. It requires a grounded and practical care, but also one that is committed to critical engagement with the means and consequences of its own production.

The Open Call for Valley of the Possible, a refugio for art and research in the Chilean Andes.

I agree with van Dooren that hope in itself is not enough and should go hand-in-hand with grounded care, critical reflection and ultimately, action. So what actually gave me hope recently was to see two friends, Mirla Klein and Olaf Boswijk, tick all of those boxes when they set up a refugio for art and research in the Chilean Andes. Called Valley of the Possible, the refugio offers artists, scientists, and other creative thinkers and makers space and time to (re)connect with nature, conduct research, and develop artistic work. Mirla and Olaf want to renew participants’ perspective on our relationship with our planet and provide a platform to investigate an artist- and community-led model for nature conservation.

Mirla Klein and Olaf Boswijk of Valley of the Possible.

To end this article and add my contribution to the Core Team‘s What Gives You Hope? article, I followed the same format and asked Mirla and Olaf what gives them hope. Here is their answer:

Mirla and Olaf: The rise of international art and science initiatives joining forces and researching ecology and sustainability. The New Zealand Prime Minister becoming a mother on the job and banning offshore oil exploration. Rivers, mountains and other “natural” actors gaining legal rights. Literature from contemporary writers and philosophers such as Timothy Morton and Rebecca Solnit. The resilience and activism of the Mapuche in Chile, who have been fighting patriarchal, (neo)colonial and neoliberal powers for centuries. And what gives us the most hope is that throughout our lives and various careers, we have never received so much voluntary support from friends, family and, most of all, total strangers for a project that is not about money. It really is astounding how much goodwill there is in the world – how it is human nature to collaborate and form communities for the greater good, regardless of how we have all been indoctrinated by the idea that everything needs an economic purpose. The more you research the initiatives and networks around ecology, sustainability, different ways of thinking and other (economic) models, the more you find them. That in itself can help to create a more positive, and most of all, more constructive mindset for the 21st century.

PS: There is currently a very exciting Open Call at Valley of the Possible! Check it out!

(Top image: This snail, named George, died on January 1, 2019. Scientists believe he was the last of his species, which was native to the Hawaiian island of Oahu. Photo credit: Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources.)

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Curator Yasmine Ostendorf (MA) has worked extensively on international cultural mobility programs and on the topic of art and environment for expert organizations such as Julie’s Bicycle (UK), Bamboo Curtain Studio (TW) Cape Farewell (UK) and Trans Artists (NL). She founded the Green Art Lab Alliance, a network of 35 cultural organizations in Europe and Asia that addresses our social and environmental responsibility, and is the author of the series of guides “Creative Responses to Sustainability.” She is the Head of Nature Research at the Van Eyck Academy (NL), a lab that enables artists to consider nature in relation to ecological and landscape development issues and the initiator of the Van Eyck Food Lab.

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Artists and Climate Change is a blog that tracks artistic responses from all disciplines to the problem of climate change. It is both a study about what is being done, and a resource for anyone interested in the subject. Art has the power to reframe the conversation about our environmental crisis so it is inclusive, constructive, and conducive to action. Art can, and should, shape our values and behavior so we are better equipped to face the formidable challenge in front of us.

Go to the Artists and Climate Change Blog

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Port Mone Trio

by Joan Sullivan

To kick off the third year of our monthly renewable energy series, I’m delighted to introduce our readers to Port Mone Trio, the award-winning Belarusian instrumental trio whose upcoming third album Whisper was recorded entirely onsite of two utility-scale renewable energy projects in Belarus: a 9 MW wind farm near the village of Pudovnya and a 6 MW solar farm built on top of a former landfill in Rudashany.

To the best of my knowledge, Port Mone Trio is the first musical ensemble in the world to have recorded an entire album powered 100% by clean electrons drawn directly from wind turbines and solar panels (rather than indirectly from the grid or storage batteries).

Members of the Minsk-based trio include: Alexsey Vorsoba, accordion; Sergey Kravchenko, percussion; and Aleksey Vanchuk, bass guitar. They have been called “one of the most original collectives in the post-Soviet alternative scene.” According to The Guardian, the trio has “forged their own voice from a mix of influences, including jazz, minimalism and ambient music.” Others have described Port Mone’s sensual and complex soundscapes as minimalistic folk, extraavantgarde, and post-rock.

Port Mone aims to “appeal to the natural, pure and primordial in the human soul; to something that exists beyond social regulations and codes.”

Belarus, Port Mone, trio, solar, renewable, energy, music, recording, studio
Reprinted with permission from Port Mone Trio

Whisper is part of a joint art project with the Belarus Green Network to raise awareness of the potential of renewable energy to diversify Belarus’ energy supply and increase its energy independence.

In an email exchange, Port Mone explained: “We continue to use music to talk about issues that are important to us. For Whisper, we wanted to develop the idea of independence in a wide sense and at different levels. For example, a country’s energy independence as a metaphor of independence of personality. Our main message to the people is to be independent, which requires being honest with oneself and not to lie. In Belarus, the main ecological issue is ignorance and indifference.”

The album’s title refers to the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear tragedy, the memory of which has become an inaudible whisper in Belarus today. Located north of Ukraine, Belarus received the majority – nearly 70% – of the radioactive fallout from the explosion six kilometers (four miles) south of its border. More than two million Belarusians were affected by radiation; one-fifth of Belarus’ agricultural land was heavily contaminated. The full social, economic, environmental and psychological costs of the disaster may never be known; it is estimated to be 20% of Belarus’ annual budget since 1986, or approximately US$235 billion over the past three decades. Despite the risks, the government of Belarus continues to promote nuclear energy as the “single best way” to secure the country’s energy independence. But critics of Belarus’ first multi-reactor nuclear power plant, currently under construction in a seismically-active zone near the Lithuanian border, suggest that Russian construction and financing (US$10 billion) of the 2,4 GW Astravets nuclear power plant will ultimately increase – not decrease – Belarus’ energy dependence on Russia.

Renewable energy makes up only 5% of Belarus’ current energy mix. With technical and financial support from the UN and the EU, Belarus is taking baby steps towards the clean energy transition. A 2018 study by the French company Tractebel estimated that Belarus could install up to 1.2 GW of solar in regions affected by Chernobyl, despite the high radiation levels. For example, construction has begun on Belarus’ largest solar project to date, a 109 MW solar power plant on land irradiated by Chernobyl fallout near the village of Blizhnyaya Rechitsa in Cherikov District.

Prior to recording Whisper, Port Mone Trio embarked on a 3,000 kilometer scouting trip across Belarus in search of wind and solar locations with the best acoustics (i.e., minimum noise) for an outdoor recording studio. This week-long expedition sharpened the musicians understanding of renewable energy technology, but perhaps more importantly, it allowed them to rediscover the beauty of their country – even in former exclusion zones – while meeting passionate individuals experimenting with wind and solar throughout Belarus. The Ukrainian documentary filmmaker Vadim Ilkov accompanied Port Mone throughout the road trip, and documented the two outdoor recording sessions. In partnership with Green Network, a documentary film about Whisper will be released later this year.

 
Reprinted with permission from Port Mone Trio.

Free electricity for the outdoor recording sessions was provided by the owners of the two wind and solar power plants mentioned in the first paragraph. Electricians working for these power plants supplied the necessary cables and sockets that connected Port Mone Trio’s rolling studio directly to the wind turbines and solar panels. Dozens of microphones were used to record not only the musicians, but also birds, rustling leaves and grass, spinning turbine blades, blasts of wind and other ambient sounds. Although challenging, outdoor recording can enrich the music in unexpected ways. Port Mone’s website describes it this way: “Everything that happened to and around us turned into colors and semitones in the music, into shades and intonations of Whisper.”

Nota bene: This is the second time that Port Mone has opted to step away from the laboratory-like conditions of a studio to record in a natural acoustic environment. Port Mone Trio’s second album Thou (2014) was recorded in a forest, resulting in a “loose and enchanting” sound. Thou is available on Apple Music and Soundcloud.

Port Mone Trio hopes to release Whisper in 2019, along with Vadim Ulkov’s documentary film. In the coming months, Port Mone’s main focus is to find an international label to release Whisper. Interested individuals should contact Port Mone here.

Reprinted with permission by Port Mone Trio.

Addendum: Could this be a trend? A growing number of musicians are inspired by wind energy: in 2017, I profiled three musicians from Québec, Canada, who climbed to the top of a Senvion wind turbine (80 meters above the ground) for a live performance of an original composition by Justin Garneau, a former wind technician.

(Top image: Screen shot from the Port Mone Trio website.)

This article is part of the Renewable Energy series.

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Joan Sullivan is a Canadian renewable energy photographer. Since 2009, Joan has found her artistic voice on the construction sites of utility-scale wind and solar projects. Her goal is to help others visualize – to imagine – what a post-carbon world will look like. Joan is currently working on a photo book about Canada’s energy transition. She also collaborates with filmmakers on documentary films that explore the human side of the energy transition. Her renewable energy photographs have been exhibited in group shows in Canada, the UK and Italy. You can find Joan on ElloTwitter and Instagram

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Artists and Climate Change is a blog that tracks artistic responses from all disciplines to the problem of climate change. It is both a study about what is being done, and a resource for anyone interested in the subject. Art has the power to reframe the conversation about our environmental crisis so it is inclusive, constructive, and conducive to action. Art can, and should, shape our values and behavior so we are better equipped to face the formidable challenge in front of us.

Go to the Artists and Climate Change Blog

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Three Marias

by Megan McClain

The photograph was faded, but the spirit of the figure it contained was bright. A Puerto Rican woman with dark hair and a knowing smile seemed to defy her two-dimensional state as she was passed around the group at Superhero Clubhouse’s December Salon meeting.

The picture was of Maria, Fellow Shy Richardson’s grandmother and a core inspiration for the performance project she and Fellow Karina Yager are working on this season with Superhero Clubhouse. The team is preparing to travel to Puerto Rico in January to explore Hurricane Maria through the lenses of oral history, climate change, and environmental injustice. What was to be an examination of community survival through on-the-ground interviews is now shaped by a personal loss. Shy’s grandmother passed away very recently; however, she continues to influence the heart and direction of the piece.

The team is using three different “Marias” as their creative entry points to explore the displacement of Puerto Ricans following Hurricane Maria. The first, Shy’s great grandmother, represents the legacy Shy inherits through her Puerto Rican heritage. The second, her grandmother, was the conduit through which she understood Puerto Rico in the present. And the third Maria, the 2018 hurricane, created more damage to Puerto Rico than any other in modern times.

At the Salon meeting, while we were introduced to her grandmother through photographs, Shy shared a poem called “Territory.” A love letter to Puerto Rico, the poem captures the connection between the island and New York City as well as the people who mentally and physically traverse these two spaces. When the speaker shares having “heard people wonder aloud about what makes a people so proud to be from a place, a territory,” the answer surges: “…it is the resilience, the resolve to create something new.”

The group discussed how art can be an offering to and for those who might find healing in the work as well as a way to lift up experiences that are so often rendered invisible. As they prepare for their trip to Puerto Rico to conduct interviews, the Fellows will be investigating multiple questions: What does community look like before and after the hurricane? What is left to rebuild and how? What values guide the reconstruction?

Karina, a climate scientist, is also bringing the personal and the global to bear on this project. She is interested in the connectivity of water and following the imagined journey of a single water droplet through the global water cycle. A droplet might live in the ocean for thousands of years before being evaporated and deposited in another part of the world. It might become part of a hurricane and drop through the roof of a family in Puerto Rico. Water plays the role of both a sustainer and a destroyer.

Karina plans to interview climate scientists who study hurricanes from Stony Brook University School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences and the National Center for Atmospheric Research. She also noted climate scientist Piers J. Sellers as a personal inspiration. A NASA astronaut and Deputy Director of Science and Exploration at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Sellers created computer models of the global climate system to better understand the dynamics and future of our changing climate. Though Sellers was diagnosed with stage four pancreatic cancer, he was determined to use his very limited time left to continue to work to address climate change.

Shy and Karina are looking at the many layers of loss. The collective grief of climate change (characterized by Per Espen Stoknes as “The Great Grief”), the losses of those directly affected by our warming world, and the personal losses of loved ones are in conversation with each other in the work. As they consider the three Marias, Shy and Karina will be exploring questions of identity, resilience, and hope. In the face of so much loss, what do we have to give? How do we heal? What keeps us grounded in the chaos?

(Top image: Maria Montes.)

This is the third of seven blogs in our Building Bridges series about the intersection of environmental justice and performance. These blogs will be responding to a monthly Salon taking place at The Lark in New York where our Fellows, Associate Fellows, and others in the Superhero Clubhouse community are exploring this intersection in their own ways.

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Megan McClain is the resident dramaturg for SHC’s series of Planet Plays, Flying Ace, and other projects and co-leads The Salon. As R&D Program Director at the Civilians, she’s guided the work of over 70 writers, composers, and directors creating original works of investigative theatre. She is also the Accessibility Manager at The Lark. Additional dramaturgical/literary work for Goodman Theatre, Disney Theatrical, Hartford Stage, PlayPenn, Playwrights Realm and more. M.F.A Dramaturgy: UMass Amherst.

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Artists and Climate Change is a blog that tracks artistic responses from all disciplines to the problem of climate change. It is both a study about what is being done, and a resource for anyone interested in the subject. Art has the power to reframe the conversation about our environmental crisis so it is inclusive, constructive, and conducive to action. Art can, and should, shape our values and behavior so we are better equipped to face the formidable challenge in front of us.

Go to the Artists and Climate Change Blog

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The Possibility of Generative Futures Through Embodied Practice

by Annalisa Dias

In June 2018, I had the privilege to attend the Theatre in the Age of Climate Change convening hosted by HowlRound. It was a full weekend. While I was there I was grateful to reconnect with Jayeesha Dutta, who is a fierce advocate, artist, and cultural organizer. She and I first met while organizing for the 2017 People’s Climate March, but the HowlRound convening was the first time we really got to learn more about each other’s work.

During the convening, we were given the space to facilitate an activity using dynamized image theatre (from Theatre of the Oppressed) to ask convening participants to embody the concept of a Just Transition.

We asked convening participants first to embody the idea of “extraction” by making a static image using their bodies. Next, we asked everyone to look around the room at all of the varied images we had made and then, using words to name them, reflect back some of the common themes. We made images of crushing, tension, scratching, harm, pain, images with sharp edges and angles. After everyone shook those images off, Jayeesha and I asked everyone to make a new image of the idea “generative.” We repeated the process of naming and reflection, and this time the common themes included lightness, peace, softness, offering, circles, images with gentle curves and upward focus. In the final step of dynamizing these images, we asked everyone to try to find a way, using a simple movement phrase, to transition from their first image to their second image. The goal of the activity is to use the body to explore possible solutions in the move from extractive to generative economies. Rather than spending ages and ages talking about theoretical hindrances in the work of moving toward climate justice, why not use the tools of the theatre in visioning possible futures? This is what we’re good at!

Convening participants being led through an image exercise by Annalisa Dias and Jayeesha Dutta. Photo by Carolina Gonzalez.

What Is a Just Transition? 

The concept of a Just Transition has been developed over the last thirty years. Briefly, it’s a framework that seeks to unify the environmental movement with the labor movement. In many of the climate movement spaces that I’ve personally been involved with, folks prioritize talking about “climate justice” in place of just the problems of “climate change.” The reason for this important nuance has to do with how, historically, the US and international climate movements have been focused on the politics of environmental conservation at the expense of social movements. In many ways, conservationist movements are rooted in anti-indigenous and colonial white supremacist ideology that conceptualizes the environment or “nature” as separate from human activity and relies on the myth of the wilderness in determining environments deemed worthy of saving.

So instead, we seek to transition away from extractive and exploitative economies by using the framework of a Just Transition. This means we must center the voices, stories, and experiences of frontline communities who are most deeply and already impacted by the changing climate, including indigenous peoples, low-income communities, and communities of color. As theatremakers, we know deeply that stories matter. In the face of the climate crisis, this has never been more true. For more information, see this helpful definition from the Climate Justice Alliance.

Convening participants. Photo by Carolina Gonzalez.

What is Groundwater Arts? 

Ok, but now you might be thinking, “Sure that all sounds great, but what do we do about this?” Or, “Easier said than done.”

Well, right. I get that.

I’ve been working (individually and together with my frequent collaborator Anna Lathrop) over the last several years with other artists and with arts institutions on a number of projects related to decolonizing practices and climate justice. Thanks to a seed of inspiration from the HowlRound Convening, Anna and I have made the leap into launching a new consulting and producing collaborative called Groundwater Arts.

We’re an artist-led collaborative, and we want to begin working with like-minded artists to build a generative future through a just and equitable transition away from the exploitation of people and the planet.  We hope to create long-term partnerships, collaborations, and resources that foster accountable theatremaking and powerful alternatives to structural racism, oppression, and inequity in the face of climate change. This vision is directly inspired by the groundwork laid by Storyshift to articulate principles and praxis for this kind of work.

Basically, this means we’ll help you figure out how to implement programs and practices (or assess the ones you already have in place) to integrate a decolonizing framework with a vision for a sustainable future. We’re excited to work with individual artists, arts institutions, and service organizations who believe, as we do, that the arts have a crucial role to play in shifting the narrative around the climate crisis.

Start with the ground. Give thanks for the water. Seed a just future.

A Challenge to Theatremakers

In many ways, Groundwater Arts also comes from another seed. Over the last few years, I’ve continually noted a critical gap between the work we’re doing as a field to dismantle white supremacy and the work we’re doing to build more sustainable, green ways of working. These two efforts are not and cannot be separate.

If you haven’t read Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything, I’d highly recommend it. She does a phenomenal job of explaining how the global movements for racial justice, indigenous sovereignty and land rights, equitable labor, and the environment are poised to come together in the face of the climate crisis. This is urgent and hopeful work.

So, in the face of the climate crisis (which I see as directly linked to 500 years of colonial violence and white supremacy), here are some steps that I think we, either as individual artists or folks working in institutional roles, can take:

My hope is that these will help us begin to tie together our critical frameworks and align our values with our practice around creating a more just and equitable future.

(Top image: Annalisa Dias and other convening participants. Photo by Blair Nodelman.)

This article was originally published on HowlRound, a knowledge commons by and for the theatre community, on September 20, 2018.

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Annalisa Dias is a Goan-American citizen artist, community organizer, and award-winning theatremaker. She currently lives and works in Piscataway territory in Washington DC and grew up in Seneca lands around Pittsburgh. She is a Producing Playwright with The Welders, a DC playwright’s collective; and is Co-Founder of the DC Coalition for Theatre & Social Justice. Annalisa frequently teaches Theatre of the Oppressed workshops nationally and internationally and speaks about race, identity, and performance.

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Artists and Climate Change is a blog that tracks artistic responses from all disciplines to the problem of climate change. It is both a study about what is being done, and a resource for anyone interested in the subject. Art has the power to reframe the conversation about our environmental crisis so it is inclusive, constructive, and conducive to action. Art can, and should, shape our values and behavior so we are better equipped to face the formidable challenge in front of us.

Go to the Artists and Climate Change Blog

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Theatre’s Part in the Quest to Save Public Land

by Ashley Teague 

Making Theatre Off the Grid

My organization, Notch Theatre Company, seeks to engage communities that our brick and mortar theatres are not reaching—connecting in their neighborhoods, in their language, and around the issues that matter to them. Our nation seems stalled in an ever-polarizing inability to engage in productive dialogue, and I believe this requires us artists and cultural workers to find ways of being in proximity to communities with which we might not normally interact. This includes bringing the theatre experience to geographically marginalized and rural communities.

Photo Credit: Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness © Brian O’Keefe, Chihuahuan Desert Rivers © Gosia Allison-Kosior, Grand Canyon © Jessica Pope, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument ©, Mojave Trails National Monument © Mason Cummings, Mount St. Helens © Michael Sulis, North Fork of the Gunnison © Jim Brett, Northern Red Desert © Kathy Lichtendahl

If a play falls in the forest and the New York Times didn’t hear about it, did it really happen? 

In the summer of 2017 I met Jessica Kahkoska, a Colorado-born artist now living in New York City, who was troubled by what’s happening to America’s public lands. When she brought it up with fellow New Yorkers, the reaction was: I don’t ever think about public lands. And how the heck can we? On Monday we are marching for immigration reform and on Tuesday we need to protect women’s rights and, as we mourn another young life lost to gun violence, the president signs an order allowing the NRA to conceal donation sources.

The onslaught is so great that it keeps us in a cyclone of constant vigilance and defensive activity. Meanwhile, our administration has unleashed a plan to sell (for $2 an acre) massive swaths of public lands to oil and gas companies—accounting for what would be the largest loss to public lands in American history. The information surrounding these leases is dense and obfuscating and demoralizing. In protest of the leases, a concerned citizen (who asks to remain anonymous) wrote this in a letter to their local government:

I write to comment in opposition to Alternative D, the BLM’s preferred alternative, contained in the Draft Resource Management Plan/Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the Colorado Bureau of Land Management Uncompahgre Field Office (“Draft RMP”). Initially, it cannot be ignored that the Draft RMP is incomprehensible. It is incomprehensible in its volume, totaling more than 1,985 pages. It is incomprehensible in its massive use of cross-references. See, e.g., Draft RMP at Table 2-2. It is incomprehensible in its content. See, e.g., id. at Appendix Q (Equations 1-83). And it is incomprehensible in its adoption of a Preferred Alternative without any meaningful explanation, analysis, or justification.

Huh? So grappling with how best to confront this monster problem, Jessica reached out to The Wilderness Society (TWS) asking how theatre might be able to support their mission. It was also around that time Jess saw Notch’s work and enlisted us to personalize the conversation, and make phrases like “See, e.g., id. at Appendix Q (Equations 1-83)” relatable to affected citizens.

TWS has a campaign called Too Wild To Drill, which identified fifteen communities threatened by oil, gas, and mineral extraction on public lands. The campaign asks, “What if we destroyed some of the best wild places in America for short-lived commercial gains?” Inspired by their call to action, Jess and I developed, with TWS support, Too Wild to Drill: An Odyssey. The project strives to create a national discourse as it takes an epic journey through fifteen rural communities across the United States and documents a pivotal moment in America—a moment we may look back on for generations to come as we evaluate the consequences of the current administration’s re-zoning a record number of public lands to the oil and gas industry.

Director Ashely Teague and playwright Jessica Kahkoska venue scouting in the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, Colorado. Photo by Jack Dwyer.

How it Works

In each community we hold public storytelling events to gather first-person testimonies about the issue. From those conversations, we develop a series of plays to be performed by community and professional actors in the very wilderness spaces that are under attack. The plays are interspersed with facilitated dialogue about local efforts to make change, offering audiences a chance to be in conversation with one another and feel more connected to the material presented, empowering them to become educators and advocates for their neighborhoods. The plays are an adaptation of Homer’s The Odyssey, each community representing a section of the full story. Currently, the program is active in the North Fork of the Gunnison Region of Colorado.

This model works because in each town we collaborate with community stakeholders (policymakers, nonprofit organizations, activists, farmers, ranchers, forest rangers, ex-coal miners, and artists) to generate the plays. These individuals become the program’s Community Partners—or advocates within the community—who define and own the play, and sustain the larger activism beyond our production.

In addition to mobilizing civic engagement at a grassroots level, the plays also act as an indelible record of the largest loss to public lands our country has ever seen. They document a community’s unique history and culture at a particularly urgent moment in that community’s journey. Because they are based on true stories, the plays are marked by an authenticity of character and voice, and a sometimes-disarming honesty. They are very real and very accessible, and have the rare power to touch people on a deeply personal level, galvanizing communities to take action.

Photo Credit: Appalachian Trail © Mason Cummings, Arctic National Wildlife Refuge © Florian Schulz, Badger-Two Medicine © TonyBynum.com, Bears Ears National Monument © Mason Cummings, Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness © Brian O’Keefe, Chihuahuan Desert Rivers © Gosia Allison-Kosior, Grand Canyon © Jessica Pope, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument © Mason Cummings

We also feel it is imperative to bring awareness of this socio-environmental issue to cities and directly to policymakers. Jessica speaks frequently about the fundamental disconnect between urban and rural cultures in America, and so this project strives to connect city audiences with stories about National Wilderness areas and the towns that depend on them. We hope (pending funding) to invite communities from each of these fifteen rural towns to travel to Washington, DC, Denver, and our home of New York City to produce the full Odyssey adaptation, where members from each town participate in their community’s section of the play.

Theodore Roosevelt, who, contrary to our current president, believed in protecting and cherishing the land said, “The wildlife and its habitat cannot speak, so we must and we will.” Working on this program, we have encountered government employees so fearful of their own government that they are scared to talk to us. Us? I think, Community-responsive theatre makers? “We can’t be seen affiliating with you, it’s just too contentious right now,” one National Park Service official told us. And sometimes I forget, theatre can be dangerous, threatening—wild. Howard Shalwitz, co-founder of Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, reminds us that “in repressive societies, theatre has often been aligned with the movement toward openness and freedom. In South Africa, theatre played a role in the struggle against apartheid. In Czechoslovakia, a playwright became the leader of a new democracy.” Theatre is playful and enchanting, transformative and inherently joyful, and when armed with a deep social consciousness, theatre is power.

One brave ranger met with us, anonymously, and told us that a forest is stronger the more diverse it is. “More diverse plant communities have higher functioning and survival rates, they just do, it’s just fucking science.” And while there is probably a more romantic way to phrase that, it makes me wonder, and I put to you: Can we harness the power of theatre to illuminate and be in proximity to the diversity of experiences and perspectives from across our nation (not just in our metropolitan centers), as a means of civil discourse, as a means of moving a functioning society forward?

Too Wild To Drill: An Odyssey strives to bring disparate communities together to influence environmental policy, to document a historic moment, to raise awareness in urban centers of what is happening in our rural communities, on our public lands, in towns you may not have thought to visit but which ultimately may unite us all.

(Top image: A first reading of new plays based on community testimony in Paonia, Colorado. Photo by Jack Dwyer.)

This article was originally published on HowlRound, a knowledge commons by and for the theatre community, on September 19, 2018.

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Ashley Teague is the founding artistic director of Notch Theatre Company and a recipient of the Embark Fellowship Award for Social Innovation in Entrepreneurship. Notch Theatre creates community-responsive theatre to drive change around the pressing issues of our time, offering communities across the nation a platform to tell their stories on stage and be their own change makers. In addition to the Too Wild To Drill program, Notch is a participating partner on Remember2019 in the Arkansas Delta, and on FIT, a play about the American eugenics movement of the 20th century that partners with the Intellectual Disabled Community. 

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Artists and Climate Change is a blog that tracks artistic responses from all disciplines to the problem of climate change. It is both a study about what is being done, and a resource for anyone interested in the subject. Art has the power to reframe the conversation about our environmental crisis so it is inclusive, constructive, and conducive to action. Art can, and should, shape our values and behavior so we are better equipped to face the formidable challenge in front of us.

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OPPORTUNITY: ‘HUMANS TREATING E-WASTE IN INDIA’ Documentary filmmaker looking for partners

We are looking for collaborators for a Documentary made on E-waste Workers in New Delhi, India.

New Delhi becomes the hub of e-waste collection and dumping ground for the entire country. Not only the country waste, but it is also being imported from outside countries.

Dealing with e-Waste

Over 95% of e-waste generated is managed by the unorganised sector and scrap dealers in this market, dismantle the disposed products instead of recycling it. About 4-5 lakh child labourers in the age group of 10-15 years are observed to be engaged in various e-waste activities, without adequate protection and safeguards in various yards and recycling workshops. Children, who are unaware of the hazards become incapable of working by the time they reach the age of 35-40.
E-waste accounts for approximately 40 percent of the lead and 70 percent of heavy metals found in landfills. These pollutants lead to ground water and air pollution and soil acidification. High and prolonged exposure to these chemicals/ pollutants emitted during unsafe e-waste recycling leads to damage of nervous systems, blood systems, kidneys and brain development, respiratory disorders, skin disorders, bronchitis, lung cancer, heart, liver, and spleen damage.

Having explored the entire process of e-waste treatment in delhi, it can be seen that the workers treating it, are at the most immediate risk. The documentary focuses specifically on the lives of the e-waste workers living and working in the market. What are their experiences, and feelings related to their work? How do they face such hazardous activities almost on daily basis, knowing the fact that this work is actually deteriorating their lives. It is sad to know that these workers are actually paying for the technological privileges enjoyed by modern humans.

Malti, a 60 year old e-waste worker explains how well-informed she is regarding the health hazards of her work, but she still does it daily, due to lack of other opportunities. She says she suffers from breathing difficulties.

Collaborators wanted

The film is still in its production phase and the filmmaker is looking out for the partners – individuals or institutions, who can take this film forward in the right direction. The purpose of this collaboration is that the film could meet its right audience and generate awareness about this impending issue, which is destroying lives somewhere in the world.

Watch the short version of the film and contact the filmmaker Gagan Singh if you are interested in collaborating.


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This story was posted by filmmaker Gagan Singh. Creative Carbon Scotland is committed to being a resource for the arts & sustainability community and we invite you to submit news, blogs, opportunities and your upcoming events.

The post OPPORTUNITY: ‘HUMANS TREATING E-WASTE IN INDIA’ Documentary filmmaker looking for partners appeared first on Creative Carbon Scotland.

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Creative Carbon Scotland is a partnership of arts organisations working to put culture at the heart of a sustainable Scotland. We believe cultural and creative organisations have a significant influencing power to help shape a sustainable Scotland for the 21st century.

In 2011 we worked with partners Festivals Edinburgh, the Federation of Scottish Threatre and Scottish Contemporary Art Network to support over thirty arts organisations to operate more sustainably.

We are now building on these achievements and working with over 70 cultural organisations across Scotland in various key areas including carbon management, behavioural change and advocacy for sustainable practice in the arts.

Our work with cultural organisations is the first step towards a wider change. Cultural organisations can influence public behaviour and attitudes about climate change through:

Changing their own behaviour;
Communicating with their audiences;
Engaging the public’s emotions, values and ideas.

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