Artists and Climate Change

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A New Narrative for Landscape Photography in the Anthropocene

by Virginia Hanusik

The landscape you grow up in influences how you see and move through the world. At least that holds true for me.

I spent most of my life in rural New York where I was lucky to develop an understanding of the unbalanced relationship between people and the natural environment at an early age. Most residents in my community were proud that the cornerstone of their identity was being distinctly anti-city (particularly New York City). They, and myself included at the time, believed that the urban metropolis was primarily comprised of pollution and people who didn’t care about the environment: how could they care when they were so removed from nature? The hypocrisy of this way of thinking, of course, can be found in the enormous amount of energy required to live a rural lifestyle. You must be transported – individually – to be educated, to earn a living, to buy food that’s been shipped from distant places, to have human connection. This produces an immense amount of carbon. And it’s what American national identity was built on.

Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, New York

I currently live in Brooklyn and work in Manhattan, but I still find myself seeking out areas of the city that are less populated, and where other aspects of the natural ecosystem are more explicitly synthesized.

I make my images from the perspective that the landscape I’m photographing is changing at a more rapid rate than ever before. Prior to moving back to New York, I lived in Louisiana for several years where a trip to the coast is never the same because of rapid coastal erosion.

We are often told that certain weather events are the most severe, the most catastrophic, and the most rare. But many of us – those fortunate enough to have been spared from a terrible environmental disaster – don’t experience these events in the same way, or at least in a way that encourages lifestyle change. It’s too easy, despite continuous media coverage, to be removed from the wildfires in California or the flooding in Houston. Because of this distance, climate change remains an abstract concept for a majority of people.

The impact of climate change is more commonly conveyed through images of disaster or aerial shots that give the viewer an opportunity to dissociate. Though important to see, in the longer term these images do not motivate people to believe in a better world

Pierre Part, Louisiana

In my projects, I focus on daily life in landscapes most vulnerable to environmental changes or landscapes already facing the need to adapt. I approach scenes that are reflective of the everyday, but incorporate symbols of a changing physical world with details that only become visible when the photographs are viewed together. Very few photographs of mine convey the same message when viewed alone. An image of a sinking houseboat in the Atchafalaya Basin of Louisiana develops a more holistic meaning when viewed alongside a survey of different structures in the area. Architectural style and land use patterns of a region provide details and insight into the values of a certain place.

Historically, men have dominated landscape photography and painting, as well as most other art forms. Their images have taught us how to live, what a desirable landscape might be, and how to interact with the physical world. The male perspective on the land created American Landscape Art as a genre – our national identity was built on idealized images of nature as much as it was built on portraiture.

Muir Beach, California

Some of my favorite photographers are those who were able to communicate a sense of place through massive photographic surveys. Edward BurtynskyFrank GohlkeRichard MisrachJoel Sternfeld, and Ansel Adams created images that changed my life and inspired me to see more of the world. At the same time, these images were taught to me because of the immense privilege and affluence that these men possessed. They were able to travel alone, across great distances, to secluded places, and had the ability to create pieces of art without fear.

Photographs are subjective. The reasoning behind the creation of an image is imbedded in one’s personal history – their life experience, their memories good and bad, their aspirations. As a woman, I know it’s important to bring a perspective on landscape that’s been historically marginalized. In her book As Eve Said to the Serpent: On Landscape, Gender, and Art, Rebecca Solnit describes the difference between the photographs produced by men and those produced by women, stating that “compositionally, the work of the genders seemed distinct, with the women’s work abandoning the sweeping prospect for more intimate and enclosed scenes.” Of course, this is not meant to be a generalization – there are certainly respected female landscape photographers. However, at this moment in environmental history, it’s critical to recognize that the male gaze on the land has helped shape our relationship with nature.

This unique moment in time forces us to re-conceptualize how and where we live, and to acknowledge that the right to build wherever we want will likely cease to exist. Before physical and structural changes can happen, however, there must be changes in how we think about inhabiting the world. We can build levees, but without an understanding of ecosystems and environmental stewardship, those levees will become isolated fortresses. Art provides endless opportunities to bridge that gap by engaging people and catalyzing collective action to create strong communities.

(Top image: Atchafalaya Basin, Louisiana.)

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Virginia Hanusik is a photographer whose work focuses on architecture and landscapes impacted by climate change. Her projects have been featured in Places Journal, NPR, Fast Company, Newsweek, and The Atlantic, among others, and she has exhibited work internationally. Her most recent body of work, A Receding Coast: The Architecture and Infrastructure of South Louisiana, documents climate adaptation along the Gulf Coast and has been shown in New Orleans and Berlin with support by the Graham Foundation. She grew up in the Hudson River Valley region of New York and currently lives in Brooklyn where she is a member of the Climate Working Group at New York University’s Asian/Pacific/American Institute. She likes to kayak more than almost anything.

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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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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.

Go to the Artists and Climate Change Blog

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Using Art to Empower Climate Action

by Susan Israel

I began thinking about using public art to engage people on climate issues in 2008. I was late to the party of climate artists, but not as late as the general public. I was practicing architecture at the time, and trying to build a green practice when I realized that I could offer green choices, but the client was the ultimate decision-maker, and there was little will to choose green. I heard confirmation at conferences – we have solutions but there is little interest in using them. We needed culture change on a massive scale, and I decided that I could have the greatest impact by working on that. I wanted to make a series of public sculptures that would generate renewable energy to create dialogue about renewables because data, and the way it was presented, clearly was not reaching people. In the US, there was widespread doubt about the veracity of climate change. When I would tell people of my idea of using art for climate engagement, they would look at me, puzzled. Art and climate?

ASK, Boston, MA, 2016.

Times have
changed. Although it may seem like Americans are still skeptical, according to a
report by Yale University
, 70% of Americans believe that climate
change is happening, and 62% are worried about it. Now when I talk about
climate engagement using art, people nod enthusiastically and even help make it
happen – “yeah, we want that.” I never did make the sculpture series, but instead
make ephemeral projects which can be done quickly, cost effectively, and are
scalable.

The first scalable project that I made was Rising Waters, which marks, in natural and built landscapes, future flood levels due to sea level rise and storms. The project is simple and direct, boiling down complex projections to three data points that you can relate to with your body as you walk past the lines. A lot of experimentation and 16 installations led me back to where I started – simple lines. Students helped make many of the installations, and going forward they will be made with local Rising Waters Chapters. The installations carry a URL to my website resources page which lists individual action items and links to research and other organizations.

Climate communicators – including climate artists – face a dilemma: show problems or show solutions? While it is tempting to show the problem, because that is what motivates us (climate activists), I try to link the impacts of climate change to information about personal actions. Climate change is a terrifying existential threat. Most people just want to shut it out, so only showing the problems can be self-defeating. But sometimes showing only solutions can make people feel like it is not an urgent problem, or they don’t need to take action.

Rising Waters, MacMillan Pier, Provincetown, Massachusetts, 2015.

Like many
climate artists, I turned to art so I could communicate information in a way
that allows people to absorb the message before they shut down, to appeal to
their emotions, and make data intuitive and personally relevant. We need
“both/and:” to show solutions alongside problems, empowering people to act.

ASK was an outreach project for the German Embassy and Transatlantic Climate Bridge that shows personal contributions to solutions. I made pith helmets with tiny wind turbines and sandwich boards that said “I’m a scientist, ASK me about climate change.” Companion information cards included individual action items and “Facts vs Myths” about the costs and benefits of renewable energy and aggregating small actions. I made ten sets, and volunteers wore them at public events. I addressed the question we hear so often – “the problem is so HUGE, what can I do?” While it seemed perhaps desperate to resort to one-on-one conversations, it really appeared to work. People would laugh at the hat, and then ask a question. The humor put them at ease, and allowed them to be receptive.

MISSING!, Boston, Massachusetts, 2016.

My projects
invite, and sometimes require, participation, engaging people at the outset and
providing some social buttressing. Rising
Waters
, Ask, and MISSING! involve people in the
making/distribution of the art, and give information about possible actions. With
MISSING!, people make missing pet
posters about endangered species. The activity is always offered in a social
group setting like public events or workshops. While they are deciding which
animal to draw, participants browse information about endangered species, effectively
learning without realizing it. By the time they finish their poster, I am
hoping they have made the analogy between their pet and a wild animal. Why do
we make a distinction between animals we care for and those we don’t? At the
end, they take home the poster to make copies and post in their neighborhood in
an effort to educate others. On the poster is a URL pointing to educational
resources on my website. Simple, direct, and fun while learning about
biodiversity, extinction and possible actions.

The response has been enormous and gratifying. So many people have told me how they remember the installations and have taken steps to have a lasting impact on climate change. I meet people who say they saw Rising Waters and now, whenever they are near the water, they wonder: “Where will the water be? How high and when?” These positive reactions keep me going.

MISSING!, Harvard Arts First, Cambridge, MA, 2016.

(Top image: Rising Waters, Courthouse MBTA, Boston, Massachusetts, 2014.)

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After 20 years of practicing architecture, Susan Israel founded Climate Creatives to make environmental issues accessible to the public, empowering and inspiring people to take action. Previously, she was a Founder and Principal at studio2sustain, Energy Necklace Project, and Susan Israel Architects. She is a licensed Architect, a LEED AP, ArtWeek Advisor, and long-time member of the Harvard Alumni Association Board of Directors. Susan speaks at events nationally and internationally. She holds an A.B. from Harvard College, Master of Architecture from Harvard University Graduate School of Design, and attended the Museum of Fine Arts School in Boston.

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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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An Interview with Artist and Writer Susan Hoffman Fishman

I hope you and your loved ones are having a peaceful beginning of the year. 

This month, I’m thrilled to share a fascinating interview. Meet Susan Hoffman Fishman, an artist, painter, and writer whose work has been exhibited in museums and galleries throughout the United States. Her latest projects focus on the threat of sea-level rise, the plastic in our oceans, and predicted wars over access to clean water. In 2018, her work was as resonate as ever.

You work with several different kind of materials. Please tell us about why and how you choose the materials you work with.

The materials I have used in my mixed media paintings have included: acrylic, pieces of documentary and original photographs, plastic, graphite, oil stick, charcoal, mesh, rags, cords, handmade papers, wallpaper, pieces of my old paintings that have been cut into sections and numerous others. For our collaborative installations and public art projects, my co-artist, Elena Kalman, and I have used polycarbonate film, parachute cord, corrugated cardboard, crayons, colored pencils, decorative papers and lengths of 2 x 4 lumber.

Because all of my work addresses social, cultural or political issues, I choose the materials for a given painting or installation that will enhance the content of and emotional reaction to the piece. For example, as part of my recent body of work entitled, Plastic Seas/Rising Tides, I completed a painting measuring 4 feet x 6.5 feet that is meant to pair the rising tides of plastic in our oceans with the rising tides of refugees seeking safety from drought, famine, violence and other environmental or political disasters. For that painting, entitled Rising Tides, #3, I used pieces of multi-colored plastic shopping bags from local stores that are swirling around and between waves of small World War II and contemporary photographs of refugees from all backgrounds and geographic locations (as well as graphite and oil stick). The result is a powerful, large-scale image of a roiling, abstract, plastic-refugee sea referencing the two critical rising tides currently impacting our world.

Much of your work addresses climate change and ecological disaster. What draws you to these topics?

For all of my career, I have focused my work on major events and situations that provide an insight into human behavior under duress. Early on, I completed a large body of work on the Holocaust (a catastrophe that has no precedent for the evil that was perpetrated against a single religious group) and its impact on 6 million victims. Later, in a series of paintings that I called Waiting Rooms, I addressed the intense fear and isolation that occurs during the process of waiting as disaster looms.

Then, in 2011, as I watched the waves caused by the tsunami originating in Japan travel throughout the world and reach even the shorelines of the western United States, it struck me in a visceral way that all of us are connected to one another, regardless of our religion, economic status, geographic location or culture, by what happens throughout the world to the air, water and land. That event was the catalyst for developing The Wave, a national, interactive public art project on water, a series of paintings and other work related to climate change, which ultimately became my primary focus.

Do you participate in climate activism beyond your artistic work?

Yes, I do, though primarily with groups that are concerned with water issues. Most recently, I participated in efforts by Save Our Water CT to prevent the Niagara Bottling Company from extracting 1.8 million gallons of water a day from the reservoir in my home town that supplies water to the Greater Hartford (CT) area. The deal, made in secret between the Metropolitan District Commission and Niagara, was done without regard to the needs of the local population in times of drought and will provide the bottling company with massive amounts of water at a marked discount from consumer prices.

The ultimate goal of Save Our Water CT, which has grown from a local group of volunteers to a statewide presence, is to “(1) support passage of the State’s first-ever State Water Plan; (2) prohibit discounted water rates and clean water project charges for water bottlers; (3) establish a permitting system for large commercial water bottling; and (4) prohibit the export of bottled water out of state when a Drought Warning is in effect.” I am participating in this effort to safeguard our water because I see it not only as an issue of local import but one, which in this time of climate change and its impact on global water reserves, that is playing out in many ways all over the world. At its core are three fundamental questions: Who ultimately owns the public’s water supply? Who gets to decide how that water is allocated? And what is our moral and civic responsibility to protect this vital public resource?

I was especially struck by Genesis Redux, your artist’s book on climate change. How did this project come about?

I undertook this project at this time primarily because of personal circumstances. In August of this year, I tripped over a concrete parking barrier and broke my kneecap, arm and nose just two days before I was to attend a retreat with the other four core artists/writers for Artists and Climate Change. Although very disappointed that I couldn’t attend the retreat, in pain and totally immobilized, I was determined to use my enforced convalescence in a constructive way. I normally work on large-scale paintings and installations but had been contemplating an artist’s book on climate change for a while and since I needed to work on a project that would accommodate my limitations, this was the time to do it. For those who are interested, I’ve written a post about the making of the book that was published on November 15, 2018.   

What do you hope viewers/readers take away from Genesis Redux?

I purposely left the ending of the story unfinished because I want readers/viewers to realize that each and every one of us needs to participate in solutions that limit the effects of climate change. We cannot leave it to political leaders who have their own political agendas to fulfill (most of which do not coincide with environmental reality). By using biblical language to describe the apocalypse that will come should we do nothing, I am suggesting that this new catastrophic “flood” will have been caused by the same evil, greed and lust that precipitated the flood in the story of Noah and his ark. Using simple images and text, my goal was to provide readers with a poetic and visual version of how we got in this mess in the first place. 

What’s next for you?

I have three projects in the works. The first is a major series of large-scale paintings that depict an abstract, chronological history of water from the origin of the planet to the present day, including references to water in various cultures and religions. The second project is a new interactive public art project on climate change and the third is another artist’s book. I’m also continuing to write a monthly series of posts for Artists and Climate Change, entitled, Imagining Waterwhich highlights artists of all genres who are working with the topic of water as a focus of their work and I’m researching publishing opportunities for Genesis Redux.

Read more about Susan Hoffman Fishman at her website.

This article is part of the Climate Art Interviews series. It was originally published in Amy Brady’s “Burning Worlds” newsletter. Subscribe to get Amy’s newsletter delivered straight to your inbox.

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Amy Brady is the Deputy Publisher of Guernica magazine and Senior Editor of the Chicago Review of Books. Her writing about art, culture, and climate has appeared in the Village Voice, the Los Angeles TimesPacific Standard, the New Republic, and other places. She is also the editor of the monthly newsletter “Burning Worlds,” which explores how artists and writers are thinking about climate change. She holds a PHD in English and is the recipient of a CLIR/Mellon Library of Congress Fellowship. Read more of her work at AmyBradyWrites.comand follow her on Twitter at @ingredient_x. 

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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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Poet Tyree Daye Writes on Ancestors, Floods, and Justice

Joining us in The Art House this month is North Carolina poet Tyree Daye. Tyree weaves together stories and voices from his family. He artistically expresses the collective trauma they have experienced and the deep insights passed down. Rivers, water, and flooding continually come up in his book of poetry titled River Hymns. Tyree talks about his poetry and reads both excerpts from the book as well as new poetry. His second book of poetry is coming out in 2020 with Copper CanyonPress. Tyree Daye is the winner of the 2017APR/Honickman First Book Prize for his book River Hymns (APR, 2017). He is a 2017 RuthLilly Finalist and Cave Canem fellow, and longtime member of the editorial staff at RaleighReview. He received his MFA in poetry from North Carolina State University.

Coming up next month, singer/songwriter, Ashley Mazanec, talks about her album, Let’s Talk about the Weather and shares tracks with us.

If you like what you hear, you can listen to full episodes of Citizens’ Climate Radio on iTunesStitcher RadioSoundCloudPodbeanNorthern Spirit RadioGoogle PlayPlayerFM, and TuneIn Radio. Also, feel free to connect with other listeners, suggest program ideas, and respond to programs in the Citizens’ Climate Radio Facebook group or on Twitter at @CitizensCRadio.

This article is part of The Art House series. 

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As host of Citizens’ Climate Radio, Peterson Toscano regularly features artists who address climate change in their work. The Art House section of his program includes singer/songwriters, visual artists, comics, creative writers, and playwrights. Through a collaboration with Artists and Climate Change and Citizens’ Climate Education, each month Peterson will reissue The Art House for this blog. If you have an idea for The Art House, contact Peterson: radio @ citizensclimatelobby.org

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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 Birth of a Climate Commons for Theatre and Performance

by Lanxing Fu

On a weekend in June, I sat in a blackbox theatre for three days with a group of mostly strangers.

We talked. We ate. We laughed. We challenged. We listened.

I heard the same refrain over and over again those three days. Wow, I’m so happy to be with others for once. It’s nice to be… un-lonely.

The Theatre in the Age of Climate Change Convening, hosted in Boston on 8-10 June 2018 gathered people together around a common purpose: to galvanize the community around making theatre and live performance in the age of climate change, to dissect and challenge the present ideas in this emerging field, and to distill all this talk into concrete, positive actions. Our earnest surprise at feeling seen and the joy of solidarity in people who felt they had spent years, decades, their entire lives talking into a void about the intersection of performance and climate are testament to how needed this convening was.

After we took some time to understand the landscape of this intersection of climate and performance, we broke off into groups to develop ideas for action. There were hard questions to ask and attempt to answer. Whose voices were not represented in the room that needed to be there? How can we use our collective power, and the many twisting, interconnected arms of this work to nourish our communities and our non-human brethren? What kinds of shifts in thought do we need to undertake ourselves as we work to shift larger consciousness? How can our collective action outrun the changing atmosphere? It was rich. It was inspiring as hell. The breadth of skills and knowledge expanded my mind like crazy. The voices in the room were beautifully articulate at calling in others who were not. It was far from smooth and sometimes contentious. We all fought the urge to perform when the microphone was in our hand and the cameras were on our faces. Some got lost in the language. Others struggled to be heard. We were as human as can be, as human as any group of humans trying to do something together— the weight of our own egos held in taut balance with strong, strong passion for our collective goal.

The weekend had started off with a cold splash of water to the face. We learned in our opening conversation that The Guardian’s Carbon Countdown Clock gives us just over eighteen years until we exceed the IPCC’s 2C carbon budget, if our emissions stay as they are now. Eighteen years to figure this mess out. Eighteen years to put systems in place to take care of people as the effects of climate change get worse and worse, to shift radically the way we relate to each other, our economy, and the land. In the same span of time as it takes the average American kid to journey from infanthood to adulthood, we need to “fucking save the planet.”

Lanxing Fu and other convening participants. Photo by Blair Nodelman.

From this urgency, this joy of togetherness, this friction of brains and bodies meeting, grew an idea like a sprig of bamboo racing towards the sun. One working group, though I cannot separate this group from the work of the group at large, seeded the idea of a Climate Commons for Theatre and Performance. An expression of our desire for horizontal connectivity, the Climate Commons takes its shape from mycelia, the underground, branching, threadlike fungal colonies that can grow to the size of 1600 football fields. We imagine that this is a network of interconnected nodes of activity at the intersection of performance and ecology, sharing knowledge, strategies, resources like mycelia share sustenance, across vast distances and through all forms of terrain. These nodes could potentially consist of geographic clusters of people already present at the conference; Miami, Boston, New York City, New Orleans, DC, Los Angeles, Standing Rock, Amherst, São João del Rei, London, Abu Dhabi. And it should necessarily expand to include people and geographies not present in the conference, in the Global South, in rural communities, in the Arctic, in the East. You can visit the HowlRound Theatre in the Age of Climate Change Convening page for updates on our progress with Climate Commons, and to learn how to get involved as it grows.

Convening participants. Photo by Carolina Gonzalez.

One big statement of intent that came forward is that we want to foster the kinds of imaginations that are needed in the future. We want to specifically examine what live performance can bring to the table in service of that pursuit. How do we tackle such a huge endeavor? Step one, understand what we have to work with. Because we were together for a short, intensive period of time, we left Boston having only scratched the surface of the wealth of knowledge and experience in the room. A few members of this group are leading an interview series, in which we who attended the convening interview each other, to dive deeper into the work we do in our home communities in order to gain a holistic understanding of where we are beginning. We want to uplift each other by tapping into and amplifying the abundance of energy, artistry, resilience, and skill that has been driving these kinds of revolutions for centuries.

Without knowing exactly where we are going, or what our ultimate goal is, we are moving forward with the knowledge that we want to keep connecting. We want to keep connecting because it’s easy to not. It’s easy to silo ourselves off into the narrowness of day-to-day life and keep putting on the lenses that already fit. Because the challenge of a global crisis demands that we be more expansive than we are individually built to be, we hope to establish a body that acts as a broker across distances and differences, bringing people together around the shared goal of using performance to change the story around climate and build a more equitable world.

(Top image: Convening participants having a small group discussion. Photo by Blair Nodelman.)

This article was originally published on HowlRound, a knowledge commons by and for the theatre community, on September 18, 2018.

For more on the convening, read MJ Halberstadt’s Art on a Damaged Planet: The Theatre in the Age of Climate Change Convening.

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Lanxing Fu is a Chinese-American writer, director, and performer. She is the co-director of Superhero Clubhouse, for which she is program director of The Living Stage NYC and a co-creator of Pluto (no longer a play) and Jupiter (a play about power). She has collaborated on and led interdisciplinary projects on globalization and the environment through research in Sri Lanka, Morocco, Turkey, and the United States through The Center for 21st Century Studies, as previous associate director of Critical Point Theatre, and as an ensemble member of Building Home, working in the New River Valley. She participated in JACK’s “Creating Dangerously” series, led by Virginia Grise and Kyla Searle, has trained with SITI Company for two years, and is an alumnus of Orchard Project’s Core Company. She holds a B.A. in Humanities, Science, and Environment and a B.A. in Theatre Arts from Virginia Tech.

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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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