Artists and Climate Change

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Imagining Water #17: Dancing for Fresh Water Everywhere

by Susan Hoffman Fishman 

During the first three decades of the 20thcentury, Rudolf von Laban, an Austro-Hungarian dance artist and theorist who is regarded as one of the founders of modern dance in Europe, developed what he called “movement choirs.” Just as vocal choirs are groups of people singing as one, movement choirs, as Laban defined them, involve large numbers of people moving together according to directed choreography and some elements of individual expression. His theory of dance included the notion that there is a natural connection between dance and nature. He said that:

Existence is movement. Action is movement. Existence is defined by the rhythm of forces in natural balance (…) It is our appreciation for dance that allows us to see clearly the rhythms of nature and to take natural rhythm to a plane of well-organised (sic) art and culture.

In 2008, almost one hundred years after Laban created movement choirs, an international group of 11 individuals, certified by the Laban/Bartenieff Institute of Movement Studies in New York City, met at a conference on Movement and the Environment at Schumacher College in South Devon, England.

Inspired by the conference, the setting and each other, the original group of 11, all with extensive experience producing movement choirs, decided to develop a global dance project related to the environment using this format. After discarding other elements such as air, wind and soil, the group chose water as the focus of the project, which they named Global Water Dances: Dancing for Fresh Water Everywhere. Their mission was to “connect and support a global community of choreographers and dancers to inspire action and international collaboration for water issues through the universal language of dance.” Global Water Dances is now part of the Arts and Culture programming of the Laban/Bartenieff Institute of Movement Studies, the organization that originally sponsored the conference in 2008, where the project was born.

The original planning team chose Marylee Hardenbergh from among their group to serve as the Artistic/Executive Director of Global Water Dances. Hardenbergh is a choreographer and former dance therapist with decades of experience creating large-scale, outdoor, site-specific performances all over the world. Hardenbergh and I spoke by phone recently about Global Water Dances and about her own inspiring work. As she relates on her website, titled Global Site Performance, her dances have taken place at a wide variety of locations, including:

an Aerial Lift Bridge; on skyscrapers; on a bombed-out Parliament Building in Sarajevo, Bosnia; on a clock tower on the Volga in Russia; on a Mediterranean beach in Israel with a Palestinian community, and; on oyster harvesting boats on the Housatonic River. (She’s) worked with community and trained dancers all over the globe and has turned Bobcat loaders, fire trucks and Coast Guard and U.S. Army Corps boats into dancers.

When I asked Hardenbergh which of her numerous projects outside of Global Water Dances was the most memorable for her, she described The Plant Dance, which took place at a sewage treatment plant in 1995 near her hometown of Minneapolis, Minnesota. Hardenbergh’s concept was to show through dance the process that converted waste water into clean water. In addition to watching the dance itself, audience members were invited on a tour of the plant – an eye-opening experience that showed them firsthand what happened after they flushed the toilet. Ultimately, the film that was created about the project won an award from the National Water Environment Federation.

The Plant Dance choregraphed by Marylee Hardenbergh, 1995

Hardenbergh explained in our conversation that the first biennial Global Water Dances took place on June 25, 2011, with 57 sites participating, including Florence, Beijing, Berlin, Cairo, Lagos, Mexico City, Paris, Tel Aviv, The Hague, Vienna and numerous other global and U.S. cities. Local choreographers who signed up were asked to choose outdoor sites that involved water. They were given a template consisting of a component to be choreographed locally with music of their own choice and a global section in which all sites performed movements using the same music. Local planners were encouraged to include community action events related to local water issues. 

Global Water Dances 2015, Tamale, Ghana
Global Water Dances 2015, Delhi, India

Three additional Global Water Dances occurred in 2013, 2015 and 2017 using the same format, with the number of sites growing incrementally from 63 in 2013 to 106 in 2017. Four months before the June 15, 2019 event, 125 sites have already registered. Hardenbergh described the project as an homage to water, an opportunity for audiences and dancers to pause from their busy schedules to actually look at a river or other body of water for an extended length of time, and a vehicle for community building. The video below is a compilation of the dances from Global Water Dances 2017 and shows the remarkable diversity of the sites and participants.

Although Global Water Dances celebrates and brings recognition to the beauty, power and universality of water as well as to current problems affecting the viability of water, its leadership realizes that environmental action is equally important in solving water issues. They’ve documented some examples of how the local dances have brought awareness and change to local water problems, including the two described below:

In Takoradi, Ghana (Ankobra River, 2017), environmental engineer Emmanuel Brace described how

the dance performance was choreographed to raise awareness about the adverse impacts of unsustainable mining practices, called galamsey. The ideologies reflected in the choreography and overall performances advocate a “bottom-up” approach and effective stakeholder engagement practices. The chief of Funko region and the regent of Akatenke spoke about the importance of the event and their efforts to stop galamsey practices.

In Buffalo, New York (Buffalo River, 2017), choreographer Cynthia Pegado related how

we raised awareness of the need for increased research on effects of ingested toxins and continued advocacy for clean water because research shows certain environmental exposures for people with genetic disposition increase the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease. PCBs have been found in relatively high concentrations in the brains of people who had Parkinson’s disease. Our message is especially strong because our Global Water Dances performers are people with Parkinson’s disease.

As I have learned repeatedly from writing this series, there are hundreds of visual artists, playwrights, poets, musicians, spoken word artists, etc. all over the world who are tackling the topic of water as it relates to climate change and environmental crises. The Global Water Dances project shows that the universal language of dance is a compelling vehicle for communicating ideas about climate change and the environment in an effective and engaging way.

(Top image: Global Water Dances 2013: Sunshine Coast, British Columbia)

This article is part of Imagining Water, a series on artists of all genres who are making the topic of water a focus of their work and on the growing number of exhibitions, performances, projects and publications that are popping up in museums, galleries and public spaces around the world with water as a theme.

 ______________________________

Susan Hoffman Fishman is a painter, public artist, writer, and educator whose work has been exhibited in numerous museums and galleries throughout the U.S. Her latest bodies of work focus on the threat of rising tides, the trillions of pieces of plastic in our oceans and the wars that are predicted to occur in the future over access to clean water. She is also the co-creator of two interactive public art projects: The Wave, which addresses our mutual need for and interdependence on water and Home, which calls attention to homelessness and the lack of affordable housing in our cities and towns.

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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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Wild Authors: John Atcheson

by Mary Woodbury 

John Atcheson, a regular contributor to Common Dreams and Think Progress, and an environmental and political fiction author, wrote one of my favorite environmental novels, A Being Darkly Wise. The novel is set in the Boreal forest of British Columbia, with strong influence from the Dunne-za (the real people). In Being, a group of K-street and environmentalist-activist types from Washington D.C. travel on a wilderness survival trek to one of the most isolated areas of northern British Columbia with a mysterious man named Jake. The novel is set in the present day. Unlike some climate change novels, where the literary characters need to adapt to climate change in the future, Atcheson’s novel gathers people to adapt to the idea of where we’re at and very closely heading now. It’s also rich with descriptions of the wilderness – the place beyond that I (we) so want to reconnect with, and often do.

On his website, John states – on whether fiction can be autobiographical in nature:

Take Pete, the protagonist in my first book, A Being Darkly Wise. We both worked at the US Environmental Protection Agency. We both backpacked many of the most remote areas in North America. And like Pete, I have taken wilderness survival and I’m a former marathon runner (knees went). But the resemblance stops there.

I talked with John about his novel Being over three years ago. I was drawn to it because it was set in the wilderness of British Columbia, a place I have hiked, rafted, ran, studied, and written about – not to mention the story was a page-turner and had me suspended nonstop. I recently talked with John again, remembering that Being is part one of a trilogy. He let me know that part two (Black Fire Burning) is finished and in the editorial stage, and he’s working on part three (In the Language of Lemmings).

I read Being in the course of less than a week, deeply hooked on what it was saying and where it was leading. I was further intrigued by John’s answers to a few questions I had about the novel. Of all the climate change novels I’ve read, this one strikes me as the most effective at conveying a sense of urgency while imparting ancient wisdom and inspiring us about what we need to do as a human race, not just next but forever more – and, most importantly, now.

At the Free Word Centre, I featured the novel among my then (September 2014) twelve favorites novels about climate change, by saying:

“John has a background in the EPA, so he knows about the red tape involved in getting real work done to protect our environment. The story is very well written: a modern suspense and adventure tale about a group of people traveling with a very interesting guide to an isolated mountainous area in British Columbia. The book is about a journey back to one’s most essential self as one relates to nature rather than culture.”

As I noted to John recently, so much has changed in the world since 2014, when we first chatted about his book. The EPA red tape was terrible then; now the EPA has been completely undermined. A portion of our earlier interview follows.

* * *

Mary: I love the title of your book, which comes from Alexander Pope’s “An Essay on Man.” Your novel manages to remain focused on a modern-day story that fits into a long narrative of humankind’s lineage on earth. We get the feeling from reading A Being Darkly Wise that we’re on the cusp of something big, something terrible, due to climate change, resource grabs, and the human race moving away from nature. Do you agree with this assessment, and how do you think novels such as yours can make an impact on readers?

John: Starting with your first question, I do think we are on the cusp of something big: an epochal shift caused by humanity’s post-evolutionary relationship with the Earth. This is a temporary situation – nature will have her way, ultimately – but it is having profound consequences.

To understand this, we must start some 3.8 billion years ago, when the first life forms emerged on Earth, and a magnificent experiment began. We humans exist – tenuously – because at this precise moment, the carefully wrought balances of energy, material, chance and time produced the one physical world and climate that allows us to survive and the ecosystems we rely on to prosper.

All the magnificent life forms we take for granted; all the exquisite natural systems that make our oxygen, provide our food, and feed our souls are a product of that 3.8 billion year journey.

So here we are, gifted with that most miraculous – and fragile – gift, a world conducive to our existence. Yet in what amounts to micro-seconds in geologic time, we are now wiping these precious gifts out like a flashflood roaring through time. Some life forms will survive this massive destruction; we might even be among them. But it will be a poorer, meaner and less prosperous world for the creatures who do manage to survive it.

With regard to the second question, I believe novels can be a powerful way of motivating cultural change. As I wrote in a review of climate fiction back in February of 2010, sometimes, fiction is the best way to influence people – H. G. Wells’ The Time Machine and George Orwell’s classic 1984 come to mind. Each provoked a visceral reaction that galvanized the culture around it, changing forever the way issues such as class and totalitarianism were perceived. Neville Shute’s On the Beach made the consequences of nuclear war real, and therefore, unthinkable.

In a scientifically illiterate culture such as ours, these kinds of myth-based meta-narratives may be the best way to communicate complex scientific issues like climate change. Myths, as Bill Moyers and Joseph Campbell revealed, are not necessarily false, nor are they automatically at odds with science. At their best, they provide another way of viscerally experiencing a truth.

Finally, I think climate change is unique in terms of the kinds of challenges humanity has faced.  For the first time, we must tackle an existential threat, before the worst consequences are felt. But we may be hardwired to deal with the present proximate, not the future probable. Fiction is one way to make that future more real, more palpable.

Of course, it has to be done in a way that resonates on an emotional level – sort of the opposite of the writing I’m doing here.

Mary: I know from talking with you that you’ve spent time around the place that you’ve written about – that British Columbia is quite the wilderness area, though it is increasingly threatened by logging, mining, oil sands pipes, and supertankers on the coastal ecosystems. I’d like to pretend that we’re sitting around a campfire and you have some stories to tell. Do you have a good bear story? A good wolf story? Tell us more about your personal experiences in this wild isolated section of Canada.

John: I have hiked and backpacked across some of the wildest areas left in North America, including parts of the Boreal forests, the setting where A Being Darkly Wise takes place. Much of this was done solo, in my younger years.

As for a bear story, I do have one. Readers of my novel will recognize it – I gave it to Pete, and he remembers is early in the novel.

OK, first let’s gather around a campfire, somewhere in one of the most remote areas left in North America. Beyond the thin, fragile fringe of light afforded by the fire, is a vast forest, wrapped in a darkness that is unimaginable to those who have passed their lives in cities and towns. The trees hiss in the wind, obscuring any sounds, leaving us sightless and senseless. We have our backs to the unknown, and the unknowable. Quiet now.  Did you hear that … Just a branch crashing to the forest floor says one grizzled old guy hopefully. The circle pulls in tighter.

Yes, there could be anything out there and we wouldn’t know it until it was upon us. In this fear inducing crucible, what else is there to do but swap stories of dangerous times we’ve faced – tales of wolves, and wolverines, pumas and polecats, and of course, Grizzly.

It’s my turn, and I begin slowly.

I guess my most dramatic encounter with a grizzly occurred in Denali National Park, Alaska. It was the first week of June and most of the Park was empty. I was hiking up a braided stream bed toward a range of hills, when I rounded a bend and saw a mother grizzly with two cubs on a small rise by the stream, maybe 30 yards from me. This combined three of the worst things you can do with a grizzly – surprising a mother with cubs, coming from downwind, and being alone. I froze, and so did she, for a moment.

I’d seen plenty of bear over the years, including one fairly close call with a grizzly in the back country of Glacier National Park, but he’d run off as we approached, and most of the others had been black bear, or grizzlies at a considerable distance.

But I’d never encountered one this close. She could see me – bears have pretty good vision, but their nose is their main source of information – and I was downwind. She stood on her hind legs and swayed back and forth as she tried to get my scent. She was a huge female, and completely unafraid of me. I had the sense that if there were a thought bubble over her head, it would have said something like, “Should I kill this thing now or get the cubs to safety first?” Anyway, another minute or two of that and she would have  picked up a scent – urine – running down my leg.

But, fortunately, she dropped to all fours and chased her cubs over the rise, and I thought I was in the clear. Breathing a sigh of relief, I wondered whether I should head back to the road, or keep going. About the time my pulse rate got down to 150 beats per minute, there she was again, standing atop the hill, looking straight at me.

I have never felt so insignificant in my life. This was her world; the next step in our dance was hers to make, and there was nothing – not one thing – I could do. She was faster than me, stronger, and in this context, a good deal smarter. We locked eyes for a moment – another stupid thing to do: you’re supposed to be submissive in the face of an aroused grizzly.

Was I frightened? Hell, yeah. But there was something else going on here, too. I felt alive in a way I never have before or since; blood and adrenaline coursed through my veins, and I had an almost preternatural focus, as seconds became centuries, and centuries of our species history boiled up within me in seconds. No thinking now. Just her and me in a vast expanse, locked in dance choreographed by both our ancestors over a million years’ time.

All I could see were her eyes, and I struggled to read my future in them.  She did the same, as she held my gaze. She wagged her head back and forth, her black eyes fixed on me. I began to speak softly, assuring her I meant no harm. I’ll never know whether she heard me or not, but after a few more moments, she dropped to all fours and headed back over the hill.

Me? My hike was over … I headed back to the road, very happy to be alive. I have a couple of photos of her chasing her cubs over the hill. They’re not very good. I think the camera may have been shaking a bit. But they are among my favorites.

Mary: I was enchanted by Lynx from the Dunne-za (the real people). Have you spent time with this Aboriginal group? I did a little reading on them and learned that there are only 1,000 or so left. Their historical culture involved hunting-gathering, vision quests, and a religious type of prophet group called Dreamers. Is Lynx supposed to be a dreamer? You mention that the Dunne-za believe that all people have magic in them. Can you expand on these ideas?

John: I have not spent time with the Dunne-za. I first read about them years ago in British Columbia Magazine, and I was fascinated by their creation story. As you note, vision quests and Dreamers are a big part of their belief system. I was beginning to think about writing a novel, and I filed them away, sure there was a place for them. Lynx is a Dreamer, and so is Jake.

The idea that the Dunne-za believe everyone has magic in them was something I seized on for my story, although there’s some evidence that historically they did believe that. What I wanted was a way to look at our “civilized” world through the eyes of an outsider – someone who experiences the world in a way we do not, someone who can see the folly of our own beliefs and behavior.

Mary: You and I have had a little discussion on the beginning of the book, which basically starts with the main character (or one of them) reading an ad in the paper. I had pointed out that Daniel Quinn’s Ishmael began the same way; I think it’s interesting that in Quinn’s book, the ad asks for a student who has an earnest desire to save the world. You cited your inspiration to be Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who often also begins the story with a letter or news article. I think this is an interesting writing device. The character Jake is looking for people to help him save the world. This is a long lead-up to my question, which is: Would you respond to such an ad? Where do you think it might lead?

John: I’ve had a chance to reflect on your question about Ishmael, and I’ve come to the conclusion that it may well have influenced me. It had been many years since I read it, and I’d forgotten how prominently the ad played in the opening sequence. At the same time, techniques such as letters, ads, and phone calls are pretty common methods to start a novel, so who knows, maybe it was Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, or maybe it was just another arrow I’d stored in my quiver, gleaned from reading constantly and widely. My second novel in the trilogy starts with a letter, by the way.

There are several answers to your question about answering the ad. As a young man in my twenties with no children, I would have answered such an add in a nano-second. After having children, probably not. And now, with my kids on their own, I would like to think I would.

As to where it might lead – why, to an adventure, of course. The best kind of adventure where a little bit of good might come of it.

Mary: I caught some interaction between characters, from Socratic dialogue (Jake questioning and answering those who responded to the ad) to otherwise didactic relaying of information in dialogue (such as survival tips, philosophical quips) that came out in conversation. These dialogues served as an effective tool in providing information. Did you ever feel that by doing this – which I actually thought was done quite brilliantly – you were really going to create a seed in the reader’s head? I think it worked – was this your aim?

John: It was exactly my aim.

One of the great challenges in climate change fiction, particularly for those of us who feel passionately about the need to tackle global warming immediately and seriously, is to avoid writing a polemic. If the characters and story are a thinly disguised way of making your argument, then it will show, in weak characterization, predictable or implausible plots, and deadly prose. If that’s your aim, study the science and policy and write a non-fiction book. Nothing wrong with that – there are plenty of great ones out there.

But fiction must stand on character and plot. Any information a novel imparts can’t come from you, the author. It must be organic to the story and the people populating it. If it is part of conflict, or if it comes from a mysterious place, so much the better. Fiction may connect on a rational level, or it may not, but it absolutely must connect at an emotional level, or it won’t work.

One of the best examples of this comes from On the Beach by Nevil Shute. The characters’ struggle to carry on with a sense of normalcy in the face of imminent death says more about the horrors of nuclear war than a thousand essays, or a stack of statistics. When we watch Peter Holmes plant and lovingly tend a garden he will never harvest, or attempt to tell his wife how to kill their baby daughter before radiation sickness sets in, we care about them. And because we do, we not only understand the horrors of nuclear war, we feel it. 

This is the power of good fiction, and it is what I am striving for when I write.

* * *

John writes and tells great stories, fiction and otherwise. Who doesn’t like a good bear story? I was thrilled to hear the next part of the trilogy is coming soon. It is like looking forward to a visit with an old friend. When we recently talked again, he told me:

I think fiction still has an important role to play in defining the zeitgeist of an era. What I find fascinating is the plethora of dystopian works in film and fiction. I believe they are both a reflection of the times we’re in, and a creator of them. By which I mean, there’s a vague sense of dread, even among those who don’t acknowledge climate change, and dystopian stories allow them to grapple with their fear. Actually, I think the dread goes beyond climate change. The institutions and the disciplines we used to rely on are in disrepute so there’s an inchoate sense of doom … hence the other phenomena in film, and in graphic novels, The Super Hero.

This is an interesting point – the feeling of growing insecurity leading to this sense of doom. I think we’ve always felt that, but for much of the world not trusting a world leader, such as the current president of the United States, it just adds another layer of fright as though things are going to end, with a whimper or a bang, maybe in our lifetimes.

John also contributed a short story to Winds of Change: Short Stories about Our Climate, which I published at Moon Willow Press in 2015. The anthology originated from a short story contest put on by Eco-fiction.com in 2014. We recently provided John’s short story, “How Close to Savage the Soul,” for free at the Dragonfly Library in order to contribute to teaching material at Western Michigan University, whose English professors had read the anthology and thought so highly of John’s story that they really wanted to use it in their classrooms and in the book Teaching Climate Change to Adolescents: Reading, Writing, and Making a Difference. This teaching text’s comments about John’s story and others from the anthology may be found in Google Books.

I think that this kind of reach that eco-fiction and similar genres have is remarkable. Throw a contest. Publish the best entries in an anthology. And the next thing you know, some of the stories are taught to students and make it into an instructional teaching book. It’s exciting to get noticed, but for me, the love of this literature is ultimately realized when students become energized and excited by these stories – when these students who are inheriting our messes find hope. In a highly insecure and frightening world, we are building a place of wonder and inspiration, in stories. And if we look to one thing many authors who write about climate change want to accomplish, this kind of outcome is very positive.

This far reach can include nonfiction as well, and John sent me the cover teaser for his newest book, WTF America? How the US Went Off the Rails and How to Get It Back on Track.

This article is part of our Wild Authors series. It was originally published on Eco-Fiction.com on June 15, 2017.

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Mary Woodbury, a graduate of Purdue University, runs Eco-Fiction.com and Dragonfly.eco, sites that explore ecology in literature, including works about climate change. She writes fiction under pen name Clara Hume. Her novel Back to the Garden has been discussed in Dissent Magazine, Ethnobiology for the Future: Linking Cultural and Ecological Diversity (University of Arizona Press), and Uncertainty and the Philosophy of Climate Change (Routledge). Mary lives in the lower mainland of British Columbia and enjoys hiking, writing, and reading.

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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 Top 10 Most Exciting Art Institutions in Rural Areas

by Yasmine Ostendorf 

In the last decade, the capital of the Netherlands has become incredibly popular with tourists, the giant letters I AMSTERDAM in front of the iconic Rijksmuseum serving as the ultimate selfie backdrop. However, slowly but surely, more and more Amsterdammers started opposing these letters, which had become a symbol of “overbranding” and “Disneyfication” of the city and museum square. Then something interesting happened: In November 2018, the Green Party (Groenlinks), now the leading party in Amsterdam, managed to have the letters removed – a bold political move that fueled a wider debate about tourism and the role of museums.

This conversation is relevant not only to Amsterdam, but to most European cities where Easyjet flights packed with sightseers land every hour. Have our museums become theme parks for tourists? Exhibitions are consumed –as well as plenty of coffee and cake – and topped off with the unavoidable “exit through the gift shop.” There seems to be no escaping selfies and slogans, consumption and queues.

People are increasingly living in cities: from 50% of the global population in 2008 (when the population was 6.7 billion) to an expected 84% in 2100 (when the population will be a mind-boggling 11.2 billion). Aside from the fact that we need to start talking about this frightening population growth, I’m expecting a growing need (and interest) for museums located outside of cities – far from the hustle and bustle. So next time you are looking for a weekend activity, consider visiting an art institution that is not only in a beautiful and tranquil area, but that also curates exhibitions and programs events on the topics of ecology and sustainability. Please find below my personal favorite Top 10 most exciting art institutions in rural areas – in Western Europe (for now).

Just don’t say you got it from me and don’t go there all at once!

1. Verbeke Foundation, Belgium

Founded by art collectors Geert Verbeke and Carla Verbeke-Lens, the Verbeke Foundation is a private art site, which opened its doors to the general public in June 2007. A “refuge” for art, the foundation holds an impressive collection of modern and contemporary art and offers exciting possibilities for emerging as well as less renowned artists.

‏Culture, nature, and ecology go hand in hand at the Verbeke Foundation. With 12 hectares (29.7 acres) of scenic area and 20,000 m² (4,9 acres) of covered space, the Foundation is one of the largest private initiatives for contemporary art in Europe. The warehouses of the former Verbeke transportation agency were converted into unique exhibition halls, and one of the buildings houses an extraordinary collection of collages. Artists have the opportunity to be in residence, and large and small exhibitions are held at the museum continuously.

Our exhibition space does not aim to be an oasis. Our presentation is unfinished, in motion, unpolished, contradictory, untidy, complex, inharmonious, living and unmonumental, like the world outside of the museum walls. You will find no flamboyant sensational buildings here but rather a refreshing, unpretentious place to look at art and a subtle criticism of the art world.

Founders Geert Verbeke and Carla Verbeke-Lens

Founders Geert Verbeke and Carla Verbeke-Lens

2. Museum Insel Hombroich, Germany

Museum Insel Hombroich aims to be in harmony with nature, or to show “art in parallel with Nature.” This description echoes the quote by French Post-Impressionist painter Paul Cézanne: “Art is a harmony parallel to nature.” It captures the spirit of the Museum, which explores the idea of creating a space as an ideal in both museum and landscape terms.

Opened to the public in 1987, Museum Insel Hombroich sits on a 21-hectare, conservation-grade landscape and is comprised of ten pavilions (called “walk-in sculptures”), which are open exclusively during daylight hours. Some pavilions are quite hidden amid stunning meadows filled with wildflowers. The absence of captions, labels, signposts or even barriers in front of the works contributes to making this a very tranquil and almost spiritual experience; you can fully engage with the artworks and get lost in the experience. It’s not about the fame or ego of the artist (though there are some incredibly famous works in the collection). Furthermore, there is hardly any artificial lighting, which allows the works to always be connected to the outside world.

To me, Hombroich means not only the construction of a museum, but an attempt to find a new way of living with all the ideas and things that one might almost see as having been disparaged in our current society.

Karl-Heinrich Müller (1936–2007), founder of Museum Insel Hombroich and Foundation

Karl-Heinrich Müller (1936–2007), founder of Museum Insel Hombroich and Foundation

3. Kasteel Wijlre, The Netherlands

Located less than half an hour away from the quaint town of Maastricht, tucked between the rolling hills of Limburg, you will find Kasteel Wijlre, a castle-esque private home turned contemporary art space. Though it received the European Garden Award in 2014, the term “castle park” seems more appropriate for this three-hectare green area, which includes lawns, a rose garden, an apple orchard, an herb garden, a vegetable garden and a toad pool. This “castle park” houses several permanent artworks, including the archetypal Broken Circle by Ad Dekkers, and the easily missed, yet not-to-be-missed bronze tree by Giuseppe Penone, hidden among “real trees.”  Previous exhibitions have included a selection of previously unseen collages, photographs and drawings by Gordon Matta-Clark, as well as the exhibition What About A Garden (shown above), examining how the garden affects our thinking and sense of agency.

We love sculptures, but didn’t want a sculpture garden. In our garden, a tree is never sacrificed to make way for an artwork. In Wijlre, art, architecture, and landscape form a perfect unity.

Founders and collectors Marlies and Jo Eijck

Founders and collectors Marlies and Jo Eijck

4. Hauser & Wirth Somerset, United Kingdom

The fancy and well-known contemporary art gallery Hauser & Wirth is mostly associated with bustling city-life, with its galleries located in cosmopolitan hubs such as London, Los Angeles, New York, Zurich and Hong Kong. However, in 2014 Hauser & Wirth decided to bring their next artistic venture to a farm that had been derelict for several decades in rural Somerset. Next to the old and restored barns turned exhibition space, and a great restaurant, there is the stunning outdoor area: a landscaped garden dotted with sculptures designed by internationally-renowned Dutch landscape architect Piet Oudolf. With conservation, education and sustainability at the core of its mission, Hauser & Wirth Somerset offers a variety of special events including talks, seminars, workshops and film screenings. It is also home to a bookstore and an artist-in-residence program where visiting artists can immersive themselves in the idyllic surroundings.

Photo by Alexandra Goldina

5. Louisiana Museum, Denmark

Sitting on a cliff, overlooking a stretch of ocean between Sweden and Denmark, is a museum that was initially intended to only exhibit Danish art when it opened in 1958. It is still home to significant Danish modern and contemporary art, but it also displays work from beyond the Danish borders and keeps close ties with museums globally. The grounds around the museum include a landscaped sculpture garden that connects art, landscape and architecture. The property slopes towards the Øresund strait and is dominated by huge, ancient tree specimens and sweeping vistas of the sea.

On display are works by artists such as Jean Arp, Alexander Calder and Louise Bourgeois. The sculptures are either placed so they can be viewed from within the building, in special sculpture yards, or they are installed around the gardens, where they enter into a symbiotic relationship with the surrounding lawns, trees and the sea.

6. CDAN (Center for Art and Nature), Spain

On the outskirts of the city of Huesca, in the north of Spain, you might not immediately expect a cutting-edge expo on gender and ecology, yet this is exactly the type of exhibition you find at the Center for Art and Nature. Merging art and nature through contemporary art exhibitions, the center invites new reflections on the relationship between creation and landscape. In most shows, the visitor is encouraged to be an active collaborator.

The beautiful natural light, and the quality of the landscape and natural elements that surround Huesca, contribute to making a visit to CDAN a  stimulating yet calming experience.

Marisa Merz installation view at Centre international d’art et du paysage de l’île de Vassivière. Courtesy of Centre international d’art et du paysage de l’île de Vassivière. Photo by Claudio Abate.

7. Centre international d’art et du paysage de l’île de Vassivière, France

This incredible museum is located in the middle of a lake and reached only by footbridge (or boat). Apart from it being on an island, the Centre international d’art et du paysage de l’île de Vassivière (the International Center of Art and Landscape at Vassivière Island) stands out because of its emblematic lighthouse and aqueduct-shaped building, designed by Aldo Rossi and Xavier Fabre.

The Centre is a place dedicated to contemporary creation, experimentation, production, research, exchange, training, and reception. It aims to be a habitable and convivial place for art on a human scale, and presents series of temporary exhibits. Over the months and years, great names have exhibited their works there including Pierre Bismuth, Hubert Duprat, Yona Friedman, Cyprien Gaillard, Thomas Hirschhorn and Tino Sehgal. A stroll in the beautiful natural environment of the island is mandatory.

8. Skaftfell Art Center, Iceland

Skaftfell, based in Seyðisfjörður East Iceland, is a visual art center with the essential role of presenting, discoursing, and encouraging the development of contemporary art. It is a meeting point for artists and locals and its activities consist of exhibitions and events, alongside an international residency program and outreach program. Skaftfell is also the guardian of a very small house previously owned by a local naïve artist Ásgeir Emilsson (1931-1999). In March 2013, Skaftfell received an Icelandic award, Eyrarrósin, for outstanding cultural leadership in a rural area.

The Center also hosts a residency program that allows artists to live and work in a unique micro community where creativity is applied to the everyday, and that fosters dialogue between art and life. Over 250 artists have come to Seyðisfjörður and to East Iceland through the Skaftfell residency over the past 20 years. Some have left a physical trace, or a trace in someone’s memory. Some have returned many times, and others have stayed for good. Skaftfell is far away from the busy capitals of contemporary art, and it offers a refuge for artists – a hiding place, and a thinking space. The Center encourages artists to embrace the idea of a slow residency, and to allow themselves time for contemplation, setting the ground for a shift in their practice.

Photo by Amedeo Benestante

9. Volcano Extravaganza, Italy

Every year since 2011, Fiorucci Art Trust has presented the artist-led program Volcano Extravaganza on the volcanic island of Stromboli, Aeolian Islands, Italy. Artistic leaders of previous editions include Runa Islam (2018), Eddie Peake (2017), Camille Henrot (2016), Milovan Farronato (2015), Haroon Mirza (2014), Lucy McKenzie (2013), Nick Mauss (2012), and Rita Selvaggio (2011). In recent editions, Fiorucci Art Trust collaborated with the Serpentine Galleries. The events include film screenings, contemporary art exhibitions in the Fiorucci Art Trust houses, and experimental performances across the island.

10. Mustarinda, Finland

The Mustarinda Association, comprised of a group of artists and researchers whose goal is to promote the ecological rebuilding of society, the diversity of culture and nature, and the connection between art and science, is located in a house at the edge of the Paljakka nature reserve in Kainuu, Finland.

Contemporary art exhibitions, boundary-crossing research, practical experimentation, communication, teaching, and events form the core of their activities. Mustarinda reaches towards a post-fossil culture by combining scientific knowledge and experiential artistic activity.

The Association is active both locally and internationally, and is involved in the PoFo project in collaboration with the Helsinki International Artist Program where they invite people from various fields to discuss what a  post-fossil future might look like.

PS: I’m researching similar initiatives outside of Europe – in Africa, Asia, South-America, etc. Please let me know if you know of any hidden art gems in rural areas!

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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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Entropy – 10th anniversary of the Black Saturday Fire – February 8, 2009, Victoria, Australia

Fire has been an element of the Australian landscape for tens of thousands of years. The indigenous Aboriginal people used it in a controlled manner to manage fuel loads, and more recently European settlers also used it to clear land for pasture. But out of control wildfire can exact immense devastation on both the natural environment and civilization. And only two things ignite a wild fire: lightening and the actions of people.

Growing data on global catastrophic fires reveals that exaggerated – often record-breaking – droughts and heat driven by human-induced climate change are causing more extreme fires to strike, and strike more frequently. Recent horrific wildfires in Spain, Portugal, Greece, California, Chile and even Hawaii add a heavy weight to this testimony. 2018 saw fires in Sweden reach inside the Arctic Circle for the first time. The 2018 wildfire season in California was the deadliest and most destructive on record, with a total of 8,527 fires burning an area of 1,893,913 acres.

Detail of composite image.

Ten years ago, on February 8, 2009, Australia experienced its most catastrophic fire in recorded history; 173 people perished and the fire burned a staggering 1,000,000 acres in a single day. The week before the fire assault saw consecutive days over 43 °C in Melbourne’s central business district. On the day of the fire, a new heat record of 46.4 °C (115.5 °F) was set. (This record was broken again in January this year with 46.7 °C .)

The day of the 2009 Black Saturday Fire, 100 km/h winds
blew from the inland desert, inflicting something like a hot fan oven in
overdrive on all living beings. To aggravate the situation, with no rain for
over a month, and an eleven-year dry period, the landscape was like an
explosive time bomb hyperventilating from strong drying winds. These combined
climatic conditions made it evident that infrastructures like trains, power,
etc. were struggling and that they were simply not designed for these extremes.

Entropy triptych, frame 126-127-128. From Kinglake looking down the valley toward St. Andrews, February 17, 2009.

The fire ignited about 50 km away from where I live at St. Andrews from an electrical transformer fault. Windblown embers then started a fire a few valleys over from us which began heading towards our house and the Baldessin Press printmaking studio. We were away from the area, and as the ferocious fire front approached, the neighbors were frantically calling, telling us: don’t expect a house when you get back. But as fate would have it, the wind suddenly changed and blew in from the south at about 120 km/h; the fire changed direction, away from the press. However, the long burning flank suddenly became the head and the scale escalated by 100 times.

The immense destructive force rushed away from our place, and up the valley to the top of the mountain at speeds of about 200 km/h with the roaring sound of low flying jets. The heat was so intense that houses and cars exploded before the flames even reached them. From some angles, the fire was so hot that there was no real smoke – just flames and fire balls from vaporized eucalyptus oil in the leaves of the trees. Most people had no warning or chance of escape.

Entropy triptych, frames 2278-79-80. A walk between Brian and Di Gilkes studio at Ninks Rd and Baldspur Rd, St. Andrews, April 27, 2009.

While we are privileged to operate a printmaking studio in a bushland setting, The Baldessin Press, and the fire missed us by a wind change and a few kilometers, we had an artist friend who had worked in the studio perish in the fire. We were not home at the time but returned home the next day.

My first trip into the burnt-out desolate area was with Stewart Morgan up Olives Lane to his devastated property. As soon as I opened the door of the car, there was an overwhelming peculiar smell or sensation of a smell. Years ago, when I was in my 20s, I had been put up to change the stones on the base of a large bread oven. I was the skinniest one on hand. I had to crawl inside the oven, pass out the stones, and lay the new stones. Inside the oven was a strange sensation, as though the oxygen had been consumed
through the intense heat. Now, on opening the door of the car, the same sensation from 40 years earlier came flooding back. The smell sensation of the fire area, the charred trees and ash, was the same only much more intense. It was as though all the living energy had been consumed and we were in a vacuum devoid of life.

As an artist I felt compelled to respond to the fire. A few days after the tragic event, I gained police permission to enter the area and photographed the charred ashen landscape. I took a series of three disjointed images that combined to create a triptych in a technique I had used on The Last Rivers Song project in 1983. Over nearly 2 years, I continued to return to the fire-affected area and photograph the regeneration of the bush and nature. I built a huge archive of thousands of photographs.

Entropy triptych, frames 40-41-42. From a walk at Ninks Rd, January 20, 2010.

From this enormous archive I was challenged to produce works that embodied the complexity and subtleness of the gradual return of green from the stark grey landscape. A time-based screen work offered a
solution.

Hence, the Entropy project evolved. I worked with Alex Hayes to develop two apps. One allowed me to build a huge composite image of hundreds of triptychs. In total, there were 30 of these mosaic composites.

The second projection application was written in C++ and when playing, began by selecting one of 30 large composite images and randomly generated a pathway to a single image, which eventually filled the screen before returning to another large composite image. The projection plays at 120 frames per second and manages over 5,000 images. Unlike a video loop, the application creates a random on-going unique sequence from the archive. Entropy String randomized projection featured in Bushfire Australia at TarraWarra Museum of Art in 2010. The projection consisted of more than 4,500 images and was developed with assistance from Regional Arts Victoria and Arts Victoria.

Scene two: Randomly, one quarter of the composite image slowly fades to black leaving the remaining section illuminated.
This section then zooms up until a single line of triptychs fill the screen.
Scene three: The line of triptychs – two to five of them – remain illuminated while the remaining triptychs of the section fade to black. The line of triptychs enlarges to fill the screen and then scrolls across the screen until randomly stopping at a single image
Scene four: The single image zooms up to fill the full screen, remaining for a time and then fading to black, before another large composite image materializes to fill the screen. From here another random sequence is constructed. The scenes are repeated but with different composites, triptychs and images. So, the projection is not a loop, but a randomized sequence based on the composites and the thousands of images in the data bank. The computer is rendering a self-generated “movie” in HD at 120 frames per second.

The work juxtaposes the abstract macro view by zooming into the micro.

While prints from the archive were exhibited in a number of exhibitions, in 2011 the work featured in a solo exhibition at the Australian Centre for Photography, with prints and the screen work. The series also featured in a solo survey exhibition at Deaken University Art Gallery in 2014, A PHOTO: synthetic pathway.

The screen work was purchased by Deakin University and plays continuously in the library at the Burwood Campus. The project can be viewed as a free e-book.

As an opportunity to reflect and commemorate the tenth anniversary of the fire, the local Nillumbik Shire Council has curated an exhibition, Renewal, which will be held January 24 – February 25, 2019 across two spaces: Eltham Library Community Gallery and Wadambuk Art Gallery.

(Top image: A large composite work, Entropy string 25, consisting of Triptychs 354, including 1062 images, is included in the exhibition. Pigment print, 110 cm x 194 cm.)

See also Lloyd Godman’s previous article: Creating Sustainable Living Plant Sculptures

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Lloyd Godman is an ecological artist whose current work explores practical ways to integrate plants into urban infrastructure in a truly sustainable manner. He established and was head of the photo section at the Dunedin Art School, New Zealand for twenty years before moving to Melbourne, where he taught at RMIT for nine years. He is Vice President of the Baldessin Press, where he lives with his partner. Lloyd holds an MFA from RMIT University Melbourne (1999). Perhaps this from John Power, Editor of Facility Management Magazine best sums up his work.  “Lloyd Godman is one of a new breed of environmental artists whose work is directly influencing “green” building design… Godman’s installations are the result of a unique blend of botanical science, environmental awareness and artistic expression. All three elements are intrinsic to the practical realization of his polymathic vision.”

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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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Rising Waters

by Susan Israel 

During a period of professional transition, a random opportunity presented me with the chance to use public art to engage people on climate change – something I had wanted to do for several years. This first installation led to an ongoing project which, after five years of incremental growth, is about to jump scale and impact. As I look back, one take-away from this project is that one person with a vision and persistence can make a difference. Anyone who wants to have an impact, in any arena, should know that we are all change-makers. It takes heart, work, doggedness, supporters, and luck, but change does come from individual dedication combined with community. In fact, that is the only way that change happens – one action at a time. This is just one story out of many.

Rising Waters is a flood warning project where I put lines in the landscape with community participation to show where future flood levels will be. I began Rising Waters in 2013 as Rising Tides at HarborArts, an outdoor art venue in a shipyard and marina in East Boston, Massachusetts. After I was invited to participate in the group show Occupying the Present, curated by Elizabeth Michelman, I walked the site with no idea of what I would do. Having attended conferences about sea level rise, I kept wondering where the water would be in the future, and, as an architect, began imagining lines in the landscape marking future high tide lines. The rest was implementation. I painted a series of rising colored lines on the facing pier: six lines, one foot apart, to show that sea level rise is incremental, implying that we can stop at any point – if we have the will. I also created a message-in-a-bottle companion installation to spur people to think about their responses to sea level rise, and invited them to submit notes to the project which I posted on my website. 

Message-in-a-Bottle, HarborArts, East Boston, 2013

HarborArts led to Rising Waters installations in the Maverick MBTA subway station and Neighborhood Health Center in East Boston. Students from the East Boston Neighborhood of Affordable Housing (NOAH) teen workforce program and younger students in an after-school program helped me make the window art. The artwork went up as a pointer to a storm preparedness event for the community and then remained for a month.  When we installed the artwork, the subway station managers told us it would be vandalized the first night, but it remained untouched until we removed it. T riders were proud of it, commenting on how beautiful it was, and were shocked to see where the water would be.

Rising Waters, University of Massachussets MBTA subway station, Boston, 2015

Next, I installed Rising Waters in six MBTA subway stations in Boston and Cambridge. The artwork was made and installed with participation from students in several public school districts, students at Harvard College, and community members. The students, particularly at Revere High School and Boston Latin, were excited to be part of a larger project and worked many afternoons after school, making the artwork with great care. Many students said they didn’t know about sea level rise until this project. At the Kendall MBTA Station in Cambridge, a station worker read the description, gasped, and then ran off. Every day tens of thousands of commuters passed by the artwork, reaching several hundred thousand people in all.

In 2015, I installed Rising Waters at the Sustainable Brands Conference in San Diego as fish stickers and flags. Since I couldn’t install ahead on the site, I added more fish between every session, growing the installation throughout the conference – it took on an aspect of performance art. Reaching corporations was important to me, and the installation caught the attention of dozens of people who asked about it out of 2,000 people from industry who saw it.

Rising Waters, Paradise Island, San Diego, 2015

By the end of 2016 I had installed Rising Waters over sixteen times – including on riverbanks, fencing, storefronts, a ferry dock, a beach, around trees, and even flowerbeds, in Eastern Massachusetts and in San Diego, California. I experimented with the right medium and format for each site and audience, using fish prints, fish flags, handprinted stickers, and various materials in search of the right combination of permanence, removability, and low environmental impact. Although the plastic film I used was reclaimed from the waste stream, I ultimately abandoned it as too conflicted a message for oceans. Ultimately, I returned to my original concept of simple lines with an installation on the Guna Yala (San Blas) islands off the coast of Panama.

The Guna indigenous tribe, who occupy this archipelago of 350 islands, will be flooded off their coral atolls by 2030, and will join the ranks of climate refugees from around the world. Flying over the rainforest in a 6-seater to reach these remote islands, with a suitcase full of supplies, knowing that I had to make this work regardless of what I found, was exciting. I had entered a new phase, though I didn’t know where it would lead me. This installation of Rising Waters showed the impending cultural destruction of a tribe who will be forced to leave their island lifestyle behind, and relocate to the mountains. Photographs from this installation were exhibited at the United Nations for The Ocean Conference in 2017. Being part of a global community working hard to tell the story of sea level rise and climate change made me redouble my own efforts.

Rising Waters, Guna Yala, Panama, 2017

Over time, Rising Tides became Rising Waters to include fresh water flooding from rivers and rain, and appeared along the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, Caribbean Sea, and soon, South China Sea. With supporters in Hong Kong, we are establishing a Rising WatersChapter as the first of many around the world. I recently returned from Hong Kong where I worked with students and teachers at three schools who are launching the project. Renaissance College Hong Kong wrapped posts in their school courtyard, and additional sites will install in March. In student workshops at GT College and Hong Kong International School, I introduced the project and students worked on designing their own companion art projects. Chapters will be encouraged to localize their installations with companion events, artwork, performances, and educational materials and we are expanding our on-line educational resources by collaborating with other NGOs.

Other groups will be using Rising Waters as collaborations with their own climate advocacy projects this spring and summer, and we are always looking for additional partners. What began from my personal desire to visualize climate change impacts has become a method to launch other people on their own art, climate, and action path, empowering people to act on climate across the globe.

(Top image: Rising Waters, Maverick MBTA subway station, East Boston, 2013.)

See also Susan Israel’s previous article: Using Art to Empower Climate Action

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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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One Body, One World: The Arctic Reality

by Georgia Rose MurrayI am an artist and lecturer from Scotland, currently preparing to leave China, after running an International Postgraduate Art and Design Course at Sichuan Fine Arts Institute for a year.

I use the language of painting to explore the mystical reality of Northern landscapes. Given my interest in light and darkness, my research has led me to Iceland during a period of Polar Night, and to Svalbard to witness the Midnight Sun and a period of Twilight from the perspective of a Barquentine tall ship, sailing on the Arctic Ocean. My connection to the Arctic landscape is ongoing and the next stage of my research journey will involve witnessing the annual returning of light in the northernmost research community in the world, Ny Alesund.

Painting is essential in helping me decipher energies and in facilitating heightened states of awareness: symbiotically my conscious and subconscious selves gauge the magnitude of human existence within the universe. This forms the autobiographical baseline for my work.

Contributing to the language of painting via honest and visceral reactions to natural light and landscapes is fundamental to my research. Working amid the sacred Arctic landscape has inspired alchemical experiments involving grinding rocks to mix with non-chemical mediums to create ecologically sound pigments, which have been the elixir to significant paintings. Collaborating with Polar scientists during periods of Arctic research has also become central to my work and crucial to my awareness of geological and biological shifts within landscapes due to climate change.

The Antigua tall ship in bay with floating photograph of Chongqing City.

Most recently I spent three weeks sailing around the Svalbard Archipelago as a member of The Arctic Circle Autumn Residency. In late September 2018, I flew to Longyearbyen (Arctic Svalbard), after living in China for eight months and found the reality of transitioning between the two locations to be otherworldly.

Like many countries around the world, China – and more specifically, Chongqing, a growing city of 18 million people – provides an intense contrast to the Arctic landscape. Having felt the strength of both locations, my responsibility now is to share my first-hand experience of the Polar North with an audience who is geographically 4,000 miles away from the source.

Since returning to China in late October, I have been working in my studio to create ARCTIC CRACKING, a solo exhibition supported by The British Council and hosted by 501 Xu Space, which opened in Chongqing on the 12th of January. (Later in 2019, ARCTIC CRACKING will travel to additional venues in the UK. Check my website for details of the upcoming international tour.) The exhibition comprises a combination of paintings, photographs, films and sketchbooks, which were created both while physically immersed in the Arctic landscape and after returning to my Chinese studio.

ARCTIC CRACKING poster

ARCTIC CRACKING aims to transcend physical space and communicate the reality of the fragile North, highlighting our need to take responsibility for preserving not only the precious polar regions but the entire planet. Climate change is causing increasing atmospheric and ecological destruction, affecting many locations on both micro and macro levels.

The title of the exhibition refers to my experience of holistically cracking in the Arctic landscape and testing myself to the limit: Touching the edge of hypothermia with frozen, dysfunctional fingers, toes and a numbness which slowed both my physical and mental reactions. In order to completely feel the reality of the Arctic, I spent time walking through the snow and on top of glaciers with bare, exposed skin, and submerging my whole body, alongside icebergs, in the Arctic ocean. The title also refers to the reality of glaciers rapidly calving (cracking, breaking and crumbling, sending tidal waves rolling over the surface of the ocean) due to climate change.

The exhibition contains several scroll paintings made on rice paper, backed with silk. Chinese landscapes and Asian temples are depicted as spiritual havens becoming destroyed by pollution and human behavior. The importance of maintaining sacred structures (thousand-year-old glaciers and temples) as sacred places of worship is implied.

Georgia Rose Murray with “One Body” flag, standing on the northernmost tip of land before reaching the North Pole.

In the paintings, a dead tiger, swallows and migrating geese represent the creatures on land and in the ocean, which are struggling to survive due to climate change. I have consciously used the traditional Chinese painting format, with more contemporary materials, such as spray paint, to represent the changes our natural world is undergoing due to toxic carbon emissions.

In addition, using a metal box and painted flags (displaying “one world” and “one body” in Mandarin characters), I created performance films, which present one human body as a metaphor for the collective “body” of humanity. In the films, my “one body” arrives as a package into the sacred Arctic landscape, steps out of the box and is humbled by the reality. Aware of the responsibility to preserve the natural environments that we are privileged to be a guest in, the “one world” symbols act as metaphors for global unity.

Body, box performance with “One World” flag, 100-year-old bay.

The use of Mandarin characters in my work symbolizes my current connection to China and the color red acts as a metaphor for the pain inflicted on natural landscapes by the expansion of human environments.

A common response to the Arctic landscape is one of awe. A humbling awareness of our human insignificance dawns as we compare our fleeting existence to the ancient, organic, presence of the rest of the universe: Magnificent mountains, inspiring glaciers, gigantic bays, the dazzling Arctic Ocean, and the vast swirling sky above us. Despite our perceived irrelevance as individuals, the “one body” of humanity and its collective behavior is causing significant destruction to our “one world.”

My future research plans involve further investigations into the Polar North at varying times of year, collaborating with scientists while witnessing the changing Arctic reality and communicating about how to effectively convey the truth.

In mid-January, after finishing teaching the semester at Sichuan Fine Arts Institute, just prior to the Chinese New Year holiday, I set off to explore some additional Asian landscapes. First, I journeyed to Kathmandu and travelled around Nepal for one week, absorbing the fascinating and complex culture. The deep spiritual peace and intoxicating magic of the mountains was a massive contrast to some of the challenges (connected to poverty and female slavery) I witnessed in the cities.

ARCTIC CRACKING painting in progress in Chinese studio.

From Pokhara, I trekked to see incredible views of the Annapurna Himalayas at sunrise and sunset, and was lucky to be greeted with clear skies and snowy peaks kissed with pink light. Then I flew to the South West coast of Thailand, to think, draw and write, while enjoying the warm turquoise sea – a chance to process the vastly different locations and varying manifestations of climate change I have experienced this year.

Tomorrow I travel to the UK, to return to life in Scotland, where I will be within easy reach of the Arctic landscape.

(Top image: ARCTIC CRACKING painting in progress in Chinese studio.)

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Georgia Rose Murray is a painter and lecturer from Scotland. Her paintings depict her fascination with the sublime effects of light and darkness on the natural landscape. Her holistic processes are guided by conscious and subconscious observations and by a visceral awareness of the mystical; the works explore our human existence on Earth in connection with the spirit world.

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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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Celebrating Women-Powered Climate Solutions

by Julia Levine

Juxtaposing the International Day for Women & Girls in Science with Drawdown solutions, Persistent Acts considers the vitality of women and girls in the climate conversation, and how the arts can play a role in gender parity.

Of Drawdown’s 80 published solutions for reversing global warming, three are explicitly about women and girls. As Drawdown Vice President of Communication and Engagement, Katherine Wilkinson, states in her TedTalk How empowering women and girls can help stop global warming: “Climate and gender are inextricably linked.” Gender parity is connected to numerous climate solutions, but Drawdown solution #6, Educating Girls, drives a case for equity. Enabling opportunities for safe, quality education for girls “is the most powerful lever available for breaking the cycle of intergenerational poverty, while mitigating emissions by curbing population growth.” Moreover, “educated women can marshal multiple ways of knowing to observe, understand, reevaluate, and take action to sustain themselves and those who depend on them.”

In honor of this day, I chatted with ecologist and environmental lawyer Kyla Bennett. Kyla has taught classes and workshops for elementary school students, and noticed that the girls were less engaged than their male counterparts. In a talk with fifth graders about what they can do to help the earth, boys dominated the conversation. We discussed the need for girls’ voices to be valued in our society, so they can more actively participate in the classroom and beyond.

Kyla also brought up the inclination of girls towards the arts (reading books, watching movies), and how our society urges them toward creative pursuits at young ages – more so than boys. This suggests that we (artists) can support girls in feeling more comfortable with science, and in engaging with scientific topics at vital young ages (8-18 years old) through means that they already love. As Kyla explained, “everything is already stacked against girls in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) area…we need to get it into their lingo.”

This is in part why Kyla wrote No Worse Sin, a young adult novel featuring a teenage girl in the face of global disaster. There is a love interest, but the story breaks the mold of a series like Twilight, to uplift the female character’s agency. Young people need stories that highlight leaders and heroes other than cis white men, and the stories for girls can and should be of substance in order to foster scientific curiosity.

No Worse Sin by Kyla Bennett.

Another example is a verbatim theatre project, A Chip on Her Shoulder, by director and playwright Kristin Rose Kelly. With Honest Accomplice Theatre, Kristin is creating a docu-play with music, investigating the experiences of women, trans people, and other minorities in the field of engineering. I talked with her about her impetus for this project, which started when she was a graduate student at Virginia Tech. As she came into leadership roles as a theatre director, she realized the extent of the gender bias against women in any leadership position, including in the engineering field, where only 15% of engineers are women. She connected with organizations like WINGS (Women Inspiring the Next Generation’s Success) to interview engineering students and professionals from around the country.

A Chip on Her Shoulder. Photo by Dylan Bomgardner.

There was a certain caution and reservation amongst female interviewees, especially those associated with institutions: “I can’t talk about this. I don’t want to use my name.” Women who do talk candidly are often labeled as having a “chip on her shoulder.” Yet there is no question that we need to break the stigmas and encourage more women and girls to embrace STEM. So many solutions to our global issues are being generated and developed in STEM; with more diversity and inclusion, such solutions can have greater impact for more people – not just those who look and think like the engineers. Kristin talked about the ethics of engineering, and the ideal that the tools engineers create should be for everyone. Empowering and uplifting women in STEM helps break the homogeneity, unlocking the unbounded applications of what engineers can do.

A Chip on Her Shoulder. Photo by Mary Rathell.

Through theatre, Kristin is spotlighting stories on the margins, stories of women in workplace situations not dissimilar to her audience’s. She is creating a piece of theatre that people across industries can relate to and helping them feel more resilient in their own workplaces and communities.

Kyla and I agree: Women are going to save the world. Whether it’s through art or science, women are drawing upon our particular ways of moving through the world and sharing modes of empathy with others to address climate. Drawdown has the research compiled on women-centric solutions; people like Kyla and Kristin are playing out the possibilities. This is notable today on the UN’s International Day for Women & Girls in Science, but it is also notable everyday that women comprise half of the world’s population.

There’s More…

Related posts:
My previous post When Women Lead
Chantal Bilodeau’s Exorcising Harveys, about tackling gender equity onstage in the Arctic
Chantal Bilodeau’s Why do Women Climate More Than Men?

Podcast recommendation: 
Mothers of Invention, hosted by former Irish President Mary Robinson and comedian Maeve Higgins, celebrating amazing women doing remarkable things in pursuit of climate justice.

Performance in New York City:
Honest Accomplice’s Engineer Not Found, created by Honest Accomplice Theatre featuring verbatim interviews from A Chip On Her Shoulder. Directed by Maggie Keenan-Bolger Rachel Sullivan and Kristin Rose Kelly with original songs by Teresa Lotz (music) and Naomi Matlow (lyrics), coming to The Tank this Spring.

(Top Image by Mariadel Alamort.)

This article is part of the Persistent Acts series which looks at the intersection of performance, climate, and politics. How does hope come to fruition, even in the most dire circumstances? What are tangible alternatives to the oppressive status quo? The series considers questions of this nature to motivate conversations and actions on climate issues that reverberate through politics and theatre.

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Julia Levine is a creative collaborator and vegetarian. Originally from St. Louis, Julia is now planted in the New York City downtown theatre realm. As a director, Julia has worked on various projects with companies that consider political and cultural topics, including Theater In Asylum, Honest Accomplice Theatre, and Superhero Clubhouse. She is the Marketing Manager at HERE and is Artistic Producer of The Arctic Cycle. Julia writes and devises with her performance-based initiative, The UPROOT Series, to bring questions of food, climate, and justice into everyday life.

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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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It’s All Connected

by Brenda Cummings

I am a professional actor, singer, writer and teacher from New York City and New Jersey. I have performed, written for, and worked with children for several decades. I created shows with New York’s Paper Bag Players, toured extensively with the company, created props/costumes, and led workshops in New York and on the road. In addition, I did television and theater in New York as well as regional theatre productions with numerous companies in the 80s, 90s and 2000s.

My late husband inherited his family home in suburban New Jersey, so we moved into the house in the early 2000s. His parents had been environmentalists and educators in the area during the 50s thru the 90s. They had grown all their own vegetables, volunteered at the local nature center and helped to educate locals about environmental issues. I always had great respect and admiration for their work, so I tried to pick up where they left off.

We adopted a beautiful 10-month-old girl through the foster care system and when she started kindergarten I realized that the kids in our upper-middle class area were not learning how to prepare for climate change or think sustainably. How could they possibly deal with the environmental problems they’d be inheriting? There was practically no public transportation in our area, bottled water use was wide-spread, parents idled their SUVs in front of schools, the food and plastic waste at school was appalling, and environmental education had become practically nonexistent. When our town banned beekeeping, I’d had enough.

I started working on Granny Green’s Green Machine, writing songs, and picture books. I created set pieces, props and costumes from recycled materials. I offered shows as well as arts and crafts programs to help kids learn how to make art or useful things out of their trash.

The idea I wanted to impress upon them was that everything we do affects other things. All the parts of the natural world are connected like the parts of a machine. I hoped that the children would take information home through a song, a story or a treasure. I began presenting the programs wherever possible – in schools, at Earth Fairs, and the youth development organization 4H and scouting events.

Available on Amazon.

I talked to teachers, administrators, and parents about changing things in our schools but I failed to light any fires. I joined a local sustainability group to talk about the issues with like-minded people. There were not many of us at the time, and sometimes it felt like what we were doing was subversive. There were times when I was dismissed or treated like a screwball in my town, but eventually I was asked to join our town’s environmental commission and head our Green Team. We began doing annual town clean-ups, showing educational films, and bringing in lecturers. Soon after, I was invited to write a sustainability column for the local newspaper. We worked with neighboring towns to broaden our scope, but very few of the area’s residents actually came to our events, and we were, from time to time, met with outright hostility.

I have sometimes gotten arguments from parents and educators who say that talking to children about climate change is too scary. I think it’s scarier to keep children in the dark about their future. One of the songs I wrote for the show is The Polar Bear Blues and along with it I describe how the greenhouse effect works. It’s not scary. It’s science with a song.

The Polar Bear Blues by Brenda Cummings

I try to promote the idea that kids can make changes at home and in school. The theme song of the show is In My Backyard — I can make the whole world greener in my own backyard.

I did an Indiegogo campaign in 2016 to raise funds to publish I Am the Hugger! – a picture book about trees and the many wonderful things they do for us. I will be eternally grateful to my friends and family members who contributed to the publication of the book.

Our taxes got higher and higher, my husband lost his editorial job, and the 2016 campaign and election had a negative effect on the way children were treating our African American daughter. The bullying got so bad that at one point a group of boys chased her down the street with sticks, hurling racial epithets at her. We left New Jersey a year and a half ago and moved to progressive Tacoma, WA where my family lives. I’m slowly getting into the performance and art worlds here and I’m in the process of publishing some new picture books and recording a new album.

Starting over at 60 is challenging, but I don’t plan to stop any time soon. Children need to know the truth if they’re going to help solve the many problems they will face. These days, more and more young people are speaking out about climate change and the environment. Their courage and understanding of the issues gives me hope for a better future.

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Brenda Cummings recently moved from the New York City area to Tacoma, Washington. She performed in New York and regional theater, including Mrs. Pierce, My Fair Lady; Mrs. Lynch, Grease (The Papermill Playhouse); Georgette, School For Wives (The Yale Repertory Theater); Adelaide Churchill, Lizzie Borden (Goodspeed Opera House), and Teresa, Don Quixote(Denver Repertory Theatre). Brenda worked with Obie award-winning playwright/actor Jeff Weiss in Hot KeysCome Clean and That’s How the Rent Gets Paid. Brenda was with the Obie award-winning children’s theatre company The Paper Bag Players, and has presented Granny Green’s Green Machine since 2009.

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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 Interdisciplinary Artist Catherine Sarah Young

by Amy Brady

Today I have for you an interview with Catherine Sarah Young, a Chinese-Filipina interdisciplinary artist, designer, and writer who creates works that investigate nature, our role in nature, and the tensions between nature and technology. We discussed her latest projects and why she’s drawn to the subject of climate change.

Your work combines art and science. What are you hoping to communicate through your interdisciplinary work that art or science alone can’t?

I am hoping to communicate the beauty and fragility of nature and how our actions create impact on the planet. More importantly, I hope to inspire people to redefine our relationship with nature, with each other, and with the self – and to get them to act. With this broad aim and lots of things to be inspired by, I am usually driven to create many different things. I was trained in molecular biology, fine art, and interaction design, and all these have brought me a myriad of lenses with which to see the world. Science helps me to see the world for what it is in its many dimensions, while art creates emotional connections that are important to see nature as part of our identity. Design is incredibly useful, too, since it’s about empathy, and we need that when we want to effectively communicate or facilitate something to another person, especially when this might be a complex topic that is not easy to swallow.

Tell us about your most recent project, Wild Science.

This is a project I started in Vienna in April 2018 during an art residency with KulturKontakt Austria and the Austrian Federal Chancellery. I did this after five years of working on The Apocalypse Project. I had observed a shift in conversation since 2013 when I began work on climate change, where we went from asking what climate change was, to what were the systemic issues that were causing it, such as wealth inequality, lack of access to science, lack of collaborations between disciplines, etc.

It was great to start this in Vienna, which has a rich history of both art and science, so I was able to go through a lot of museums. I also had the fantastic opportunities of working with Dr. Gerhard Heindl, the historian of the Schönbrunn Tiergarten which is the oldest zoo in the world, for the project, Der Tiergarten: Human Forces on the Animal Kingdom, and to have conversations with people from the Naturhistorisches Museum, Vienna, such as Dr. Silke Schweiger, curator of the Department of Herpetology, and Ms. Melina Franz and Ms. Mirjana Pavlovic from the taxidermy team for the project, Scientific Method.

One of my favorite projects in this body of work so far is Letters for Science, where I ask people to write letters to science denialists. I was able to go to Eferding thanks to KulturKontakt Austria’s Artist in Residence Go to School program, and a group of thirteen year olds chose to write letters to climate change deniers. (The project is still ongoing and everyone is welcome to contribute.)

I like being prolific and there are always all these questions in my head that I need to answer by doing projects, so I’ll likely keep working on both The Apocalypse Project and Wild Science for a while, and perhaps others.

Der Tiergarten board game and cards by Catherine Sarah Young.

You told me something during our very first chat that I haven’t been able to get out of my head: that an artwork you created using a breathing mask actually became a part of your wardrobe while you lived in China. This is an extreme example of just how relevant your work truly is. It’s also an example of how a piece with humorous connotations evolved to be a lot less funny as the world we live in has grown increasingly more polluted. Have you noticed other works of art changing in meaning as the world changes?

Futurists often quote William Gibson, “The future is here; it’s not just evenly distributed.” I remember including masks in the Climate Change Couture series almost as a joke, and I brought one of them to Beijing with me for a potential exhibition or just to show people. Instead I ended up wearing it because the smog was just too much for me. I think visions of the future catch up to us more quickly because we are changing the planet so fast. I keep revisiting the works of people such as Buckminster Fuller, Agnes Denes, Cai Guo-Qiang and others as I feel that their work keeps being relevant in different contexts.

In your artist statement, you write that your work is “critiquing broken real-world systems and proposing alternative realities.” Are you hopeful that humans will create a future reality that is actually sustainable?

We are all part of these broken systems, and this can make one feel helpless. But for me, to make art is to be hopeful. It may feel easier to be willfully blind or uncaring about these realities, or make them even worse by manipulating our consumerist tendencies, but creating art is a way where I can face each day with purpose and have a stake in the future. So I am hopeful that we will make a reality that is sustainable – we have to, if we wish to survive. Right now I’m thinking of my experience with the Haus der Kulturen der Welt’s (Un-)Learning Place, which ended for me just a few hours ago, because I was surrounded by academics, artists, and other cultural practitioners whose work and lives were so different than mine. One prevailing emotion I felt in myself and in others was a disquiet with institutions that have failed us. So I hope that we will dismantle these or find ways to fix them and keep engaging with people who are different than us and who may even disagree with us. I grow so much with these art residencies and fellowships – they are not only ways for me to connect with people and to challenge myself and my assumptions, but to also remind myself that among the greatest of freedoms is the ability to think for oneself and to question everything without fear.

What’s next for you?

After a short stint in Berlin, I’ll be taking a much-needed rest in Manila, then I’ll be back in Beijing in March to continue my residency with China Residencies and Red Gate Residency. I’ll be in Kampong Thom, Cambodia in May and in Bangkok, Thailand in June for parts 2 and 3 of my fellowship with the SEAΔ program of Mekong Cultural Hub and the British Council. I’ll also keep making more art, writing more stories and articles, and training more in taekwondo.

Read more about Catherine Sarah Young and her work at her website.

For previous articles about Catherine Sarah Young’s work, check out:

Scientific Method: Documenting the Invisible Processes of Research
Wild Science: Experiments in Nature and the Vanishing Amazon
Turning Sewage into Soaps: The Sewer Soaperie by The Apocalypse Project
Climate Change Couture

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.com and 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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Singer/Songwriter Ashley Mazanec and Her Album Let’s Talk About the Weather

Ashley Mazanec, a singer/songwriter from Encinitas, California, joins us in the Art House. She tells us about some of the songs on her album Let’s Talk About the Weather, and fills the segment with powerful pop tunes. In addition to making music, Ashley holds regular monthly events that bring together other eco-artists.

Coming up next month, sculptor Emily Puthoff uses her art to build solitary bee habitats.

If you like what you hear, you can listen to full episodes of Citizens’ Climate Radio on iTunesStitcher Radio, Spotify, SoundCloudPodbeanNorthern 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 reissues 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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