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Artists Respond to Global Warming, Reach Across Generations

by Eban Goodstein (2003)

This is part of the Toolbox for Educators
Remember the mutant smiley face, circa 1976? "Nuclear power, nein danke". That was the image that motivated our recent project, Northwest Artists Respond to Global Warming. As executive director of a non-profit that had built a nationwide speakers network focused on climate education, I was increasing frustrated at our inability to translate scientific forecasts that were-to me-downright scary, into a language that people really understood.

We knew art was the answer, but not being artists ourselves, we didn't quite know how to proceed. So- we paid a visit to our local avante-garde art museum, where the director there shared 10 minutes of her time, and planted the seed, that became a grant proposal, that became a couple of checks, that eventually became a really cool project:

Michele Glazer in collaboration with High School Students,
Michele Glazer, Poet in collaboration with Elizabeth Hendren, Wilson High (11th grade), Megan Stratman, Wilson High (11th grade), Molly Sultany, Sunset High (9th grade), "Dialogue", 2002

"Can sixteen high school students, working with a handful of established artists, change the world? That was the agenda of a week-long workshop that teamed young artists from Portland, Oregon with prominent figures from the Northwest art scene, including Native American sculptor Lillian Pitt, and public space artist Buster Simpson.

The teams had spent several weekends earlier in the summer studying how global warming threatened to fundamentally reshape the Pacific Northwest: dramatic losses in snowpack from warming are likely to lead to large scale summer water shortages for this normally water-rich region.

Pitt's team response was to build a dome-like sculpture from willows, and people it with the creatures historically dependent on summer stream flows. Simpson's group traveled across the landscape-from coastline to snowline-- creating public sculpture out of white dress shirts, colored paint, trees, stones, water and life-jackets.

Other students worked with reknowned photojournalist Gary Braasch, poet Michelle Glazer, and producer/director Brian Lindstrom.
Buster Simpson and High School Students,
Buster Simpson, Public Space Artist in collaboration with Marcie Krieble, Forest Grove High (11th grade), Nick O'Connor, Science Park (11th), Kateyln Toth-Fejel, Wilson High (12th), Lynn Yarne (12th), "Global Warming Shirts", 2002

"It is an inspiring collection of work", said project organizer Emily Thomas. "We are starting to see how dramatically global warming will change our world. These kids are opening people's eyes to the impacts".

These projects can help you consider how greenhouse gas pollution is changing your world. Then learn what you can do to stop it."

Could it be the new mutant smiley face? You judge.

Eban Goodstein is currently the Volunteer Executive Director for the Greenhouse Network.

© 2010