See other Writings
INTRODUCTION: Toolbox for Park and Resource Managers
The Living Landscape, by Jeroen van Westen
Float or Sink, by Kevin Wilson
Maintenance of Eco-Art Restoration Projects, by Mary Arnold
Art, Environment and the Message in the Brick, by Huey D. Johnson
Do You Want the Light On?, by Martin Spray
- CASE STUDIES featuring selected projects of interest.
- RESOURCES additional links and organizations.
- Plus a Wiki section for Managers for adding your comments and suggestions.
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Environmental art as Earth Stewardship
"I am continually discovering how environmental art can capture public attention and animate the goals of community projects in ways that our traditional approaches--public meetings and publications--could never do. Art helps park managers connect and communicate on a deeper level with a much broader audience than one usually encounters in these kinds of projects (e.g., park and trail development/stewardship, land conservation, river restoration)."
This Toolbox is about finding inspiration in the hard work of those who care about our parks and wild places. Individuals in positions of responsibility to protect these areas often face a heroic task. If resource managers are entrusted to bring ecological stewardship down to earth within a political context, environmental art can help further communicate and connect those realities to a social and cultural context.
Art can convey complex information visually, inspire others and solve practical problems in unorthodox ways. Applied to environmental issues, art has the power to provoke debate, call attention to local and global problems, and unite a wide range of people and organizations to address a common goal.
The many projects described on greenmuseum.org and highlighted throughout the various Toolbox sections provide examples of how art can contribute to our public trails, parks and communities. Art doesn't have to mean plunking an object down onto a field for public works personnel to drive their lawn mowers around. Environmental art can be ephemeral and celebratory. It is often low impact in terms of resources, by favoring renewable indigenous materials to create sculptures which blend into the land. It can involve public participation and it can create habitat, control erosion and connect local residents to the history of a particular place. There will be times when the ongoing operations of a park ("art park", city park or even a "national park") will want to incorporate environmental art to reinforce existing environmental education efforts. There are also times when a problem area requiring attention might create a unique opportunity for a team of artists, biologists and parks personnel to create a custom-made installation which helps educate the public and address the issue at hand at the same time.
"When I first started this project, I called it the 'Art Thing,' purposefully refusing to define it, searching to find a way to destabilize negative expectations with large scale artful new public spaces that would directly address the major environmental problem in the region".
"Art", at this point in history, is such a flexible concept, that it easily supports the collaborative, creative problem solving managers apply to complex stewardship issues. "I have found that environmental art is particularly helpful when the challenges facing a project seem so huge and daunting that you don't know where to start," explains Charles Tracy of the NPS. "The more complex and seemingly insurmountable the project--whether the challenge is political, regulatory, funding or all of the above--the more quickly I turn to an artist for help."
In 2004, the major park and resource management agencies in the U.S. created a remarkable partnership called Art and Community Landscapes specifically designed to "encourage site-based art as a catalyst for increased environmental awareness and stewardship." They conducted a nationwide survey, Artful Ways, which revealed that 75% of surveyed parks had art somewhere along their trails. More than half incorporated music and over 1/3 included poetry and performance as part of their public outreach efforts, so it's not just about objects.
57% of those surveyed described this art as the result of direct collaborations between the artist, park managers, communities and others. According to Charles Tracy of the NPS, "I find that I'm usually the one presenting unusual or impossible challenges to the artists and then watching what evolves." When it comes to collaboration, "our most successful projects happen when the artists fully and genuinely embrace the community's role as opposed to politely tolerating it." Creative problem solving is something that environmental artists often share with Parks professionals. "Managers work in concert with other disciplines, exploring as a team indigenous landscapes and local communities; giving form to their ideas through a community-based plan for the places were we work," says Mary Arnold, E.D. of the Teaneck Conservancy in New Jersey.
And what does the public think of all these projects? Of those surveyed, "a strong majority confirmed that art enhanced public appreciation of the trail environment (86%) as well as attracted positive public attention and increased trail use (82%). About half saw art serving as a catalyst for other trail-related projects and increasing cultural/ environmental tourism."
Funding for these projects can come from a wide mix of sources including public, private and in-kind donations. Creative managers may find that environmental art attracts fresh interest from local philanthropists and creates new opportunities to apply for foundation funding in the arts and community sectors. Another advantage is that ephemeral "art in nature" interventions (including, it could be argued, the Annual Sand Sculpture Contest at Point Reyes National Seashore) can be planned for a special event, documented, and allowed to disintegrate naturally. "For a variety of reasons I lean toward temporary vs. long-term," adds Tracy.
This Toolbox provides a few examples of the growing positive impact environmental art is having on public spaces, ecosystems and park visitors. Since the late 1960's art has moved beyond the confines of galleries and museums and into the public sphere. Now, parks, degraded landscapes and even Superfund sites are locations for useful and engaging art. At times humorous, educational and unexpected, the environmental art movement combines the metaphors and visual impact of art with the practicalities of today's environmental needs.
Please discuss these ideas with your colleagues and others in the field. Effective long term stewardship of parks, and the Earth as a whole, will require the understanding, support and cooperation of all concerned. Environmental art can help broaden that support base. Those interested in networking with others may want to attend a conference such as the annual public art preconference to the Americans for the Arts or any others listed in the Calendar section of greenmuseum.org. The Toolbox for Managers is an ongoing project at greenmuseum.org and an opportunity to share ideas to help us build a more effective culture of land stewardship. The rest, is up to you.
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