When art and sustainability intersect, the possibilities are endless. Countless initiatives nationwide have roots in environmental conservation and an eco-friendly ethos. Sustainable methods have slowly taken a larger hold at artist residencies, fellowships, and art institutions. Nonprofits, galleries and museums such as the McColl Center for Art+Innovation and Recology San Francisco enable artists to approach issues related to waste, recuse and climate change.
While many programs have adopted sustainability as a tenet into their existing mission, some initiatives have integrated sustainability as a part of their DNA. Surveying the contemporary arts scene, several arts initiatives emerge as thought leaders, guiding the way toward a higher level of sustainability for the fine arts field as a whole. Specific projects that take conservation and ecology as seriously as artistic practice are outlined below for artists and arts lovers interested in supporting a greater cause!
Art for a Sustainable Cause
Founded in 2010, Philadelphia-based RAIR (Recyling Artist in Residency) provides a unique opportunity for artists of every experience level to incorporate waste reduction and upcycling into their artistic practice. Artists such as Kristen Neville Taylor, Shelley Spector, and Lewis Colburn have had opportunities to situate their artistic practice within a reconsideration of the waste stream. Sponsored by such funders as the Pew Center for the Arts, the residency and associated RAIR projects draw attention to how artists – and the wider community – can better source art materials and divest these objects from the waste stream.
Based in New York City and supported by the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs (DCLA), Materials for the Arts (MFTA) is a program open to art nonprofits and schools which allows these creatives to source art materials from various items re-directed from the waste stream and donated by partners across the city and beyond. Paper, fabric, stone tiles, art equipment and more find its way to MFTA for “shopping days”: opportunities for these nonprofits and schools to come and source necessary items – all for free! Founded in the late 1970s/early 1980s, the initiative is one of the premier upcycling, sustainability forward arts initiatives in the United States.
A significant change occurs when art projects disrupt items in the waste stream, creating immersive installations and art exhibitions instead of greater levels of detritus. Even more importantly, the fact that certain arts programs have predicated their entire mission upon enforcing sustainable methods of repurposing trash into treasure sets a remarkable precedent. These prescient programs set in motion a precedent for future projects with an emphasis on conservation and putting an end to global warming.
Sustainability: Witnessing a Sea Change
Fine Artists have already inspired their creative peers across architecture, design and urban planning to make strides toward embracing sustainability in their respective endeavors. Spring 2019 saw Roca Gallery in London host their “London 2026: Recipes for Building a Food Capital” heighten awareness of the term “agritecture”: uniting the architecture and agriculture fields under a single mission. Significantly, the exhibition is free and open to the public, inspiring a crucial dialogue around sustaining populations in a major global city in the near future. As the visual arts increase in awareness on an international scale, artists hold the power to bring sustainability into the limelight by engaging head-on with issues facing humanity: climate change, reuse, recycling, and environmental conservation. Environmentally-conscious festivals, such as Australia’s forward-thinking “Art+Climate Change” festival 2019, bring issues confronting the art community as well as society as a whole into a public forum, dissecting ways in which we are making progress as environmental stewards and identifying methods by which we can improve our environmental impact in 2019 and beyond.
Activism can also harness arts initiatives to further awareness of their cause, and to bring a wider audience together to celebrate our ability to enact meaningful change for a more sustainable future. Social justice firms, such as Art Not War, create greater awareness around how our collective impact can create pathways toward demonstrable change. The firm catalyzed graphic design and arts toward exponentially increasing awareness across marketing channels and social media for endeavors such as the People’s Climate March. Art Not War focuses on formidable public relations campaigns and boutique events that are key to amassing creative talent to inspire audiences toward demonstrating and demanding improvements in public policy and greater environmental awareness. Surveying contemporary sustainability efforts, and amplifying these messages through fine arts, the firm provides a roadmap for other activists seeking ways to effectively harness contemporary art toward efforts for environmental conservation and climate change awareness.
Finally, artists and creative professionals can enact change through providing funding for initiatives that lie at the boundaries of art and sustainability. One such foundation is the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation. Impacting over 132 organizations over 50 countries, among the foundation’s primary concerns is conserving the environment, with a particular emphasis on thwarting climate change and preserving the world’s oceans. Founded by the actor in 1998 to “preserve Earth’s wildest places”, efforts straddle both scientific and artistic projects, with a recent partnership utilizing an art project to shed light on recent flooding which has devastated the greater Miami area, on view at the Pérez Art Museum Miami (PAMM).
While artists, art institutions and foundations have a wide range of resources at their disposal to explore solutions to challenges confronting us in environmental sustainability, renewable energy and environmental conservation. As individuals, we have the ability to find inspiration in these artistic gestures in order to adopt these precepts into our own lives. By incorporating lessons in sustainability in our everyday lives, we can serve as personal advocates for the advantages of living a cleaner, more sustainable lifestyle.
Familiar with these sustainability -focused arts initiatives? Admiration for other residencies and arts programs not included in our list? Share your experiences with us below in the comments!