Ecoartists: Engaging Communities in a New Metaphor

Ecological art, or ecoart, is a blend of environmental activism,
art, and community organizing. Patricia Watts founded the nonprofit
ecoartspace in 1997 to ‘use art as a tool.’ Watts envisions the
ecoartist as equal parts educator, visionary, and environmental
consultant. To make her point, she describes a number of intriguing
participatory art projects.

Artist Gregg Schlanger, for example, working on a commission
from the Providence Office of Cultural Affairs, paid local teens
minimum wage to help him cast 200 concrete sculptures of animals on
Rhode Island’s list of endangered species, which includes a range
of animals from the bobcat to the Atlantic salmon. Residents of the
low-income Smith Hill neighborhood, initially suspicious of the
project, ultimately volunteered their yards, and after the project
was finished, Schlanger says a local boy told him, ‘You made the
neighborhood different.’

In a much quieter project, artist Erica Fielder created large
hats that double as birdfeeders. Fielder would set-up at either the
Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens or the Mendocino Art Center, then
sit still for as long it took for birds to perch on her head. The
goal, she says, was to ‘begin experiencing a deeper kinship with a
wild creature up close.’ Onlookers were also invited to wear a
birdfeeder hats while their host spoke about the interdependence of
various species within a given watershed.

‘These projects all offered the participating communities
information about their environment that might otherwise have been
filed away in a report and put on a bookshelf in a biologist’s
office or the local library,’ writes Watts, who is currently
working on a curriculum and teaching guidebook called Ecoart:
Environmental Education
Harry Sheff

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Ecoartists: Engaging Communities in a New Metaphor

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