On February 12, I participated as a panelist/respondent on “Care as Culture: Artists, Activists and Scientists Build Coalitions to Resist Climate Change, A Convening Around the Peace Table.” This event was held at the Queens Museum in conjunction with the exhibition Mierle Laderman Ukeles: Maintenance Art and took place at the large circular “Peace Table,” a centerpiece of her large retrospective exhibition. Our afternoon of discussion brought together a group of artists, activists, and scientists. One goal of the roundtable was to brainstorm methods for coalition building across these disciplines, to effectively multiply the power to confront an environmental, political, and spiritual crisis in our increasingly antagonistic time. Questions posed were; “How can we create a broad cultural movement to combat the policies of a new administration intent on dismantling many of the safeguards that reduce the effects of climate change?” “How can successful coalitions be introduced, and the urgent ways artists can begin the process of coalition building” and “what prevents us from working together and how can we advocate for change?”
The presenters included Newton Harrison, The Natural History Museum, Natalie Jeremijenko, (absent) and Mary Mattingly. Respondents included Carol Becker, Francesco Fiondella, Allan Frei, Hope Ginsburg, Alicia Grullon, Klaus H. Jacob, Amy Lipton, Lisa Marshall, Jennifer McGregor, Aviva Rahmani, Jason Smerdon, and Marina Zurkow. Newton Harrison presented on the concepts, outcomes, and collaborations that were part of “A Vision for the Green Heart of Holland” 1995. The Harrison Studio consists of Helen Mayer Harrison (b.1929) and Newton Harrison (b.1932) who are among the earliest and the best known ecological artists. Working with biologists, ecologists, architects, urban planners, and other artists, the Harrison Studio initiates collaborative dialogues to uncover ideas and solutions that support biodiversity and community development.
Speaking on behalf of the collective The Natural History Museum was co-founder Beka Economopoulos. In her presentation “Tactics for the Trumpocene” she addressed the museum’s latest work to build coalitions between scientists, Indigenous communities and museum professionals. The Natural History Museum’s mission is to affirm the truth of science. The museum is a project of Not An Alternative, a collective of artists, scientists, historians, theorists, and activists. Launched in 2014, The Natural History Museum is a mobile and pop-up museum that offers exhibitions, expeditions, educational workshops, and public programming. Unlike traditional natural history museums, it makes a point to include and highlight the socio-political forces that shape nature.
Artist Mary Mattingly presented “Swale,” an experiential public space and artwork on New York’s waterways that provides access to free food through perennial urban agriculture along with coalition members Lindsay Campbell, Dariella Rodriguez, Bram Gunther (Co-Director of the NYC Urban Field Station), and docents from the Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice: Brandon Kane and Anthony Lespier. Mattingly is an artist who takes societal consumption and ecological crisis as points of inquiry. Working with community members ranging from scientists to engineers, students, and neighbors, she co-creates sculptural ecosystems in urban spaces. Mattingly is engaged in questions about how art can influence policy and strengthen the commons.
Panelist/Respondents included Carol Becker, Professor of the Arts and Dean of Faculty at Columbia University School of the Arts; Francesco Fiondella from the International Research institute for Climate and Society at Columbia University’s Earth Institute; Allan Frei, climatologist and Deputy Director of the CUNY Institute for Sustainable Cities; Hope Ginsburg, artist; Alicia Grullon, artist and founder of Percent for Green, Bronx, NY; Klaus H. Jacob, geophysicist and Professor of Environmental Science at Barnard College; Amy Lipton, Director/Curator at ecoartspace; Lisa Marshall, community organizer for Mothers Out Front, NY; Jennifer McGregor, Director of Arts and Senior Curator at Wave Hill, Bronx, NY; Aviva Rahmani, artist and visiting professor at Stony Brook University, NY; Jason Smerdon, Associate Research Professor at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University and Marina Zurkow, media artist and faculty member at ITP/Tisch School of the Arts.
The convening took place over the course of 3 plus hours and gave time after the presenters for respondents to speak, address the posed questions and add to those questions. It was a day where dire concerns for the future were expressed, while simultaneously the uplifting wit, energy, knowledge and spirit of the participants proved to be an affirmation of like-mindedness and shared ideas towards coalition building, which had been expressed as a goal of the gathering. Having participated on many such panels, my hope is for continued dialogue. The group resolved to stay in communication beyond the event.