Underwater homes: A visual guide to NYC’s future floods

20 Oct 2011 3:14 PM


eve mosher

It was late August, and Eve Mosher was keenly aware of the monstrous storm that was surging up the coast. Irene had roared through the Bahamas as a category 3 hurricane, and weather forecasts showed it spinning up the seaboard like a giant bowling ball, blasting directly into Manhattan. New York City officials ordered almost 370,000 people to evacuate low-lying areas.

New Yorkers are not fond of Mother Nature messing with their routines, and some dug in, refusing to leave. But Mosher took the storm seriously. “I grew up in Texas — I prepare for hurricanes,” she says. “They can take you out.”

Adding to Mosher’s sensitivity was the fact that four summers prior, she set out on a public art project that charted areas of the city that would be submerged if sea level rose 10 feet — not an unlikely scenario given projected climate change scenarios and/or a good storm surge. Called HighWaterLine, the project saw Mosher taking a line from a map and etching it onto the cityscape.

Now, with meteorologists predicting 10-foot surges along the coast, “they were evacuating the areas below where I drew the line,” Mosher says. “I have seen everything below that line — power stations, garbage transfer stations, communities, hospitals. Thinking about those places was one of the biggest impacts for me. I felt like I was bearing witness.”

In the end, there was some flooding (One Bulls Head resident woke up to find her new SUV underwater: “I was like, ‘This hurricane isn’t cool anymore,’ ” she told the New York Times.) but Irene swung wide, saving most of her punches for Upstate New York and Vermont. “We dodged the bullet,” Mosher says. But it’s only a matter of time. “The Office of Emergency Management is saying that we’re due for our 100-year storm.”

It is this awareness of looming environmental threats that drove Mosher from her art studio into the streets. She had spent several years living in San Francisco and Vermont, bastions of eco-consciousness, and had come back to New York only to find that city residents didn’t seem particularly concerned about the environment. (This was before Brooklyn developed its serious Portland fetish and transportation commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan put in some 260 miles of controversial bike lanes.)

“I suddenly felt like I had a stronger responsibility as an artist,” Mosher says. “I’m not a lobbyist or lawyer, but I have my creative ability.”

high water line

So she traded in her brushes and oils (she had been doing nature-inspired abstractions) for a field chalker, like the ones used to mark ball fields, and set out into the city. She worked on weekends for six months, hauling 200 pounds of artistic accoutrements around on an industrial tricycle. (“It was my little carnival of existence,” she says.)

In the East Village and Williamsburg, Mosher says she fit right in. “People didn’t even talk to me,” she says. “They just said, ‘Whatever, it’s New York.'”

But in other neighborhoods, such as South Brooklyn, she was a curiosity. People came out of their houses to ask what she was doing. “Kids followed me around like the Pied Piper.”

Some insurance companies had recently stopped selling flood insurance in South Brooklyn, she says. The residents knew that the floodwaters were coming. Mosher’s art project showed them exactly how high.

“Eve really found a new way of teaching people,” says Heidi Quanta, creative coordinator with the climate action group 350.org. “Her art was so good, she became a magnet. And when people learn by asking rather than being told, they retain the information better.”

Quanta also points to studies that show that when you drop something unexpected into someone’s ordinary routine — a woman marching across the street with a funny wheeled cart, leaving a blue chalk line in her wake, for example — they are apt to remember it.

insert veggies here

Using this same principle, Moser and 350.org recently collaborated on a project called Insert____Here. Mosher created the project after the HighWaterLine as a way of drawing ideas from residents about how the city could thrive in the face of climate change. She stenciled arrows around town with the message, “Insert ________ Here,” and let the locals fill in the blank.

Working with 350.org, Mosher revived the project, partnering with community groups. The POINT Community Development Corporation in the Bronx now has a big “Insert Green Roof Here” sign up. In Brooklyn, a group called 596 Acres, which has mapped undeveloped city-owned land, is using the project to promote community gardens and other projects.

“We want to see if we can draw attention to these projects and help raise funds,” Mosher says. “We’re using simple artistic intervention as a way to actually make things happen.”

Next, Mosher takes the HighWaterLine project to Dublin, Ireland, where she’ll work with local school kids to chart the coming floods there. After that? It’s currently undetermined, but Quanta thinks Mosher could use her unique message to wake up foot-dragging politicians in the nation’s capitol: “I think she should do HighWaterLine in Washington, D.C.”

This is part of a series of stories about environment-related street art. Next week, meet a guy who calls himself a “grime writer.”

Grist special projects editor Greg Hanscom has been editor of the award-winning environmental magazine High Country News and the Baltimore-based city mag, Urbanite. He tweets about cities and the environment at @ghanscom.


Check it Out: Creative Activism Thursdays

The Revolution Will Be Debated

Come meet the revolutionaries who have changed or are changing the world, and those who study them. We’ll be meeting every Thursday for a series of lectures, workshops, and other events focusing on the potential for societal change, and what we can do to bring it about through creative tactics and strategies.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Creative Activism Thursday events will be held at 7pm at:

October 20, 7pm |
Leónidas Martín     Leónidas Martín is a Professor at Barcelona University where he teaches New Media and Political Art. For many years he has been developing collective projects between art and activism, some of them well known internationally (Las Agencias, Yomango, Prêt a Révolter). He writes about art and politics for blogs, journals and newspapers, has created several documentaries and movies for television and internet, and is a member of the cultural collective “Enmedio” (www.enmedio.info). Last but not least, he is an expert telling jokes, often using this divine gift to get free beers and avoid police arrest. Leo will tell stories about the current upheaval in Spain, among other things. Introduction by Beka Economopoulos of NotAnAlternative.
October 27, 7:30pm | John Jackson

This lecture will take place at 7:30pm at 34 Stuyvesant Street, Room 105.  John Jackson is co-author of Small Acts of Resistance, a collection of stories showing how humor, tenacity, and ingenuity can change the world. Currently Vice President for Social Responsibility at MTV Networks International, John was a founder and Director of Burma Campaign UK, and has been involved in major international campaigns on fair trade, landmines, child labor, and climate change.

November 3, 12:30pm | Working Research Group on Artistic Activism luncheon

This event will take place at 12:30pm in Room 601, 1 Washington Place (Gallatin). RSVP required.
“Efficacy. How do we know if artistic activism works?” Discussion facilitated by Stephen Duncombe. This is one of a series of lunch meetings where academics, artists and activists will come together to discuss topics germane to the study and practice of artistic activism. Lunch will be served, so please RSVP to jessicas.assaf@gmail.comThis e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

November 3, 7pm | John Stewart and Dan Class

John Stewart and Dan Glass were key organizers in the UK Climate Campaign, the successful decade-long campaign to stop the expansion of London’s Heathrow Airport. Stewart was named Britain’s most effective green activist by the Independent, and Glass was named national youth climate leader by the Guardian, is one of Attitude Magazine’s 66 new role models for helping bridge LGBTQ and environmental justice movements, and is perhaps best known for having superglued himself to the Prime Minister to draw attention to communities impacted by aviation climate change.

November 17, 7:30pm | Mark Rudd

This lecture will take place at 7:30pm at 34 Stuyvesant Street, Room 105.  Introduced by Jeremy Varon, author of Bringing the War Home: The Weather Underground, the Red Army Faction, and Revolutionary Violence in the Sixties and Seventies
Mark Rudd
led the legendary 1968 occupation of five buildings at Columbia University, a dramatic act of protest against the university’s support for the Vietnam War. As charismatic chairman of the Columbia chapter of Students for a Democratic Society, the largest radical student organization in the United States, Rudd became a national symbol of student revolt, and went on to co-found the Weathermen faction of SDS, which helped organize the notorious Days of Rage in Chicago in 1969 before going underground. Mark will speak about the intended and unintended humor of ‘60s activism.

December 1, 12:30pm | Working Research Group on Artistic Activism luncheon

This event will take place at 12:30pm in Room 601, 1 Washington Place (Gallatin). RSVP required.
“Education. What are the pedagogical possibilities and limits of artistic activism?” Discussion facilitated by Dipti Desai. This is one of a series of lunch meetings where academics, artists and activists will come together to discuss topics germane to the study and practice of artistic activism. Lunch will be served, so please RSVP to jessicas.assaf@gmail.comThis e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

December 1, 7pm | Gabriella Coleman

Gabriella Coleman is a professor in NYU’s Department of Media, Culture, and Communication and a Fellow of the Institute for Advanced Study. Her book, Coding Freedom: The Aesthetics and the Ethics of Hacking, is forthcoming with Princeton University Press and she is currently working on a new book on Anonymous and digital activism. Gabriella will speak about the revolutionary humor the hacker group Anonymous uses as one of its key tactics.

December 8, 7pm | Timothy Patrick McCarthy

Timothy Patrick McCarthy, Ph.D., is Lecturer on History and Literature and on Public Policy at Harvard University and Director of the Sexuality, Gender, and Human Rights Program at the Harvard Kennedy School, where he hosts the monthly public conversation series, “The Activist’s Studio,” convenes an annual spring conference on “Gay Rights as Human Rights,” and co-chairs the Regional Working Group on Human Trafficking and Modern Slavery. He will speak about the ways that humor is crucial to cultural transformation, and specifically the role of humor in the LGBT movement.


Past Presenters

September 22 | Ivan Marovic

Introduced by Bryan Farrell from WagingNonViolence.org
Ivan Marovic
is one of the founders of Otpor, the student resistance movement that played a critical role in the downfall of Slobodan Milosevic in 2000. After Milosevic’s fall, Marovic began consulting with various pro democracy groups worldwide and became one of the leading trainers in the field of civil resistance. Ivan will speak about the role of humor and creative activism in the struggles he’s helped to guide. Due to limited space, please RSVP.

September 29 | Srdja Popovic and Slobodan Djinovic

Srdja Popovic is founding member of Otpor, the student resistance movement that played a critical role in the downfall of Slobodan Milosevic in 2000. In late 2003 he co-founded the Center for Applied Non-Violent Actions and Strategies (CANVAS), a group that supports nonviolent democratic movements through the transfer of knowledge on strategies and tactics of nonviolent struggle.

Slobodan Djinovic is an innovator in democracy and technology, founding Serbia’s first wireless internet company and a founder of Otpor. He has since become a leader exponent of sharing strategic non-violence training for democracy movements and peaceful opposition groups in the world’s remaining dictatorships.


Revolutionaries Live! (aka Creative Activism Thursdays) is co-sponsored by NYU Dean for Social Science, the Hemispheric Institute, the Yes Lab, the Humanities Initiative at NYU Working Research Group on Artistic Activism, CAA, and Not an Alternative. Speakers will also attend following Yes Lab Friday.

Artists + Revolutions

Artists are always an integral part of revolutions.  Here’s a clip from Angelique Kidjo, an artist 350 is collaborating with on a climate song.  It’s a beautiful song of support for Occupy Wall Street:

Occupy Design: Visual Tools for the 99 Percent

Reposted from GOOD Magazine

Last weekend, San Francisco, New York, and Washington, D.C. hosted spontaneous “Hackathons” to brainstorm how to use various platforms to help Occupy Wall Street. One of the ideas hatched was Occupy Design, a new website that gives a “visual language” to protesters across the country. Jake Levitas, a designer from San Francisco who’s heading up the project, says it’s a chance to fight back at media who characterize the movement as directionless.

“These are people who have valid concerns grounded in reality and grounded in data that can be communicated visually,” Levitas says. “If we get these signs on CNN instead of the ones that say ‘Screw capitalism’ on a piece of cardboard,” viewers don’t see a generic grievance but “exactly how people are being screwed and by how much. It’s a lot harder to argue with statistics than it is with talking points.”

The site provides big-think infographics that illustrate data on the wealth gap, symbols for overarching concepts like “justice” and “community,” and practical signs to use on the ground like “toilet” and “landfill.” Levitas says it’s a chance for designers and techies to contribute to the movement, even if they can’t make it to a protest.

“There’s all this untapped potential for people who are extremely talented,” he says. “It’s essentially a way to connect occupiers and designers. Everyone has a different role in this movement.”

Writing on the Wall: Fighting Climate Change in the Navajo Nation

by Greg Hanscom

13 Oct 2011 2:10 PM


Jewelry stand in Bitter Springs.

Jewelry stand in Bitter Springs.Photo: Jetsonorama

The original inhabitants of the land that is now the Navajo Nation knew something about writing on walls. Spend any amount of time kicking around this canyon country and you’ll find symbols and images painted and etched into the stone. Though street art might seem like a similar art form, born from similar impulses generations later in cities such as New York and LA, finding it here in its modern form seems unlikely: You can drive for hours and see little sign of human life, save for an occasional passing pickup truck or a hogan tucked into the scrub.

But it’s here. There’s old-style graffiti, sure, and, as anywhere, a lot of puerile scrawling. But in the past few years, a new hand has been at work, posting giant photographs of the faces of Navajo people on water tanks, abandoned gas stations, roadside jewelry stands — even the announcer’s booth at the rodeo grounds in Tuba City.

Of late, these images have taken on an activist bent, serving as stark harbingers of climate change or bold statements against a ski area’s development plans in a sacred mountain range. One of the most recent installations — a collaboration with the climate action group 350.org that appeared around the reservation and in the town of Flagstaff — depicts a giant chunk of coal hovering over the wide-eyed face of a Navajo infant.

Jetsonorama installs an image of photographer and artist Raechel Running.

Jetsonorama installs an image of photographer and artist Raechel Running.Photo: Xomiele

The man behind these images is no spring chicken. He’s a 54-year-old physician who has worked with the Indian Health Service on the reservation since 1987. His identity is no secret on the rez — many of his images are of friends and acquaintances. Still, his work is not entirely above board. He prefers to be known only by his pen name, Jetsonorama. (Jetson was the name of his first dog, if you must know. The “orama” part is kind of a long story.)

Jetsonorama was in med school during the heyday of hip-hop and made regular forays into New York City to see break dancers and style writing spray-painted on train cars. He moved to the Navajo reservation in 1987 to work off a government-funded education and fell in love with the place. A trip to Brazil in 2009 turned him on to the rush of nighttime street-art bombing runs. He’s been putting up his own images since 2009.

“It’s the last place that people would expect to see street art,” he says of the reservation. “But the art is the result of me having spent 23 years living with Navajo people. I don’t know that many of my images would work as well in an urban setting.”

Besides, he says, “My primary audience on the reservation is a vehicle traveling at 70 miles per hour. In order to get attention of said vehicle, my image has to be pretty big.”

His favorite target of late is roadside outhouses.

Raising awareness of climate change with 350.org

Raising awareness of climate change with 350.orgPhoto: JetsonoramaThe infant-and-coal image came about because of a challenge form 350.org, which asked street artists around the world to create work that spoke to the local connections to climate change. The Navajo Nation is home to the Kayenta coal mine on Black Mesa, which churns out fuel for a nearby power plant.

“If the Navajo people and coal were to declare their relationship status on Facebook, they’d have to choose the ‘it’s complicated’ option,” Jetsonorama wrote in his blog after interviewing more than a dozen coworkers about their views about coal.

The mine and power plant offer some of the few middle class jobs on the reservation, he says, and many tribal members think of coal as a cheap way to heat their homes ($60 for a pickup truck load, vs. $200 for load of firewood).

At the same time, the Navajo recognize the health problems that come from breathing coal smoke. And the irony is not lost on these people that the electricity generated with Black Mesa coal doesn’t stay here — it keeps the lights on in Phoenix, Las Vegas, and LA.

Words about the San Francisco Peaks on Navajo faces.

Words about the San Francisco Peaks on Navajo faces. Photo: Jetsonorama

After the 350.org project, Jetsonorama teamed up with activists fighting a ski area’s plans to use treated wastewater for snowmaking on the San Francisco Peaks above Flagstaff, Ariz. The activists painted their faces with messages about the mountains. Jetsonorama photographed them, then installed giant enlargements of the images on walls.

“We’ve marched. We’ve tied ourselves to machinery. We’ve voiced our opposition at city hall meetings. A lot of times, it’s fallen on deaf ears,” says Navajo artist and activist Shonto Begay, one of the people pictured in the recent murals. “This is another form of communicating that message. I think it’s working. It just grabs you.”

As non-native working on native soil, Jetsonorama is bound to raise questions of authenticity, but Begay says that the artist has been excepted into the community. “If it were somebody that just came in and appropriated our knowledge and our stories — like Tony Hillerman — that would be different. It would be frowned upon,” Begay says. “But he’s been on the reservation for 20 or 30 years. This is home.”

Jetsonorama’s work is all in black and white, Begay adds, which gives it “a sense of oldness that we only see in photos of our old grandparents. You get that sense of awe, that sense of history.”

Jetsonorama says that working on the reservation and dividing his time between working as a doctor and a street artist do bring unique challenges. “As physician, it forces me to be accountable for that work,” he says. “And the Navajo people have large extended families. My responsibility is to the entire family.”

But he hopes his art complements his day job. “I try to put a positive vibration out there,” he says. “If it brings a moment of happiness or restores health, then for the small amount of time that image is out there, it serves its purpose.”

(h/t Erik Hoffner)

This is part of a series of stories about environment-related street art. Next week, meet a woman who spent weeks kicking around New York with a sports-field chalker in an effort to raise awareness of climate change.

Grist special projects editor Greg Hanscom has been editor of the award-winning environmental magazine High Country News and the Baltimore-based city mag, Urbanite. He tweets about cities and the environment at @ghanscom.


Great post on power of Street Art by GRIST

Street artists see the city as their canvas

11 Oct 2011 2:07 PM



Photo: Allison Samuels

One night in June, a young artist in cutoff jeans and paint-spattered Nike high-tops was walking down Kent Avenue in Williamsburg, a neighborhood in Brooklyn. In his hand, he carried one of the main tools of his trade: a bucket brimming with wallpaper adhesive. He planned to use the stuff to affix a giant copy of one of his linoleum-cut prints to a nearby building.

Suddenly, up drives one of New York City’s finest, lights flashing and sirens blaring. “I told him I was going to my studio,” says the artist, who works under the pseudonym Gaia. “But he knew what I was up to — I mean, why the fuck else would I be walking around with five gallons of glue? He looks at me and says, ‘You know what you’re doing is graffiti.'”

In New York, graffiti has been a code word for vandalism since the 1970s, when city hall kicked off a campaign to scrub the place clean of “style writing.” But Gaia is among a young generation of artists who are once again decorating the walls of this city and others, using street smarts and considerable artistic talent to “reactivate” urban spaces.

Street artists don’t think of themselves as graffiti writers — and they don’t fit neatly under one umbrella. They use a variety of media, including paint, yarn, block and linoleum prints, and photographs. Artists such as Shepard Fairey (best known for his ubiquitous Andre the Giant stickers and his poster of President Obama) and Banksy (the director of the documentary Exit Through the Gift Shop who once built a Stonehenge replica from portable toilets) have earned international notoriety. And now there are younger artists like Gaia, who bring environmental consciousness and an ethic of community engagement to the craft.

“They consider their work a dialog with the city,” says Martin Irvine, an associate professor at Georgetown University and owner of the Irvine Contemporary Gallery, which has shown Gaia’s work and that of numerous other street artists. “They’re saying that you can’t separate out where the art is made and where it is received … All art is site-specific … It’s as revolutionary as Pop Art’s redefining of what an art object can be.”

Art.Photo: Gaia

Gaia, a 23-year-old who spent his formative years on the Upper East Side and is now based in a factory-turned-semi-legal-artist-hive in Baltimore, says much of his early work was inspired by a sense of looming environmental calamity. “I wanted to express this strange un-locatable feeling of fear about the end of the world — my generation’s zeitgeist of global warming,” he says.

Four years ago, his haunting, intricately carved linocut prints of animals and animal-human hybrids began to appear on the sides of derelict buildings, in alleys, and abandoned billboards around Baltimore. They were signed only “Gaia,” a name he took from the Greek earth goddess, though it was also appropriated in the ’70s by a couple of mad hippie scientists to describe their theory that the earth is a single living organism.

Eventually, Gaia’s encounters with the people who lived in these places, and his curiosity about urban history and planning, set him on another course. His recent work, he says, engages specific questions about the places he works: “Why is this neighborhood rotting? Who built these projects? Why are they being demolished? What was the history of this site?”

Earlier this year, he did a series of portraits of well-known urban planners, architects, and developers, including Robert Moses, Minoru Yamasaki, and James Rouse, pasting them up in areas where these men worked — though they may be largely forgotten by the people who pass their days there. To help raise money for Baltimore’s ragtag Edgar Allan Poe museum, he created a print of a raven, donating copies to the museum for sale and affixing a giant double print to the side of the nearby Poe Homes low-income housing projects.

Art.Photo: Gaia

“He got to know the people in the neighborhood, and the ravens became a place where people went to get their pictures taken,” says Doreen Bolger, director of the Baltimore Museum of Art, who has followed Gaia’s work. “Unlike graffiti artists and paint bombers, who use their work to mark territory, in meaning and in method, he becomes part of the community.”

Of course, Gaia has had his share of run-ins with law enforcement over the years. He has, on occasion, had to take down an installation — or abandon one he’d planned to put up, as was the case that summer night in Williamsburg. But he has talked his way out of many a tight spot, and he has never been arrested for putting up his work.

And oddly enough, Gaia’s nocturnal mischief has propelled him into the inner sanctum of the art world. Galleries from Washington, D.C., to Chicago, San Francisco, and L.A. have exhibited his work. In September, he spent several weeks in Miami, contributing a mural to Wynwood Walls, a project underwritten by developer Tony Goldman.

“Miami was cushy. The cushiest thing that has ever happened,” Gaia says, describing his hotel room on Ocean Drive and “$400 per diem just to spend on Cuban food and cigarettes.”

Art.Photo: Gaia

His Wynwood Walls mural is a portrait of oil tycoon-turned railroad magnate Henry Flagler. To house Miami’s largely African American workforce, Flagler created a neighborhood called Overtown in the shadow of his burgeoning shipping enterprise. The neighborhood saw something of a renaissance following World War II (Muhammad Ali once trained there) but was drawn and quartered during the age of “urban renewal” by an expressway and an interstate.

By accepting the sweet assignment at Wynwood Walls, isn’t Gaia contributing to the very kind of urban redevelopment and gentrification he has criticized in the past?

“Gentrification is seen as a dirty word,” he says. “But we’re getting better at gentrifying neighborhoods. The least sensitive was urban renewal, where they cleared entire swaths, displacing entire populations of people. We tried corporate downtowns, stadiums, high rises, all different incentives … We’re coming to a more nuanced vision of revitalizing a neighborhood, and that is something that Tony Goldman embodies.”

Once again, he manages to talk himself out of a tight spot. Can it last? Time will tell. For now, he’s off to Europe, where he’ll take part in the lively legal mural scene that is spreading across that continent in the bright light of day.

In the meantime, his work stateside, protected from the elements only by a crust of dried wallpaper paste, fades. “His materials deteriorate and crumble. His work is as fragile as the city,” says Bolger. “It just disappears.”

This is the first of a series of stories about street art. Later this week, we’ll meet a doctor-turned muralist who has taken the art form to the Navajo Nation.

Grist special projects editor Greg Hanscom has been editor of the award-winning environmental magazine High Country News and the Baltimore-based city mag, Urbanite. He tweets about cities and the environment at @ghanscom.


Video by UK Tar Sands Network

“Oil Orgy” invades Energy Summit

Activists interrupt UK-Canada talks aimed at promoting the future of tar sands oil
Tuesday October, 11th 2011

Protesters interrupted the Canada-Europe Energy Round table [1] in London today, to expose the UK government’s opposition to European legislation, which would label tar sands oil as highly polluting. The campaigners stripped down to Union Jack boxers and maple leaf underwear and covered each other with oil while kissing and groping in a provocative ‘oil orgy’ [2].

“We interrupted the Energy Round table today because the UK and Canadian governments flirtations are developing into friends with benefits. This seedy relationship puts profits for the oil industry and banks ahead of much needed legislation which will curb emissions from transport fuel in Europe,” [2] said UK Tar Sands Network campaigner Emily Coats.

Since PM Cameron’s visit to Canada last month, the UK government has been echoing the position of the Canadian government that the EU is ‘unfairly discriminating’ against the Canadian tar sands [3]. Contrary to Canada’s claims that the Fuel Quality Directive (FQD) will discriminate against the tar sands, the current FQD proposal also includes values for other unconventional oil feed stocks, such as shale oil [4].

“The UK government is supporting sleazy Canadian lobbying efforts and today’s Energy summit shows just how intimate they have become to promote the tar sands industry,” said climate campaigner Peter Templeton.

Despite extensive lobbying by the Canadian government over the last year, [5] last Tuesday the European Commission announced its recommendation that tar sands fuel should be assigned an accurate value in order to account for the higher emissions caused by tar sands extraction [6].

“A Canadian government body [7] proved that tar sands extraction is very filthy, yet the Harper government is increasing extraction of bitumen without full scientific knowledge of the impacts on the local environment and the global climate.” said Coats.

In the upcoming weeks the UK will continue to receive Canadian officials [8] as Canada attempts to secure the UK as an ally to stall the FQD directive, which has already received extensive support from the EU commission. The controversial UK government support for the Canadian tar sands industry has received disapproval and outrage from UK climate activists, which shall escalate as the relationship deepens.


NYC Launches “Artistic Activism” Research Group

New York University awarded $10,000 to support research in Artistic Activism beginning this fall. The research group will be headed by NYU professor and co-director of the Center for Artistic Activism, Stephen Duncombe, and NYU professors Dipti Desai and David Darts of the Department of Art and Art Professions.

Over the next two years the Research Group on Artistic Activism will use the resources for operational support creating a forum to discuss and develop the study and practice of arts and aesthetics in the practice of civic activism. Activities include bi-monthly research meetings, curricular development, communications and publication, and a series of sponsored workshops, beginning with legendary AIDS activist art group Gran Fury in Spring of 2012.

What is artistic activism? “There is an art to every practice, activism included,” explains Stephen Duncombe. “It’s what distinguishes the innovative from the routine, the elegant from the mundane.” The “art of activism” requires art, that is: applying an artistic aesthetic and method to activist tactics, strategy, and organization.

Historically, the most effective political actors have married the arts with campaigns for social change. The practice of artistic activism has only accelerated as organizers learn to operate within the increasingly mediated political terrain of signs and symbols, stories and spectacles. “Artistic activism is not arts and activism, it is the melding of the two. It is not about using art as a window dressing for politics, nor is it about using politics as mere content matter for art,” says Steve Lambert, co-director of the Center for Artistic Activism. “It is an approach to civic engagement that integrates the aesthetic and the political. Artistic activism is a hybrid, and that’s what we’ll be exploring.”

The Working Research Group on Artistic Activism will be open to scholars and students from NYU and surrounding universities, as well as artists, practitioners and thinkers from outside the academy.

“This sort of serious engagement with the theory and practice of artistic activism is critical,” says CAA Co-Director and NYU Professor Stephen Duncombe,  explaining that “while Martin Luther King Jr. is now largely remembered for his example of moral courage, social movement historian Doug McAdam’s estimation of King’s ‘genius for strategic dramaturgy’ better explains the success of his campaigns.”

The Center for Artistic Activism is the home for artists, activists and scholars to explore, discuss, reflect upon, and strengthen connections between social activism and artistic practice. More: http://artisticactivism.org

Climate Street Art Sparking Conversations

This September, 350 launched our online Climate Street Art Gallery.  The gallery is ongoing and invites street artists around the world to use art to highlight how climate change is already impacting their communities as well as highlight creative solutions to the problem.

The art is getting people’s attention and sparking conversations around the world.

Here is an article that ran in Navajo Times that we wanted to share with you:

Diné artists tackle climate change

By Cindy Yurth
Tséyi’ Bureau

FLAGSTAFF, Oct. 3, 2011

(Times photo – Cindy Yurth)

Artist Kory Begay works on the Black Sheep Collective’s mural on climate change in Flagstaff Sept. 16. If you look closely at the little girl’s left leg, you will see the hometown of one of the artists.

At first glance, the painting taking shape in the parking lot of the Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon Chapter is an innocuous image of a little girl playing with a toy train.

But look closer, and anyone from northern Arizona will recognize the coal chute from the Kayenta mine – it’s a small leap to see that the train is actually the Black Mesa & Lake Powell Railroad’s electric train transporting Kayenta coal to the Navajo Generating Station in Page, Ariz.

The innocent looking, if giant, child is symbolically derailing the coal industry.

In the background is a coal-burning power plant spewing smoke, and the fluffy white clouds in the sky are inscribed with the labels CO2, SO2 and Hg – the periodic table symbols for carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide and mercury, the toxic products of coal combustion.

Written on the child’s shirt is one of those hard-to-translate Navajo words, “haajolniigoo.”

“As I understand it, it’s kind of like ‘You have to take the initiative to overcome obstacles in your life,'” explained Cy Wagoner. “We put it on a little child because the youth are the ones being affected by the decisions we make today. They’re the ones that are going to have to either live with this world we’ve left them or make some changes.”

The spray-painted, street-art style mural is a commission from 350.org, an international online movement to reverse climate change. (350 is the maximum number of parts per million of carbon dioxide scientists say we need to sustain in the earth’s atmosphere to maintain the world as we know it. We’re currently at 392.)

It’s one of 16 works of art the organization has commissioned worldwide on the topic of climate change. They may be exhibited locally, drawn together for an exhibit, or posted online for a photographic gallery available to anyone in the world who cares to look.

For the three artists working on the Flagstaff piece, all Navajos from the Arizona side of the reservation calling themselves “the Black Sheep Collective,” the focus was easy to agree on.

“The burning of fossil fuels is probably the biggest contributor to climate change on Navajo and throughout the Southwest,” said Wagoner. “For Navajos, it brings up a lot of other issues, like whether we’re getting compensated fairly for our natural resources, and why we’re supplying power plants when a lot of us are living without electricity.”

The painting was already stirring up trouble last week before it was even completed and displayed.

“Wow! That guy was really into coal,” observed artist Averian Chee, 25, of Phoenix after a passerby stopped to rather heatedly discuss the work with him.

“That’s OK,” consoled Wagoner, the elder of the trio at 34. “Not everybody has to like it. The function of art is to create dialogue.”

“We’re using our skills as artists to let people know about one of the biggest issues in the Southwest,” added Kory Begay, 23, of Cedar Springs, north of Dilkon, Ariz. “We’re not telling anybody what to think.”

It’s pretty obvious from the painting what the artists think, though. Begay and Wagoner, who hails from Birdsprings, Ariz., both believe they have witnessed climate change even in their young lives.

“There’s a lot of little springs in my area that have gone down over the years,” Wagoner said.

Chee, who hails from Nazlini, said the issue became important to him last year when he became a father.

“As Navajos, a lot of us have mixed feelings about the mines and the power plants,” he said. “Most of us know someone who either works at the mine or the power plant. I told that to the guy who came up to me.

“But the bottom line for me is that I have a little son, and I don’t want to hand this world over to him the way it is. There are alternatives to burning coal, and we need to be looking at those.”

The artists said they would like to donate their mural to a school on the reservation.

“All of us have works in places like New York, San Francisco and Germany,” Wagoner said, “but the place this kind of art is most needed is right here.”

Information: www.350.org.

Call for Artists!

The Last Chance Travel Agency is a performance and gallery coming to a downtown Seattle storefront from November 1 to December 15, 2011.

We are a travel office that specializes in tours and expertise in a post-climate change world.  During open hours we will give one on one consultation on destinations to see now before they change forever, “hot destinations to watch” that will change dramatically in the future, and destinations where the landscape or way of life is already changing. Each participant will collaborate with us in exploring what the world might look like in the future.

In addition to the travel agency being an installation and performance in and of itself, it will also be a gallery showcasing other artists, performers, scientists, designers and activists making work that visualizes climate change impacts.  We are currently soliciting artwork (design, performance, lectures, video) through a call for artists.  Submissions will be displayed in our storefront space and posted on this website in the hopes that it can grow into an online repository of images and actions – join us!

The Last Chance Travel Agency grew out of the Watermark Project, which began in 2007 as an artistic effort to visualize the potential impacts of climate change.  Each show, performance or action was context-specific, including participatory walks, maps, and graphics to visualize sea level rise and other climate change impacts.  We started by investigating impacts on Seattle, our home base, and as time went on, we expanded to make work about places across North America. For this project (and with your help), we’re going global.

The Last Chance Travel Agency is part of the City of Seattle’s Storefronts Seattle program and is partially funded by 4Culture.