• Erin

Making Art to Make Change

When my son Finnegan was born four years ago, I felt a desperate, stomach-achingly, stay-awake-all-night, cry-at-the-slightest-little-thing need to urgently and directly do something about climate change. It was like someone had lit a fire under my behind and no amount of tears or worry could assuage the guilt of contributing to an unlivable future for the children of the world. Maybe I had a tiny bit of postpartum depression. Or maybe it was the crushing reality of the responsibility for a new life setting into my own.

I have worked as a sustainability professional “greening” the built environment for almost fifteen years. But it didn’t, and still does not, feel like my professional work is anywhere near enough. Not even close. Polar bears are starving to death (don’t click this link unless you can handle some very very sad images), bats are falling from the sky because they are roasting to death (see previous warning). Islands are being swallowed into the sea and climate change refugees are looking for new places to sustainably live. And as you know, this is barely the tip of the iceberg (yes, the pun is intended). EEE GADS the problem is so HUGE! This is not what I want to dwell on though so back to my story.

When Finn was born I needed to find a way that he and I could work on these issues together. He went to his first People’s Climate March at nine months old and has been to at least four marches this past year. But the bottom line is this, I want to have agency to protect his future and I want him to have agency to define the future that his and following generations will inherit. I also do not want to expose him to the horrible side of human kind or the wicked nature of these seemingly intractable problems until he’s at least six (just kidding, maybe ten-ish?). So I needed to find something to do that was positive, fun, joyful and based in love. Hmmm….how to do this when sleeping only a few hours a night, feeding, pumping, trying to put thoughts into a logical order? It was hard there at the beginning, all parents know this. But this is when I stumbled into art.

Two days before Finn arrived in the world, we moved into an amazing neighborhood on the north end of town and I met Becky. Becky and I talked about our shared desire to install a Little Library on our street corner. Her husband Dirk found an old cabinet and together with their two kiddos Piper and Finn (yes, we bonded over our shared love of the name Finn as well), they outfitted it with a roof and some cool handles. My dad installed it on a base and we invited the neighborhood kids to come and decorate it. It is a magnificent work of art and helping create it made me feel like I was a part of something.

Next came the art nights where we imagined a project and invited everyone over to play in the yard and get dirty. We had fun, we got to know each other, and our kids (hopefully) learned a little something about the planet and a thing or two they could do to protect it. My first official “artivist” project was the Halloween Display in 2015, when the U.S. was negotiating to sign the Paris Climate Agreement. The organization 350.org and other activist groups were working on large-scale art projects to support their agenda in the climate negotiations. Since I wasn’t going to Paris, I thought that Halloween, with it’s scary theme, might be a good time to do an art display at the Animas City Book and Idea Exchange Little Library.

I made hearts using recycled cardboard and paint samples and we got busy thinking about what we love about our planet. We decorated the hearts and the little library. The kids painted everything they could find, pumpkins, rocks, the sidewalk and there were lots and lots of faux spiderwebs. I made a spooky soundtrack to boost the ambiance and that night, pre-trick-or-treating, we lit it up! Everyone seemed to love it, my heart was full and I was surrounded by a community that we built using art, love and activism. Simultaneously, my mom and auntie’s art group in Albuquerque NM took on the question “What do you love about our planet” and made incredible heart-centered art. There was momentum, we were engaging hard issues with our hearts and it felt good.

Creating the Climate Love Project for me was and is an act of love. This is my offering to the world, a tiny way to put more love and beauty into a hurting magnificent world. I’m relying on the Butterfly Effect here people, and hoping that you too, will join me and together we can make art to make change!

Now how, you may wonder, does this story about art or little libraries or activism relate to me and my life? You are busy and may barely have time or energy to stay on top of email or clean the breakfast dishes. I get it. Maybe the relevance isn’t readily apparent, but I’m guessing that there’s at least a small part of you that wants to make the world a better place? Maybe you want your kids to grow up feeling like they are a part of something bigger than themselves and that they too can make the change that they wish to see in the world? Maybe you just like potlucks or crafter-noons. Whatever floats your boat, you can start making change now. By sharing our artivism ideas, I'm hoping that one may inspire you to make an art project with a message in your neighborhood or with your community. I promise it feels good, and the more of us that share these artivist experiences the more change we can make. Go on, try it. Comment below on what you love? What do you value about our planet?

By becoming a member you will find artivism project ideas, thoughts on building community and this nexus of art, activism, climate change, community, the built environment, gratitude and love right in your inbox a couple of times a month. No spam I promise. Easy peasy. Go on now, join us!

And one last thing, I'm grateful for you and of all the little things you do to make the world a better place every day. Thank you!

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