Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Art, Ecology, and Community

Creative and Green: Art, Ecology, and Community
by Sarah E. Graddy

Chapter 2: Art in Land and Water Remediation

Remediation is the treatment or cleaning of a contaminated site to mitigate or reverse the damages on the environment and humans, and is generally considered the domain of scientists. Others look at polluted places as physical chances for a paradigm shift in how we deal with our environmental mistakes. The landscape architect Herman Prigann, explaining what he means by "ecological aesthetics," writes that "Destroyed landscapes are activity fields available for creative remodeling" (website). He sees in polluted, exploited, and abandoned sites possibilities for remediation not only scientifically, but also aesthetically. He continues:

Without an aesthetic and visionary starting point for the reshaping of the Destroyed areas, there can be no positive identification with the landscape. The aesthetic reshaping of the landscape is always orientated around the Ecological relationships. (website)

If one looks at these "Destroyed" places as places of ecological engagement, the problem changes from how to make these sites ecologically healthy again to how to make them ecologically healthy again, in a way that is compelling to the public. If citizens are not involved in remediation efforts, it is unlikely that they will either be aware of them or help to prevent such exploitation of local resources in the future. Erzen writes that art can provide "symbolic, metaphoric and aesthetically conceived forms" that comprise a unique and educational way to involve the public in issues of ecological damage and reclamation, rather than only providing a practical solution to ecological problems (24). The best remediative response to polluted sites, then, involves not only science but also art.[8]

Several individuals and organizations are tackling environmental issues with this interdisciplinary approach. One is a nonprofit organization in northern Appalachia that is addressing abandoned coal mines that are leaking toxin-laden water into the watershed. Another is an artist who works with public spaces to create a nexus of public involvement and ecological restoration. A third project, in a small community in the Appalachian Mountains, is also artist-driven, and seeks to address the nebulous relationship that the community has with the natural resources it depends on.[9] These projects profoundly affect their communities, often contributing to not just the restoration of the local environment but also residents' sense of community and place, and they inspire similar projects in other communities. In this way -- by restoring the webs of community that connect us all to each other and the land we inhabit and the water we use -- they function not only as projects about and including ecological systems, but in a sense, as key components in ecological systems themselves.

AMD&ART: Vintondale, Pennsylvania

AMD&ART is a nonprofit organization created by artist and historian T. Allan Comp in 1994 to address the environmental hazard posed by abandoned coal mines. Appalachian communities long dependent on coal are still suffering from the departure of coal companies, which left many areas with weak economies, ravaged ecologies, and abandoned, contaminated mines. AMD stands for Acid Mine Drainage, or the water that picks up minerals exposed during mining as it flows through abandoned coal mines and into other water sources. It is acidic, metals-laden water that inundates "streambeds with orange sediment that kills the bottom of the food chain, leaving streams dead" (http://www.amdandart.org/ ). The toxic drainage has been ubiquitous in Appalachian communities for many years, and many economically depressed former mining communities still live with its presence. Comp sees AMD as a symbol of "dying communities, lost biodiversity, lost opportunity" -- a metaphor for a society destroying itself through the waste of its natural resources (website). Communities in Appalachia are deeply conflicted about their past, Comp says, and therefore AMD&ART is characterized by "trying to do something that people could be proud of, and that [would bring] back a pride in a past that's been kind of denied them" together with attempting to change the legacy left by pre-regulatory coal mining (interview).

Comp has a background in history and historic preservation; when he began a job working in a federal heritage area in Western Pennsylvania, he noticed that a common feature among the economically depressed communities there was that "all of the creeks were orange," as well as completely devoid of life (interview). He began to think about the potential impact of addressing the AMD in the area, and a way to involve the arts -- "not just traditional visual artists, but writers, designers, sculptors, historians, anthropologists and many other unfortunately compartmentalized disciplines" (website) -- in solving environmental problems. He likes to describe the impetus behind AMD&ART as the idea that "science is necessary, but not sufficient."

Comp says that scientists realized in the late 1980s that AMD problems could be ameliorated by "passive treatment," which involves the natural filtration and treatment of polluted waters through wetlands. Looking at all of the different treatment systems that used this principle, Comp realized that they were incredibly pragmatic -- he describes this approach as "there are five or six rectangular ponds stuck on a little piece of land, the water goes in bad, it comes out good, problem solved" -- but failed to involve the public or inspire other projects because "nobody even knew they were there"

Comp sees this purely scientific solution as a symptom of societal embarrassment of AMD; AMD&ART deliberately challenges "the belief that treatment systems should be hidden away, just because we as a society are ashamed of the mess we have created" (website). The organization instead promotes the idea that the reclaiming of these spaces and resources is a positive, community-building opportunity to engage all facets of society, and "should be a celebration" of the solution instead of a way to hide it -- drawing attention to, and thus spreading, the technology and the support for addressing the problem (website).

When Comp started AMD&ART, he asked geologists, artists, and hydrogeologists he knew to get involved in brainstorming an interdisciplinary way to clean up AMD sites. He says the project formed very quickly around three different possible sites for remediation; of these sites, only the "fairly small discharge" in Vintondale (a town of fewer than 600 people in Southwestern Pennsylvania) ended up being a feasible project for AMD&ART (interview).[10]

The site in Vintondale was chosen for the project because "it had several distinct advantages," Comp says. The Ghost Town Trail, which, at that time (in the mid-1990s) attracted about 60,000-70,000 recreational users per year (this number is now more like 80,000, according to Comp), runs immediately adjacent to Vintondale. In addition, the site, which is surrounded by the town, was unoccupied, owned by the borough (the municipal unit in Pennsylvania), and fairly flat. Comp says he "basically just walked into the borough council meeting and said, 'Would you be willing to let us see what we can do?'" and promised, if they agreed, to find funding elsewhere, to keep council members informed about the progress of the project, and to never promise more than what he knew he could deliver. While the council readily agreed to his proposal, Comp points out that before the first big public meeting about the project, locals in the bar next door just laughed at him for trying to change anything -- especially with art. The attitude in the community when he began, Comp says, was one of cynicism and low expectations, a common feature of Appalachian coal country.

From the beginning, Comp says, he realized that the organization would be more a model for similar projects than a single entity attempting to solve the problems of many places: "Nobody had ever done anything like [AMD&ART] before at all that we could find," he says, so a model could conceivably have an enormous impact. The organization's motto, "Artfully Transforming Environmental Liabilities Into Community Assets," provides a clear philosophical basis upon which other projects could be based. Comp sees AMD&ART as composed of three parts: The design team (a hydrogeologist, a landscape designer, a sculptor, and a historian) the AmeriCorps staff (one or two a year, and frequently including a landscape architect, a historian, or an environmental studies major), and the community.

The project that the organization has been working on for years is the AMD&ART art park in Vintondale. The park is a 35- acre space along the Ghost Town Trail. It includes a series of large ponds ("My hydrogeologist would prefer to call them treatment cells," Comp says) that "take a discharge from a pH of 2.8 and high in iron and aluminum, to a pH of 6.5 or 7, with almost no metal" (interview); on the pH scale, 7 is neutral, and anything below is acidic.

The cleansed water then flows into seven acres of wetlands that attract birds and other wildlife and which the highway department has purchased, enabling AMD&ART to create a trust fund to maintain the system for fifty years. Next to these water features, AMD&ART has created a native tree arboretum, which the organization calls its "Litmus Garden."

The center of the park is a recreation area for Vintondale residents. Based on the community's needs, this area includes baseball and soccer fields, a volleyball court, picnic tables, and open grassy areas. "Part of public design," Comp says, "is [that] you have to give form to community aspiration." If the community doesn't have a stake in the remediation project, it will not succeed in the long run. Vintondale needed a park for recreational activities, and Comp was determined to make that park a part of the AMD cleanup effort.

Because Comp plans to hand the reins of AMD&ART over to Vintondale to run -- leaving only the funding for one AmeriCorps position, but removing himself and the rest of his staff -- it is imperative that the community be invested in the organization's survival. Vintondale residents are very proud of the park, Comp points out, and call it "our park." "We built it with the community and now the community is ready to step in," Comp says, adding that the nonprofit organization AMD&ART is going to become "Vintondale AMD&ART Park, managed by locals."

Comp says that Vintondale residents are, in general, more aware of environmental issues as a result of AMD&ART, and that there is a measurable connection between the completion of a large project like the art park in Vintondale and a community's confidence in its ability to achieve other projects, let alone attempt them.[11] He points to a photograph of men helping build picnic tables for the park as an example: these men were some of the hecklers in the bar three years earlier. He adds that in order to change attitudes, one has to be persistent and consistent -- in AMD&ART's case, someone from the organization attended every monthly borough council meeting, whether or not he/she had anything to share about the project.

Fig. 4. The creation of AMD&ART treatment ponds. © AMD&ART
Finding funding has always been difficult for AMD&ART, Comp says, in large part because the organization addresses problems in Appalachian coal country, where funds are scarce for environmental projects. To diminish this predicament, Comp decided to hire AmeriCorps and AmeriCorps*VISTA volunteers (the U.S. government subsidizes these positions). Comp, who directs AMD&ART, does not receive a salary for his work (which he has always done in addition to a regular full-time job). "If this was really a better idea," Comp says he thought when he founded the organization, "then we don't need to go to traditional sources of funding for Acid Mine Drainage treatment first."

These sources were already funding AMD treatment, and Comp saw no need to compete with the scientists who received those monies. AMD&ART initially received a few thousand dollars from the local government program for the Pennsylvania Council for the Arts; the Heinz Endowment funded a planning workshop for local agencies and Comp and his colleagues. At some point in the mid-nineties, Comp recalls, there was a fiscal crisis, and he wrote a letter to the AMD&ART's board and some of his friends that said that the project might have to go on hiatus indefinitely. Within a few months, Comp found out that the EPA's Sustainable Development Program had awarded his organization a grant, and that it was much larger than what he had applied for the previous summer: $250,000 over three years. After that gift, which constituted "a huge gamble" by the EPA, according to Comp, it became much easier for AMD&ART -- which has no development staff -- to raise money from other government agencies and foundations.

Comp says the idea of involving artists and others from the humanities as well as scientists in projects has begun to garner positive attention in the past few years, and that this may be "the most significant consequence" of the work AMD&ART has done, "because it is being picked up on by others far from coal country as something they need to consider as well." These others, Comp says, include the U.S. Forest Service, people working on abandoned mine lands in the Rocky Mountains, and a little watershed, Crowley Creek, in Oregon.[12]

A current project in the middle of the University of Virginia's Wise campus in southwestern Virginia was inspired by AMD&ART (Comp is the co-manager and co-designer); another project that uses AMD&ART as a model for innovative approaches and partnerships is one at Upper Clark Fork in Montana. Comp thinks of AMD&ART as not simply a project or a nonprofit but "a catalogue of ideas," and encourages others to access it in order to create similar -- not necessarily identical -- projects to heal land and communities. Significantly, through his work with AMD&ART, Comp now works for the U.S. Department of Interior's Office of Surface Mining to work with communities all over Appalachia to clean up watersheds polluted by coal mining. Another measure of AMD&ART's success, Comp says, is that the American Society for Mining and Reclamation has asked him to appear as a plenary speaker for two years. Thus while the nonprofit organization AMD&ART will soon cease to exist in its current form, the idea that spawned AMD&ART continues to spread to communities throughout the United States. The AMD&ART website will then become a permanent archive of the project for anyone to access and use.

Passive treatment employs "native plants and native limestone to neutralize the acid, drop out the metals, and release both clean water and new hope" (website). Comp avers that his approach to AMD remediation differs profoundly from the traditional one:

It's very easy to design a treatment system where all you need to do is fix the water. But if you're going to try to get the 70,000 people riding by on their bicycles to stop and look at it long enough to figure out what it is . . . and realize that maybe getting one of those in their town would be a good idea, too, it's got to be a lot more than just scientifically effective, which is why from the very beginning, this project has always been a collaborative, multi-disciplinary effort between the sciences and the arts. (interview)
Rather than seeing waste treatment as a purely scientific function, Comp writes that it can be a part of our culture, too: "gardens, native plant arboretums and places of learning" (website).

The arts open up "avenues for participation that people would not otherwise seek," Comp says, and in this way complement the unintentionally exclusionary, jargon-heavy sciences. The only way to engage members of the public in environmental issues, he continues, is not only to teach them the scientific principles at work in a particular situation, but also to inspire them to care, and this is where the arts and the humanities come in. The arts without scientists, Comp says, just make for "bad science and goofy art"; on the other hand, collaboration spawns both good science and good art, as well as broad public engagement.

Remediation is not the domain of environmentalists, but entire communities. In Comp's view, we all have a stake in our communities, which include the physical places where we reside, and the "natural" features found there (land, water, organisms). When we invest in them, we gain not only what we can get directly from these features (food, drinking water, a place to have a picnic), but also in what we get from each other: a sense of belonging, a sense of investment in the future, an understanding of who we are and where we come from, and places in which we can come together in productive and positive ways.

By helping communities to become empowered, AMD&ART enables them to view themselves in a new way, to look toward the future instead of the past, and to take charge of the ecological health of their own resources. Local citizens become active advocates instead of passive victims, and in turn aid others in their searches for community health -- which AMD&ART wants to help us see that we are all responsible for.

Patricia Johanson: Three Projects

Patricia Johanson is an artist who creates large-scale, permanent projects that incorporate and celebrate ecological systems. She sees her work as a way to frame ecologies so that humans will be drawn into natural systems and become more aware of the organisms that live there and the forces that influence their worlds. Johanson started her career as a painter and sculptor, but gradually became interested in making sculptures that were sited in nature.

Speaking of her first foray into this kind of sculpture, Johanson says that she quickly "became far more interested in the patterns of nature on the work of art [than in the artwork itself] . . . you couldn't just look at the work of art anymore -- you saw how nature was impinging and encroaching on the art" (interview). This sculpture marked a change in the focus of all of Johanson's work: she remarks that she thereafter began making work concerned exclusively with nature. Johanson lives in New York State; she has a master's degree in Art History and a bachelor's degree in architecture. She cites as her inspirations Monet and nineteenth-century artists who explored the western U.S. and who acted as naturalists, recording the flora and fauna of the unfamiliar places they came across, as well as the celebrated landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead.

Johanson's first major ecological public art commission [13] was Fair Park Lagoon, located in a city park next to the Dallas Museum of Natural History and the Dallas Museum of Art (which has since moved). Begun in 1981 and completed in 1986, the project is a testament to the creative, holistic, and unconventional perspective that an artist can bring to environmental problems. A few years after seeing an exhibit of Johanson's drawings of hypothetical, plant-based projects in a gallery in New York City, Harry Parker, who was then director of the Dallas Museum of Art, invited Johanson to come up with a plan to restore the lagoon.[14]

Covered in a harmful algae bloom, polluted, and missing key species like aquatic insects and snails, the lagoon ("basically a flood basin," says Johanson) was murky, had a deteriorating shoreline, and lacked a food chain. The body of water was also a hazard to the community that might have enjoyed it -- it created a five-block-long obstacle for people walking through the park. Worse, several children had drowned in it -- two on the morning Johanson came to look at the site at Parker's invitation.

At the time, Johanson writes, "there was neither funding [for] nor community interest" in the project (Art and Survival 14); however, the sesquicentennial of Texas' independence from Mexico was approaching, and Johanson says that Parker saw potential for a lagoon project to be touted as a sesquicentennial project for Dallas, thus practically ensuring funding. According to Johanson, Parker told her, "Do any kind of project you want. This is Dallas -- if they like it, they'll build it." Johanson was given "absolute freedom," she says, to come up with ideas for improving the body of water -- the museum imposed no budgetary or other restrictions on her.

She gave a presentation with drawings and models of her ideas for the lagoon to a group of invited guests at the art museum -- "basically, what [my initial proposal] said was 'I want to use art to bring people into contact with nature and clean up the water,'" she summarizes. Afterward, she was approached by the grants administrator of a local foundation that eventually put up the bulk of the money required for the project. In fact, the project was so popular with the community that organizations offered funding even after it was no longer needed, especially once construction began.

For Fair Park Lagoon, Johanson conducted research on what native animals eat and what local plants would be appropriate to create a proposal that would restore a healthy balance to the lagoon; she asked staff at the Dallas Museum of Natural History to help her create "outdoor educational exhibits" (interview). In addition to proposing the re-introduction of many species of plant and animal, Johanson suggested that the museum remove a non-native species of duck then populating the lagoon, stop.37 fertilizing the grass around the shoreline, and encourage locals to fish for the overabundant sunfish. Johanson writes of the beginning of the project:
I began to develop my own list of concerns, which included creating a functioning ecosystem for a wide variety of plants and animals. I also wanted to control bank erosion, and create paths so that people could cut across the lagoon. I began to do research on what different animals eat, because I knew that the right plants would attract wildlife. The project evolved from many different perspectives at once. I knew that the structures had to not only solve a host of environmental problems, but also had to be acceptable to scientists, engineers and city planners. (Art and Survival 15)
Johanson carefully took all of these perspectives into account in the planning of her artwork, which besides reconstructing the life cycle of the lagoon, involved the creation of "elaborate entangled walkable paths with bridges and arches" that meandered through the lagoon (Spaid 67). Johanson decided to use two native Texas plants as models for the sculptures in the lagoon.

These sculptures, made of terracotta-colored gunite, serve as pathways for visitors and resting places for animals. She designed the Delta Duck Potato-based sculpture's "roots," many of them five-foot-wide paths, to prevent water from eroding the shoreline; the spaces between them "became microhabitats for plants, fish, turtles, and birds" (Art and Survival 15). Thinner roots rise out of the water, inaccessible to humans, and provide perches for birds, while leaves in the middle of the lagoon serve as islands for turtles and other animals. The second sculpture, across the lagoon, is based on a Texas fern, Pteris multifada:

The fern functions as a bridge -- not a direct pathway over the water, but a network of crossovers, islands and stopping-points. Individual leaflets are twisted to create the kinds of spaces I wanted, and the tip of the fern is a causeway surrounded by water lilies and irises.(16)

Johanson wanted people who visit the lagoon to be initially attracted by the sculptures -- she calls her work "big and brassy" -- and then drawn into the life that thrives around it (interview). "Fair Park Lagoon is really a swamp -- a raw, functioning ecology that people are normally afraid of," Johanson writes. "The art project affords people access to this environment, so they find out how wonderful a swamp really is . . . they're discovering a marvelous new world" (16).

Johanson uses art as a way to frame nature, so that people who aren't interested in or cognizant of nature suddenly notice it. She sees this project and the others she has done as inviting the public into relationships with the organisms in a particular ecosystem, which then translates into a general appreciation for the natural world. "There are always people who will do damage," she says, "but I think far less [so] if people get some kind of basic understanding of nature and love for it. And that kind of education naturally takes place in my projects, I believe."

Johanson's methodology for creating large-scale environmental works was perfected during her work on Fair Park Lagoon:

I always come up with designs in the exact same way: I look at the site, and I decide what I want to accomplish on the site, in terms of how people are going to move through it [and] what they're going to see . . . I want a living site -- I want plants and animals living in natural communities. I look at [my work] as
developing a food chain. (interview)
Johanson says that she uses sculpture as a way to move people through the space to give them access to the plants and animals living there. She designs spaces that do not need to be maintained, for two reasons: "Half the time it's not done anyway," she notes, but she also likes her artworks to evolve over time, because they have lives of their own (interview). "The traditional art object is based on the idea of perfection," Johanson writes, but her works grow and change (Art and Survival 10). There may be a point, she says, where her projects begin to disintegrate; at that time, she thinks it is acceptable to intervene, if a community is interested in keeping a particular project, but not before.

Johanson's next major project, Endangered Garden, also resulted from an exhibit of her drawings; this time both the exhibit and the commission were in San Francisco. The circumstances surrounding this project were very different from Fair Park Lagoon, however: the City of San Francisco needed a new transport-storage sewer that would go around Candlestick Cove, but the Public Works Department couldn't come up with a design that the public would approve. The latter had initially proposed "a two-story-high hunk of concrete that blocked the view of San Francisco Bay," Johanson recounts (interview).

Furthermore, the city was about to be sued by the EPA for dumping raw sewage in the bay, so it was in a hurry. Jill Manton, Director of the Public Art Program of the San Francisco Arts Commission, who remembered the exhibit of Johanson's work from a few years before, asked her to get involved. Within a month, Johanson had become co-designer of the facility and produced plans that San Franciscans loved.[15] "I knew right away: bury the sewer, make the roof a bay walk, make it available to the public, so they're getting something for their money," she recalls, adding:

Part of my strategy is always giving back to the public. If the community is happy, the project will be a success. If the community isn't happy, the project won't be a success . . . What happened was, I got huge community buy-in- people started writing letters to the city, saying what a beautiful project this was and how much they wanted [it]. (interview)
Because the public supported her idea so enthusiastically, the city Public Works Department, which was not interested in building her project, had to back down -- and was told by the City Attorney that it had to accept Johanson's proposal. She says that she has always promoted art as an important component in infrastructure projects, and muses that over the years, some of her work might have changed the minds of those who disagreed. In 1987, however, when she designed the project (it was completed three mayors later, in 1996), it was a fairly novel idea to include an artist in the designing of a sewer.[16]

Johanson's design incorporates a huge San Francisco Garter Snake that serves as the unifying element of the park, which is sited on a landfill. Parts of the snake's winding body intersect with the half-mile long bay walk, creating stopping points and the opportunity to appreciate the life found along the trail. The snake's head emerges in a twenty-foot-high earthmound and the neck in another, and some of the snake's scales were designed as huge sculptures.

The sculptures accommodate not only human but also animal traffic. "Cavities, crevices and nesting shelves for bird habitat are incorporated into the structures . . . [and] petroglyph depressions in the Baywalk paving fill with rainwater and become birdbaths" (24). The snake's head mound was seeded with plants that sustain endangered butterflies; the head and neck mounds are sited on a meadow. Both humans and endangered butterflies utilize the windbreak provided by the mounds. Johanson writes that her intention "was to provide cover for small mammals like the endangered salt marsh harvest mouse and larval food plants for endangered and rare butterflies" ("Beyond Choreography" 93).

Like Fair Park Lagoon, Endangered Garden is designed to attract visitors with its sculptural components, but ultimately creates a relationship between the people who visit and the organisms that make the space their home: "Body movement and gardens of unplanned experience turn spectators into participants, ensuring both a creative response and consideration of forces that affect the landscape and their lives," Johanson asserts (98). Her work, in this way, shows that interactions between "nature" and humanity are never passive -- when people are drawn into observation and appreciation of an ecosystem, they become conscientious advocates of its preservation. In Johanson's creations, there is no opportunity to be passive. All those who enter the spaces she creates are implicated in their continued existence and the survival of the organisms that occupy them.

Before Endangered Garden, there was no public access to Candlestick Cove. Now San Franciscans and tourists walk, jog, and bike the pathways on top of the sewer to get access to the intertidal zone, and they use the spaces between to have picnics and fly kites. Most members of the public do not realize that underneath the trails, butterfly meadow, and sculpture, there is a functioning sewer, Johanson says; the city made sure the project had a low profile during its construction to avoid controversy over an artist being co-designer of the project (even though it was built using percent-for-art funds). But Johanson seems to be comfortable with the invisibility of the sewage system: "The idea was simply to take something that was going to be built anyway, and translate it into a public landscape that that people could use and enjoy," she writes (Art and Survival 6). If the city was going to construct the sewer, she figured, it should incorporate art and nature in a way that was meaningful to the people who live in that community.

Even though the community might not remember or be aware of the role the artist had in creating the park, she has still made a difference in their interactions with the environment. Johanson originally saw the project as "a great chance to make people aware of the issue of endangered species," and she seems to have been successful (23).

Johanson says she frequently gets letters about the impact of her work -- people write, among other things, that they became an artist or ecologist because they grew up spending time around her projects. The impact of her work is also more immediate: Endangered Garden is maintained by the San Francisco Youth Conservation Corps (at-risk youth who pick up trash and weed plant beds on the weekend), and when Johanson went to visit the site a few years ago, Corps members applauded her. They told her that they loved the project, and that "it's the best thing in their lives" (interview).

So Endangered Garden not only "fills in ecological gaps with food and habitat, actually making it possible for species that have been wiped out to come back" (Art and Survival 24), but also has opened up a world for humans, allowing them to appreciate native animals and plants up close, while enjoying public space -- all on the roof of a sewer co-designed by an artist in a major U.S. city.

Johanson is currently working on the Ellis Creek Water Recycling Facility and Petaluma Wetlands Park, in Petaluma, California. This project, which at the time of this writing is going out to bid (Johanson expects it to cost about $130 million), involves "between four- and six-hundred acres, at least," she says, which will process sewage for the city. The land already features Petaluma River, Ellis Creek, and a brackish marsh, as well as agricultural fields, which provide food for local mammals and migrating wildlife.

Raw sewage will enter the site through a headworks (the initial intake system) and then flow through "densely vegetated treatment wetlands," Johanson says, which will trap sediments and "remove algae, nutrients and heavy metals" (Johanson, "Fecund Landscapes" 28), thus purifying the sewage. After the water flows through the filtering plants in the treatment wetlands, it will enter the polishing wetlands, which are different kinds of ponds that "have zones of plants alternating with open water zones, which are deeper," and include plants and fish, Johanson says. "Microscopic aquatic animals and insects that live on plants" will consume suspended solids in the water and make up the basis of the food chain (28).

In addition, aquatic plants will pump oxygen from the water, "thus supplying microbial decomposers" and providing "food, shelter and nesting materials to" the animals living there (28). Islands will direct the flow of water, circulating it between the ponds. The islands will be covered in trees and shrubs, grass, or oyster shells to provide refuge and nesting habitat for different species of birds and other animals. After the water cycles through the treatment and polishing wetlands, it will flow back up to the recycled water pond as drinkable water.

There will also be stormwater wetlands that take runoff from the nearby highway and parking lot and purify it before it too enters the marsh and river. The facility will produce twenty-five tons of fertilizer from human waste, which would normally go to a landfill. Besides removing highway and parking lot run-off now polluting the water in the area, the Petaluma project will restore formerly degraded habitats. It will also provide habitat for endangered and threatened species, such as the California Red-Legged and Yellow-Legged Frogs and the Salt Marsh Harvest Mouse, among many others. Johanson has designed many different land and water habitats to accommodate as many native species as possible.

Besides being essentially (in actuality if not name) a wildlife refuge, Johanson points out that the project incorporates "many levels of community involvement" (interview). The entire facility is designed to be a public facility, with about three and half miles of trails winding through the different ecosystems, allowing for recreation and environmental education. Johanson says that a local high school is creating a plant nursery to breed native plants for the project, and another local group, the Petaluma Wetlands Alliance, is planning to give docent tours. Local schools, grades K-12, will use the space as an environmental learning laboratory.

Johanson started out with the California Dogface Butterfly as her working metaphor for the project, but this morphed into images of morning glories and the Salt Marsh Harvest Mouse when the city moved the headworks and administrative facilities to the wetlands park site. For Johanson, the image that describes the project is not important in itself -- instead she sees it as a way for visitors "to grasp these very, very large projects" (interview).

"As you walk around [my projects], you have to experience them not just visually, but also with your feet [and] with your other senses . . . and you have to form a mental image or map of what's going on here," she says. By incorporating a familiar image, this sewage treatment facility, like Johanson's other projects, will engage visitors to be active participants in the ecosystems. Those who come for recreation are likely to be drawn into the different spaces, either by the habitats themselves or by the images of the mouse or morning glories, and will learn about the organisms that live there, as well as what is necessary to purify human waste. Johanson is showing that art, infrastructure, public space, and science can peacefully co-exist, to the benefit of all. Jale Erzen summarizes the important role works like this have in the public realm:

Aesthetic qualities which affect our emotions, which make us feel the pleasure of perceiving beauty, would also make us understand the fragility and the gentleness of this beauty, when we perceive it as being alive. As intelligent and intentional agents we then become responsible about the protection of these qualities.(23)
When we encounter spaces like those that Johanson designs, we almost cannot help but be drawn into responsibility for their survival. Johanson's works reach many, many people every day, and one can only hope that they, too, consequently become environmental stewards and activists.

Beneath Land and Water: Elkhorn City, Kentucky

Beneath Land and Water is an ongoing, artist-initiated project in Elkhorn City, Kentucky, a town of fewer than 1,000 people in the eastern Kentucky Mountains. In Spring 2000, Suzanne Lacy, a Los Angeles-based activist/artist with a background in performance and installation work focusing on issues of social justice, was invited to participate in a workshop called "Artists in Community Gathering," which was sponsored by Appalshop, a Kentucky arts and education center, and the American Festival Project, which is housed in Appalshop.

The event matched teams of artists with small communities in the region in an effort to "facilitate the deeper integration of arts into the lives" of these places by creating a structure for community engagement (http://greenarts.net/art/ky/home/home.html ). From this encounter, Lacy began to work with the Elkhorn City Heritage Council to design a project that would meet the community's needs, and she asked two other artists, Susan Leibovitz Steinman and Yutaka Kobayashi, to be involved as well. Steinman, who lives in Oakland, works closely with communities to create ecologically-centered work, and Kobayashi, who is from Japan, makes ecological, site-specific sculpture and other work.

The government of Elkhorn City was looking for a way to economically revitalize the community, which is located in a region devastated by the coal and natural-gas mining industries. It quickly became clear to Lacy, Steinman, and Kobayashi that residents of the town had an interest in improving Elkhorn City based on its abundant resources, notably Russell River, the woods, and the mountains. Putting it another way, Lacy's website describes the project as focusing "on townspeople's personal experience of their land -- as a site of heritage and as a generator of regional wealth -- and their river -- as an indicator of ecological health and as a moving force that connects them, upstream and down, with the rest of the country"
(http://www.suzannelacy.com/2000selkhorn_overview.htm). Lacy, Steinman, and Kobayashi wanted to crystallize this experience in public art projects that would reflect it back to residents.

After many community meetings, the project began to take shape; although still evolving, it consists of several facets. One component is a waterfront park that serves as a buffer zone between a bank parking lot and the riverfront. Runoff from streets and parking lots, including pesticides used in residents' yards and other toxins, runs downhill into the river. The park, about 500 feet wide, was designed with plants and gravel to filter some of the runoff before it enters the river.

Project participants planted native plants to serve as habitat and food for butterflies and birds; built benches for visitors, which incorporate text generated by residents with stories about the river; and created signage that highlights features of the park and the river. The park is meant, Steinman says, to focus attention on the river, but also to serve as a model for simple ways to remediate some of the town's resources, to help enable its residents to see them differently.

Lacy, Steinman, and Kobayashi also created the Blue Line Trail, which links to a hiking and biking trail that locals created to attract ecotourists and recreational users. The Blue Line Trail is, as its name suggests, a sky-blue line painted throughout the town. It is designed to unify the components of Beneath Land and Water, as well as to support a sense of regional identity. Elkhorn City residents hope to eventually connect the Blue Line Trail to the state's Pine Mountain Trail, which would attract hikers to the area and the town, and would provide, Steinman says, an "overt connection of Elkhorn City to regional and national resources." The artists also painted several town features the same shade of blue.

Lacy and Steinman say that residents wanted a mural, so the artists brought tiles to local schools for children to paint and held several Saturday tile-painting events in the middle of town. These tiles eventually became part of a large ceramic mural, placed on the side of a large building visible from the Blue Line Trail. The artists designed the mural so that people using the trail would see it and be drawn to find out more about the area, thus becoming invested in preserving its natural assets.

Lacy and Steinman used the making of the mural as an educational opportunity for the community by bringing photos of native plants and animals and talking with residents about native and invasive species and how local ecosystems work. Tile painters depicted the river and the town's relationship to it, as well as local history.

Lacy, Steinman, and Kobayashi have been joined in their efforts by college students from Lacy's classes at the California College of the Arts and Otis College of Art and Design, who for three years have used their week-long spring breaks to come to Elkhorn City to contribute to the project and gain practical field experience. The first batch of students, in 2001, helped make the park and taught tile-painting workshops for high school students and senior citizens. Steinman says these students gave local students, many of whom looked forward to getting out of Elkhorn City as soon as possible, a new perspective on what is valuable about their community.

Lacy, Steinman, and Kobayashi have struggled to keep Beneath Land and Water afloat from the beginning. Although it started with a grant from Appalshop, that organization almost folded after September 11, 2001, and the artists had to look elsewhere for money (Elkhorn City and its Heritage Council have limited budgets). They have not been paid for any of their work -- although they make a point of paying residents who help -- and use their own frequent flyer miles to travel to Elkhorn City, in addition to often paying out of their own pockets for materials needed for the project. The artists did secure a grant from the Creative Capitol Foundation in 2002, which helped to fund parts of the project.

Steinman sees Beneath Land and Water as a "pragmatic education project" (interview). It would be impossible, she says, "to clean the entire river," but by finding out what the people who live in Elkhorn City have and want and figuring out a way in which art can contribute, an artist can create a project that can inspire locals to "become caretakers of the river." So while the remediation scope of the project is relatively small -- mostly because of budget constraints -- Lacy and Steinman hope that it will spawn or inspire other ecologically-minded projects in Elkhorn City and other communities.

To a certain extent, Beneath Land and Water, like AMD&ART, is about a community cultivating a sense of itself in a period of hardship. With the coal companies' departure and the accompanying environmental devastation and economic stagnation, as well as an aging population, many in Elkhorn City find it difficult to invest in the future. But both Lacy and Steinman emphasize the fact that they and Kobayashi have worked closely with residents and community groups to generate project ideas, all of which build on already-present local efforts and interests (interviews). The artists contributed ecological and aesthetic knowledge and experience as well as a creative outlook that enabled them to approach old problems in new ways.

Steinman says that working in a community as an outsider requires sensitivity and openness; Lacy says that a community is very sensitive to how an artist perceives it. Ultimately, Steinman says, "art is about problem-solving." Similarly, Lacy says that art creates an atmosphere where people's perspectives can shift, enabling them to begin to see their communities in new ways. She adds that art is important to ecological activism and education because it "is an incredibly unifying element." Beneath Land and Water, then, does not change the ecology of Elkhorn City, but creates a way for residents to see themselves -- and thus their relationship to the ecology of the place where they live -- differently. Steinman, like Patricia Johanson, sees art as a visual hook. She says that she uses art "as a public service announcement for what ecology is [and] how it is everywhere around you; [that] art is an integrated part of life and we are an integrated part of nature." Beneath Land and Water is an important step toward spreading this perspective.


American society can benefit from including art, artists, and artistic practices in city infrastructure projects, education, community development and placemaking, and environmental cleanup; ecology is an important concern in all of these. For organizations and individuals working in communities to raise public awareness of ecological issues and change behavior, art can be a useful tool. Because art is inherently visual, it attracts attention and can involve members of the public in ecological issues of which they might not be aware or about which they might not care otherwise.

Artistic practices used in unexpected places and ways can frame ecological systems, drawing individuals in and causing them to notice and care about specific elements of those ecologies. Art projects and education can be used to bring different kinds of people together to talk about ecological issues and to inspire public action on these issues. Artistic practices can make ecological issues accessible and interesting in a way that science cannot. Art projects and projects using artistic strategies can serve as a means by which a community can consider and examine its identity. Most of all, art is often a problem-solving practice, and it can provide new perspectives on current concerns such as pollution, waste management, recycling, resource management, sustainable development, and endangered species.

All of the subjects of the case studies in this document bring these issues, usually marginalized at the fringes of public awareness -- because of collective shame, compartmentalized professional practices, neglect, or ignorance -- into the very core of our society; and art is a key component of this shift in perspective. The success of these projects, organizations, and programs depends on the participation of the public and the public's willingness to change its actions.

These case studies show that partnerships with policy makers, local governments, nonprofits, scientists, schools, and businesses are also of paramount importance. They all look at familiar things -- pollution, trash, public space -- in new ways that seem to contradict the conventional wisdom in those fields. By employing a creative perspective and sharing that with the public, they also empower others to see them, enabling radical change and helping to ensure a better future. Art is clearly an important component of an environmentally healthy society, and it is time that we as a society recognize that it should be a central component of any holistic perspective and progressive action. We must change our relationship to the environment before it disappears, and art is a necessary tool in this process.

Works Cited


AMD&ART. http://www.amdandart.org/
Art From Scrap. Community Environmental Council. http://www.communityenvironmentalcouncil.org/artfromscrap/.

Kobayashi, Yutaka. Homepage. http://greenarts.net/
Lacy, Suzanne. Homepage. www.suzannelacy.com/

"Municipal Solid Waste." United States Environmental Protection Agency. http://www.epa.gov/epaoswer/non-hw/muncpl/facts.htm

Prigann, Herman. Homepage. http://www.terranova.ws

SF Recycling & Disposal Artist-in-Residence Program. Norcal Waste Systems, Inc. http://

3 Rivers 2nd Nature. Carnegie Mellon University College of Fine Arts.


Collins, Tim. Phone interview. 13 February 2005.
Comp, T. Allan. Phone interview. 24 February 2005.
Fresina, Paul. Phone interview. 9 February 2005.
Johanson, Patricia. Phone interview. 13 February 2005.
Lacy, Suzanne. Personal interview. 23 February 2005.
Leonard, Mark. Phone interview. 11 February 2005.
Sanchez, Cay. Phone interview. 11 February 2005.
Steinman, Susan Leibovitz. Phone interview. 2 March 2005.

Text Sources

Cerny, Charlene. "American Adhocism: Wasting, Saving, and the Aesthetics of Conspicuous Recycling." Recycled Re-Seen: Folk Art from the Global Scrap Heap. Ed. Charlene Cerny and Suzanne Seriff. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1996. 30-45.
Cieri, Marie, and Claire Peeps, eds. Activists Speak Out: Reflections on the Pursuit of Change in America. New York: Palgrave, 2000.

Dissanayake, Ellen. "Very Like Art: Self-Taught Art from an Ethological Perspective." Self-Taught Art: The Culture and Aesthetics of American Vernacular Art. Ed. Charles Russell. Jackson: UP Mississippi, 2001. 35-46.

------. What is Art For? Seattle: U of Washington P, 1988.

Erzen, Jale. "Ecology, art, ecological aesthetics." Ecological Aesthetics. Strelow 22-25.

Finkelpearl, Tom. Dialogues in Public Art. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2000.

Johanson, Patricia. Art and Survival: Creative Solutions to Environmental Problems.

Ed. Caffyn Kelley. Gallerie: Women Artists' Monographs. March 1992. North Vancouver: Gallerie, 1992.

------. "Beyond Choreography: Shifting Experiences in Uncivilized Gardens." Landscape Design and the Experience of Motion.

Ed. Michel Conan. Dumbarton Oaks Colloquium on the History of Landscape Architecture 24. Dumbarton Oaks: Washington, D.C., 2003. 75-102.

------. "Fecund Landscapes: Art and Process in Public Parks." Landscape and Art No. 29 (Summer 2003): 28-29.

Lacy, Suzanne, ed. Mapping the Terrain: New Genre Public Art. Seattle: Bay Press, 1995.

Lippard, Lucy R. The Lure of the Local: Senses of Place in a Multicentered Society. New York: The New Press, 1997.

------. "Looking Around: Where We Are, Where We Could Be." Lacy 114-130.

Lipton, Amy, and Patricia Watts. "Ecoart: ecological art." Ecological Aesthetics. Strelow 90-94..56

Miles, Malcolm. Art, Space and the City: Public Art and Urban Futures. London and New York: Routledge, 1997.

Prakash, Madhu Suri, and Hedy Richardson. "From Human Waste to Gift of Soil." Ecological Education in Action: On Weaving Education, Culture, and the Environment. Ed. Gregory A. Smith and Dilafruz R. Williams. Albany: State U of New York P, 1999. 65-68.

Spaid, Sue. Ecovention: Current Art to Transform Ecologies. Cincinnati: The Contemporary Arts Center, 2002.

Strelow, Heike, ed. Ecological Aesthetics: Art in Environmental Design: Theory and Practice. Trans. Michael Robinson. Basel, Switzerland: Birkhauser, 2004.

------. "A dialogue with ongoing processes." Ecological Aesthetics. Strelow 10-15.


8 An early effort of this kind was Revival Field, in which the artist Mel Chin, working with the scientist Dr. Rufus Chaney, successfully addressed the pollution in a St. Paul, Minnesota brownfield with plants that can absorb and process large quantities of heavy metals. This project has already been discussed in detail by numerous authors, including Cieri and Peeps, Finkelpearl, Lippard, Miles, and Spaid.
9 3 Rivers 2 nd Nature (3R2N) is an interdisciplinary project too complex to address adequately in this limited format. Initiated by the artists Reiko Goto and Tim Collins, working through the STUDIO for Creative Inquiry at Carnegie Mellon University, 3R2N is an outgrowth of the artists' earlier project Nine Mile Run, and "addresses the meaning, form and function of the three rivers and fifty-three streams of Allegheny County in Western Pennsylvania" (http://3r2n.cfa.cmu.edu/ ). This project deserves a longer examination than what I can give it here, but provides an exciting glimpse of the possibilities in this field. 3R2N and Nine Mile Run are also featured in Spaid and in Strelow.
10AMD&ART began remediation at another site, Dark Shade Creek in Central City, Pennsylvania, but that was taken over by the EPA soon after.
11 Comp bases this claim on the 2002 SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry dissertation of Susan Thering, Documenting the Community Capacity Building Benefits of Participatory Community Design and Planning and Developing Indicators of Community Capacity, for which the AMD&ART project in Vintondale was used as a case study.
12 AMD&ART is not the only organization promoting this idea: Seen&Unseen, a project in England managed by the nonprofit Helix Arts, also seeks to help communities address water pollution using both scientists and artists (http://www.seen-unseen.com/ ). Keepers of the Waters is a nonprofit organization that provides an online network created "to inspire and promote projects that combine art, science and community involvement to restore, preserve and remediate water sources" (http://www.keepersofthewaters.org/ ).
13 Johanson has made numerous large-scale artworks that incorporate sculptural and ecological components in the U.S. and in Africa, South America, and Asia. This is not meant to be an exhaustive study of her work, but a brief examination of three U.S.-sited artworks that are designed for the public use and to restore damaged ecosystems.
14 The lagoon is also called Leonhardt Lagoon after Dorothea Leonhardt, in whose name a foundation made a large gift to the project.
15 Johanson cites numerous public meetings where both members of the public and park rangers vocalized their support for her plans.
16 It was still a controversial idea-again, mostly with the other members of the design team-a few years later in Phoenix, when two artists were made a part of the team designing the Twenty-Seventh Avenue Solid Waste Management Facility and Recycling Center, discussed in Chapter 1.


Thank you to everyone I interviewed, universally gracious and generous: Tim Collins, T. Allan Comp, Paul Fresina, Patricia Johanson, Suzanne Lacy, Mark Leonard, Cay Sanchez, and Susan Leibovitz Steinman.

A big thank you to Public Art Studies faculty, students, and alumni who offered endless helpful (and life-saving!) tips on reading, writing, and thinking, as well as lots of much-needed support-especially Anne Bray, Dawn Finley, Jeannie Olander, Kendra Stanifer, Sarah Welch, Holly Willis, and Heidi Zeller.

Thanks to Kenny Berger and Jenn "Goiter" League for great editorial input; to Jud Fine-and to Holly Willis and Anne Bray-for serving on my committee; and to my family and friends for support and love.

Finally, thanks to KCRW-Jason Bentley of "Metropolis" and Raul Campos of "Nocturna," above all-for the rad tunes that so often fueled my writing.

A Thesis Presented to the FACULTY OF THE SCHOOL OF FINE ARTS UNIVERSITY OF SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA In Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree MASTER OF PUBLIC ART STUDIES May 2005

Copyright 2005 Sarah E. Graddy (sgraddy@gmail.com)
Creative and Green: Art, Ecology, and Community:
BACK TO: Chapter 1: Art in Waste Management and Recycling Education
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© 2007 greenmuseum.org


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