As a means to target some of the most critical environmental and social issues of our time, non-profit organization ecoartspace recently joined forces with New York Times environmental journalist Andrew Revkin on his Dot Earth blog to ask leading experts, writers, and readers their opinions on the endangered state of the planet. Inspired by the enthusiastic and impassioned responses, ecoartspace took their project one step further calling out to artists and asking them to address and visualize this one dire question: ‘What Matters Most?’ What resulted from these inquiries was a fascinating exhibit showcasing over 250 pieces of donated artwork for display at NYC’s Exit Art gallery.
Redefining our relationship with the planet is an urgent matter, and one that we cannot afford to drag our heels on. The role of the arts in public engagement is sometimes viewed as a roundabout way of tackling critical environmental issues. But if the arts are one of the few vehicles we have to illustrate common ground, as opposed to an isolated-archipelago existence, then it seems that interdisciplinary collaborations like this one represent an ideal scenario.
One of the most impressive aspects of this project has been the scope of replies received from global figures like United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, ocean explorer Sylvia Earle, author Terry Tempest Williams, astronaut Donald Pettit, psychiatrist and entrepreneur Paul Polak, best-selling author Bill McKibben, biologist David Suzuki, and the list goes on — a sheer who’s who of the planet’s defenders for change. Each contributor was highly informed and passionate in their view on what matters, but in terms of identifying what matters most, a whole lot of territory had to be covered. But no matter the breadth of the response, the fact that such an initiative sparked such strong opinions is without doubt a positive sign, and we can credit enterprising journalists like Andrew Revkin and visionary art curators Amy Lipton and Tricia Watts of ecoartspace for this zeal.
‘What Matters Most?’ (which was also a fundraiser for ecoartspace’s future projects and programming) brought forth an atypical involvement of artists from outside of the eco-art realm. In years past there has often been a prejudice of sorts towards the greening of art, but it appears that some of this stigma has washed away. Rather, to date, we are seeing artists take greater responsibility in the materials they use and the processes they employ in the studio and beyond.
Ecoartspace has been in operation since 1999, and truly stands out as an organization that promotes artwork that is participatory, collaborative, interdisciplinary, and educational. Curators Amy Lipton and Tricia Watts have consistently been creating opportunities to stimulate dialogue in ways that circumnavigate the traditional mechanisms of the art world. With ‘What Matters Most?’ they have demonstrated the potential for artificial barriers and prejudices to dissolve by using some of the most common mediums available for communication, now accessible to all.