Why a public art and community engagement approach?
Art is not a monologue.
It speaks to our hearts and minds, and often elicits a myriad of reactions and responses. Art has been valued for centuries to educate, inspire, mobilise and motivate people into response and action. This is because art in all of its various forms (performance, literary, music, visual, new media, etc.), has the capacity to tap into our capacity for empathy with each other and our external environments. It presents some of the qualities to created interconnectedness and agency for change, because it often critiques and reflects upon the contemporary issues of a time and place.
We are experiencing rapid environmental change, locally and globally, unveiling new cultural opportunities where art can play a significant role in raising awareness and creating solutions. Artists may offer new approaches on viewing and approaching sustainability problems, in ways that otherwise may go unrecognised. Historically, a wide range of artists and artworks have catalysed social change – Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852) was described by Abraham Lincoln as the little book that started the Civil War; Charles Dickens’ novels Oliver Twist and A Christmas Carol, inspired the creation of child labour laws; and Randy Newman’s song Burn on Big River Burn On drew attention to the burning of the Cuyahoga River, which gave rise to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Clean Water Act in the USA.
The Riparian Project uses art as a communication tool – by creating public artworks that invite interdisciplinary collaboration and public participation in the development and presentation. This approach creates new pathways for relationship building and dialogue on river health, while exploring ways to create solutions to riparian grazing and river protection.
A contemporary of artist-led ecological projects1 involving public participation and community engagement is Nuage Vert (Green Cloud) by the collaborative team Hehe.
1The term artist-led ecological projects is used here, instead of terms such as Land Art, Earthworks, Environmental Art, Ecological Art, etc. This is to suggest a new collaborative approach to art making in the public realm, seeking to address contemporary environmental issues involving collective labour and ideas sharing.