Saturday, April 25, 2009

Dear President Obama from Sam Bower

Readers - I find this letter by inspiring and thought I would share it with you. There appears to be a great groundswell of people connecting the dots between the green economy, the arts, community organizing and innovation. Cross sector collaborations are bubbling up in cities around America, the grassroots - so long on the margins are now front and center.

Dear President Obama,

Congratulations on your historic victory. As President of the United States of America you bring a powerful spirit of hope and optimism to a time of great uncertainty about our economy and the environment.

I am releasing this letter into the electronic seas in the hope that it will get forwarded and reposted and somehow make its miraculous way to you so that you will consider the emerging role of ecological art as part of your future vision for this country.

Artists around the world are addressing the needs of communities and ecosystems through collaborative projects with engineers, educators, restoration scientists and park managers. Many of these projects help raise awareness of environmental issues, engage the public in solving problems creatively and beautifully, and reconnect people to local history and restore a sense of place.

One inspiring project in Vintondale, Pennsylvania, for example, by a group called AMD&ART, involved artists, historians, landscape architects and engineers, soil and water restoration specialists, the Bureau of Surface Mining, numerous public and private funding sources, Vista volunteers and hundreds of community members. Inspired by the hope that a polluting liability could be turned into an asset, they transformed a landscape devastated by coal mining into an artful park that connects residents to local mining history, provides recreational facilities and neutralizes the acid mine drainage (AMD) from old mines through a series of attractive limestone-lined ponds and an educational wetlands area.

This combination of function, design, history and culture is part of a rapidly growing movement of artists and their collaborators who are addressing food production, water, erosion, habitat restoration, climate change and countless other environmental and social issues through the arts. The practical hard work and spirited public service you call for can also be fun, beautiful and healing.

Art is a powerful tool for communication and can be highly effective at engaging and educating our children and at encouraging collaboration to address entrenched problems in creative and innovative ways. The following ideas have emerged recently from a wide range of discussions and suggestions from colleagues in the field of ecological art. I ask that you seriously consider them as you look towards renewing a sense of civic pride, public service and ecological stewardship in our country. Art has an important role to play healing our nation and restoring hope.

Here is how you can help:

  • Have science based agencies such as the EPA, Department of the Interior, NASA, NOAA, USF&WS and Parks Departments work with the NEA/NEH to create individual artists fellowships, residencies and development of cultural programs at museums and parks that foster eco-art practices.
  • Extend cultural diplomacy through the Department of State by appointing eco-ambassadors, cultural emissaries who work through U.S. embassies, to collaborate with their foreign colleagues to develop eco-art projects and bioremediation efforts with local partners across the globe.
  • Explore program opportunities within the Department of Education and the National Science Foundation that would allow eco-artists to work with schools to inspire American students to become more excited about the study of science and learn about energy efficiency and green design.
  • Incorporate eco-art into the work of the Peace Corps and AmeriCorps to advance a widespread 21st century WPA-style works program to address urgent infrastructure and restoration needs in informative and aesthetic ways.
  • Expand your plan to create new green collar jobs to include ecological artists and encourage the formation of collaborative and multidisciplinary teams that can approach old problems in new and more broadly effective ways.

The challenging path ahead does not have to emerge out of fear or desperation. Indeed, if we are to truly thrive and heal our nation and the Earth, it cannot. Please consider this as you set your priorities for the next four years and beyond. A more sustainable future must be effective and practical as well as delicious and inspiring. That's ecological art and we need more of it.

Many of my colleagues and countless artists and restoration specialists across the US and around the world would love to help with this. Are you ready to work with us?


Sam Bower
Executive Director

Mission: helps people create, present and appreciate art that heals our relationship with the natural world.

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