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Earth Day: Climate Opportunities for Artists

By Elizabeth Snell

On the left, there is an aerial image of water; in the middle, there is a male dancer hovering in a jump with a golden apple behind him; on the right, there is a watercolor painting on an easel with a mountain and river landscape behind.

Celebrating Earth Day 2023

With Earth Day approaching, it’s a great time to explore ways to feel reinvigorated and rekindle our appreciation for the planet we call home. Earth Day serves as a reminder that our environment requires care, protection, and action. This year, we shine a spotlight on the profound impact of artists, exhibitions, and arts opportunities that are dedicated to our planet and its precious natural resources.

Specifically, several Mid-America Arts Alliance Artistic Innovations grantees are focusing on the environment in their projects. ExhibitsUSA is taking viewers across the globe from the land of the Mayans to rural regions of Antarctica. Additionally, many organizations across the country are offering artist residencies and fellowships with a focus on reconnecting to nature and exploring climate issues. 

Environmental Artistic Innovations Projects

These three current projects by artists in Texas, Kansas, and Missouri, are bringing attention to the care of our planet.

  • The Way of Water
    Forklift Danceworks, founded in 2001, has been a frequent collaborator with the City of Austin, Texas, on large scale projects featuring city employees. The company’s recent Artistic Innovations award project, The Way of Water: Waller Creek, was created by collaboration with Austin watershed protection employees. The performance focused on city employees and the work that keeps downtown Austin from flooding.Furthermore, The Way of Water has grown into a global initiative. Forklift received a $125,000 Our Town award from the National Endowment for the Arts to support the project, which will now include additional cities around the world. To learn more, listen to the NEA Art Works’ podcast with Allison Orr, Forklift founder and artistic director. She describes the support as “propelling the project forward as we collaborate with communities to explore the histories, challenges, and futures of water as a shared natural resource.”
  • The Golden Apple
    Regina Klenjoski Dance Company, a 2023 Artistic Innovations grantee based in Wichita, Kansas, created a project called The Golden Apple. The work is meant to spark dialogue about the commodification of the earth’s resources. The world premiere is May 19–20, 2023 at the DeMattias Performance Hall at Newman University in Wichita. Buy tickets now.
  • Adventure Art on the Mighty MO’
    Steven Snell’s Artistic Innovations project Adventure Art on the Mighty MO will share life along the Missouri River told through the act of painting and paddling its 2,341 miles. Each video episode takes place at a different site along the river, in which a plein-air watercolor painting is made. The painting acts as a vessel through which larger questions are asked, observations made, and river stories told. As Snell explains, “the image of the Missouri River is complicated and often contradictory; there are dangerous unknowns and relatively few people on it, yet it is the longest river in North America and is a vital water resource for millions.” Take a look at some of the views from the Missouri River.

Sustainability and Ecosystems with ExhibitsUSA

Our touring exhibition program, ExhibitsUSA, includes innovative perspectives on our planet’s ecosystems, both large and small. On Earth Day, we are reminded of our responsibility to take care of the planet we call home. Through sustainable practices and clean energy solutions, we can ensure that future generations inherit a thriving ecosystem that works in tandem with modern technological advances.

Regenerative agriculture, an Indigenous farming practice that can reverse climate change and increase biodiversity, can be traced back to how the Mesoamerican Mayan civilization utilized astronomical patterns to dictate the growing and harvesting of maize.

EUSA’s new exhibition, Popol Vuh: The Sacred Book of the Quiche through Illustration, features artwork inspired by a Mayan sacred text depicting the creation of the universe and all living things, including the all-important corn crop (even the first men in the creation myth were made from corn!).

Additional exhibitions with a climate-focused lens include:

  • Nature’s Blueprints: Biomimicry in Art and Design (currently on view in Clarksville, TN)
    This exhibition brings together art and design with environmental science to show how the forms, patterns, and processes found in the natural world—refined by 3.8 billion years of evolution—can inspire our design of everything from raincoats to skyscrapers.
  • The State of Water: Our Most Valuable Resource
    Guggenheim award-winning photographer Brad Temkin puts visitors face-to-face with the systems and techniques that deliver our most valuable natural resource. In doing so, the exhibition encourages us to see water conservation as a process we can all get involved in.
  • Walking in Antarctica
    This interdisciplinary exhibition brings together photography, sculpture, and audio narrative to take the viewer on a journey through extraordinary Antarctic landscapes. Viewers will explore the intersections between the natural world, the artistic process, and climate change discourse.

Climate and Environment Art Residencies 

Additional items for your creative calendar include these residencies below. Creatives working with environmental issues may be interested in these opportunities.

  • The Sitka Center for Art and Ecology offers residencies to artists of multiple disciplines to provide time and space for self-paced work and reflection in an inspiring natural setting. The deadline is annually in April.
  • The Wild Acres Environmental Artist Residency welcomes artists, scientists and other professionals engaging with ambitious ideas and who are activity-focused on current global environmental issues. The deadline is annually in late October. Applications are open now.
  • A Studio in the Woods, Rising: Climate in Crisis residency is open to artists of all disciplines who have demonstrated an established dialogue with environmental and cultural issues. Applications now closed—mark your calendars for next year! The annual deadline is early April.
  • Anonymous Was A Woman Environmental Art Grant (AWAW EAG) provides up to $20,000 for projects led by women-identifying artists in the United States and U.S. Territories and will support environmental art projects that inspire thought, action, and ethical engagement. The deadline is April 18, 2023.

Interested in learning about more climate-focused artist residencies for your own creative practice? There are many online directories that list various artist residencies, including those with an environmental or climate focus. Popular directories include ResArtis (https://www.resartis.org/), Alliance of Artists Communities (https://www.artistcommunities.org/), and TransArtists (https://www.transartists.org/). These directories often have search filters that allow you to specify your criteria, such as environmental or climate focus, location, and application deadlines.

To conclude, have a happy Earth Day and contact us if you have opportunities for artists interested in protecting the environment.

Photo credit: (L-R) Photographer Brad Temkin, Encroachment, from the EUSA exhibition The State of Water; Regina Klenjoski Dance Company, The Golden Apple, FY23 Artistic Innovations awardee; Steven Snell Adventure Art on the Mighty MO’, FY23 Artistic Innovations awardee. All images courtesy of the artists.