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Art for Action
We all choose to express our protest in different ways — one common practice being through art. Picasso criticized the American intervention in Korea with Massacre in Korea. Norman Rockwell called out racism in America with The Problem We All Live With. The street artist Banky painted Flower Thrower which depicts “man” bombing the establishment with flowers.
Artists and activists in the Truckee/Tahoe/Reno region are finding support for their art that inspires action — whether it be political, social, or environmental. From a nonprofit funding organization, to galleries planning to exhibit political action art, to higher education departments headed by artists with a message, to museum programs that link art with the environment, art is getting more notice and having more impact on how we think and act.
Chaco Mohler, founder and director of the Truckee-based nonprofit Climate Arts, saw the need for an umbrella organization for this art inspired by action. “I couldn’t believe something like this didn’t already exist,” Mohler said.
To do so he has assembled board members from all walks of life including scientists and artists.
“Art has played a pivotal role in political change,” he said. “My vision is a lot of people’s vision.” The goal of the nonprofit is to support, cultivate, and create location-based public art.
Climate Art has three focuses: Climate Acts, Climate Lines, and Climate Post. All subsets highlight unique types of art.
Climate Act’s first project will be a “flash mob” gathering this summer in San Francisco, in which participants will wear large jackets covering their clothes. Under the jacket they will mark on their bodies, using blue painter’s tape, where the sea levels will be in that exact spot in X number of years. (James Hansen, a former NASA scientist and father of climate change awareness predicts sea levels will rise 10 feet in the next 30 years.) “The idea is to make this an easy and informal interaction with the general public with good visuals,” Mohler said.
In mountain towns like Truckee, the Climate Acts displays will reflect the issues that a changing climate can cause for our area. Possible projects might include visual metaphors for issues such as trees dying, snow pack, and species extinction, Mohler said.
Nevada Museum of Art
Reno’s Nevada Museum of Art received the National Award for Museum Service for its commitment to public service demonstrated through programs that address social, economic, and environmental issues — this was in 1999 before environmental advocacy was at the forefront of everyone’s minds.
Today, as the only nationally accredited art museum in the state, NMA continues to feature exhibits meant to stimulate conversation about how art and the environment can be entwined.
In 2009 they launched the Center for Art + Environment (CA + E) — the archive provides “information related to creative interactions between people and their natural, built, and virtual environments.”
CA+E names a limited number of research fellows annually for a two-year appointment at the museum. These fellows are named based on their “understanding of how humans creatively interact with their natural, built, and virtual environments.”
Fall 2016-18 fellows include Catherine Chalmers who explores the dynamic between animal and humans, nature and culture; Charles Lindsay, a multidisciplinary artist focusing on technology and ecosystems; and Erika Osborne whose art engages the cultural connection to place by exploring the intersections between science, history, and art.
Osborne’s most recent project, a drawing and installation project, tackles the issue of fire history and forest thinning models in Truckee’s Sagehen Experimental Forest. She also has a series of paintings and site-specific works that address the concept of wilderness today.
Reno-based artist Jen Graham showed her project, Trajectory Patterns, at the NMA’s Tilting the Basin, a contemporary art exhibit.
A fiber artist, Graham uses the delicacies of fabric to represent every mass shooting that occurred in the United States in 2016. “I have created a panel for each incident with one inch of length representing a person who was killed or wounded in that specific shooting. A hand-embroidered label is sewn onto each panel with the street address where the shooting took place.” Graham said on her website.
Tahoe Public Art
Tahoe Public Art is a nonprofit with a mission to enhance the cultural landscape of the Tahoe region with public art experiences. Specifically, the nonprofit sets out to play homage to the Basin’s natural beauty and heritage in advocating for environmental preservation efforts.
In 2016 the group, originally made up of North Tahoe Business Association, North Tahoe Arts, and the Tahoe City Downtown Association became a nonprofit and hired their first executive director, Mia Hanak.
Hanak has more than 15 years of experience with large-scale environmental art installations. “Prior to moving to Lake Tahoe in 2015, Hanak was the executive director for environmental art organizations serving the San Francisco Bay Area and the international community through traveling exhibitions with the United Nations,” a press release announcing her position said.
Sierra Nevada College
The art programs at Sierra Nevada College in Incline Village have provided our region a number of art for action artists.
At the head of it all, the art department chair, Sheri Leigh O’Connor, has used her skills as a ceramicist to protest gun laws in the United States. Her project, Kentucky Fired Gun Control, was inspired by a capsule vending machine toy she got on a trip to Japan and morphed into making deep fried guns and placing them in a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken. The protest: It should not be as easy to buy a gun as it is to buy a bucket of chicken.
O’Connor’s portfolio also includes United We Stand Divided We Fall. A piece she worked on in response to negative reviews of Kentucky Fired Gun Control being racist. “I do not see race at all like that,” she said. United We Stand Divided We Fall is meant to represent all the different races and religions that make up the United States in the fully assembled hamburger. “We are going backwards,” she said in explaining the deconstructed burger on the upside-down United States. “The ingredients are not so tasty separate, but together they are delicious,” she said.
Kelly Wallis, an MFA candidate at SNC, has started a social media powered project where she is filling Trump’s library with books she feels will help the new administration. She mails book to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, the first being The Merriam-Webster Thesaurus.
Artist and Gallery Collaborations
Ali Armstrong focuses her work on extinct and endangered species. Her project Scarce paints extinct species in black and white and adds a little bit of color to those that are endangered.
Armstrong gives back to the organizations working to protect these animals by donating a portion, typically 10 to 12 percent, of her sales back to these organizations.
Currently Armstrong paints animals like the Tasmanian tiger and black rhino that are not native to North America. But she has hopes to branch out into animals in crisis that are closer to home. She recently painted the great gray owl and plans to donated proceeds from the sale of that piece to the Yosemite Conservancy.
Armstrong’s work is showing at Riverside Studios in Truckee through April.
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