EcoWarriors: HII Explores Art and the Environment

Join the Human Impacts Institute’s Community Conversation: Is there an event or experience that greatly influenced your relationship to the environment?


On August 3, 2011, PowerHouse Arena andFull Spectrum presented a panel discussion with four creators who fight for the environment, including Human Impacts Institute’s Founder and Executive Director, Tara DePorte, as well as artist Torkwase Dyson, filmaker Shalini Kantayya, and musician Razia Said.

Tara is an environmentalist, social activist and visual artist who founded the Human Impacts Institute in 2010 to spur creative approaches to sustainability and global coalition building. Visual artist Torkwase uses industrial roofing supplies, sunlight, water, solar tubes and panels, aluminum and other materials to create sculptures that pose ecological questions about identity. Shalini is a filmmaker, educator, and eco-activist who uses film to educate, inspire and empower audiences. Singer-songwriter Razia’s album, Zebu Nation, aims to increase awareness about conservation uses, educate local Madagascar populations, and support groups that carry out environmental missions in Madagascar. The moderator was Jon Bowermaster, a writer and filmmaker who has made several documentaries about Earth’s ecosystems and environmental issues.

The discussion was attended by a range of people concerned about environmental issues, including artists, high school teachers, activists, and students. The environmental artists explored a number of topics, including questions about who was responsible for environmental degradation and who should take part in solving environmental issues. Panelists also discussed ways of engaging people who were apathetic about environmental issues and the commonalities among people who did not care enough to take environmental action. They conversed about how they could make caring about the environment “cool” and attractive.

Tara found that people often felt far removed from environmental issues, emphasizing the importance of making it personal and driving people to understand how environmental issues permeate into all areas of life, including health and well being. Razia was excited by the interest young people had in her music and the environmental issues her songs communicated. Torkwase discussed issues of environmental justice and noted the disproportionate amount of people in poor communities and communities of color who did not make healthy choices. She also spoke about the importance of making creative spaces for youth to express themselves. Shalini shared her experience with water rights outreach and her pessimism about whether large impacts could really be made.

The panelists also considered the risks they would take and the extent to which they would go for environmental issues. Jon brought up the inspiring anecdote of Tim DeChristopher, who was sentenced to two years in prison for his creative disruption of an oil lease auction. All panelists commended DeChristopher’s activism, acknowledging direct advocacy as an important part of awareness-building and action. However, when panelists were directly questioned: “Would you go to prison”, all responded hesitantly. Razia expressed her concerns in her work, less about prison, but more about the dangers of being vocal about the slash-and-burn of forests in Madagascar.

When asked by an audience member about what had spurred them into taking environmental action, the panelists shared their experiences about being in the face of awe-inspiring nature. Tara discussed how backpacking in Alaska with her father at a young age reinforced her respect for the power of nature, while Razia explained that, in her music, she tried to convey the sensory experience of returning to the once-thriving national forest near her childhood home only to find that it had been destroyed and burned.

Overall, the EcoWarriors panel was an interesting discussion of how the arts can be used to inspire environmental action, and how the environment inspires art. The Human Impacts Institute looks forward to continuing the conversation.

By Jenny Cheng, 2011 Human Impacts Institute Climate and Coalition Building Intern

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