Commentary

Environmental Messaging Through Art

Finding the balance between focused messaging and beautiful works of art that bring awareness to challenging issues in our lives. 

Photo by Yannis Papanastasopoulos on Unsplash
Allies and Partners

Editor’s note: This is one in a continuing series of guest opinions about fostering environmental stewardship. The series is coordinated by ACES, the Alliance of Climate and Environmental Stewards.

Greater Newburyport organizations who are allies of ACES mission will write columns related to their support of ACES’ climate, environmental, and social concerns.

As an art gallery owner and now the creative director for the non-profit PEG Center for Art and Activism, our mission is three-fold: to show art that addresses the climate crisis, human rights, and social justice. Our exhibitions and supporting programs aim to “educate-to-activate” our community to take steps to positively affect some of the most challenging issues we face today.

It is always important how the message is conveyed. People need to have a wholehearted understanding of the challenges, but to frighten, cajole, or over-step is not a way into most people’s hearts.

We at the PEG Center walk a fine line between beautiful art and focused messaging. Both, it turns out, are important.

From the beginning of humanity, we have been conveying messages through visual art. Often, what artists seek to tell is the story of what is most meaningful to them, whether it is the beauty of our natural world or the challenges of being human. Visual messaging is what links us, country to country and citizen to citizen, with our current, historical, and future dreams. When we amplify the beauty of our natural world, built into that amplification is a longing for it to be cared for, saved for future generations, so that deep into the future we trust this beauty will still exist.

We count on artists to convey the heart and soul of our challenges, so that we may have open-heartedness when facing our challenges.

As the artist Olafur Eliasson said in a 2016 article titled “Why Art Has The Power To Change The World”: “Art does not show people what to do, yet engaging with a good work of art can connect you to your senses, body, and mind. It can make the world felt. And this felt feeling may spur thinking, engagement, and even action.”

I have recently had the good fortune of knowing two eco-artists; artists whose work exemplifies their care for the environment. One, Rebecca McGee Tuck, creates wrack-line art from debris found at the high tide line from New England beaches. Olivia Fischer Fox is an oil painter whose portraits of children in nature give us pause. Each of these artists is also deeply involved in environmental activist organizations — for Rebecca it is Surfrider Foundation (www.surfrider.org) and for Olivia it is Mothers Out Front (www.mothersoutfront.org). When an artist lends her voice and her work to an activist group, her message and reach is amplified. We then learn about these organizations and get involved ourselves.

It has long been said that to feel something deeply creates compassion and caring for the health and survival of that which is at risk. Sometimes that heart-opening comes through visual activism, and sometimes it comes from simple messaging, which is why, for every art exhibition at PEG, we produce educational programs that support, expand, and amplify the message.

From now through the end of May, the PEG Center will be exhibiting works in a show titled “Shared Habitat Earth, SHE,” which has been curated by Boston-area artist Barbara Eskin, an artist passionate about the environment. She will be traveling to four locations in the Boston, South Shore, and north of Boston. PEG chose 20 artists for the exhibition here. In curating the choices that Barbara has put together, I sought work that told the message of the climate crisis in an open and rather blatant way. Barbara’s mission was to keep the work beautiful, in order not to turn viewers away.

Come see us during the show and let us know which point of view was most effective! Paula may be reached at paula.estey@yahoo.com.

This column was coordinated by ACES youth corps member, Caleb Bradshaw. To share any comments or questions, please send an email to acesnewburyport@gmail.com. To learn more about ACES and its Youth Leadership Initiative, visit website https://www.aces-alliance.org.

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about the author
Paula Estey

Paula is a passionate supporter of the arts with personal talents as a poet, potter, painter, and performer. Her Paula Estey Gallery is home to contemporary artwork and dialogue between her talented roster of fine artists and the community, She started Women in Action - Huddle to foster more dialogue in the community with leaders on social justice to woman's rights to the health of our environment. Esty's curatorial skills have contributed to pop-up art salons to public installations to jurying.

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