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By Fran Dubrowski, Director of Honoring the Future

Mary Jackson, Basket with handle (2016). Native sweetgrass. ©Mary Jackson, 2016. Courtesy of the artist.

We all know the power of art to move hearts as well as minds. Several years ago, when craft artist Peter Handler and I set out to spark public engagement on climate change, we recognized true progress would not occur until the public could “see” climate change – viscerally as well as visually. As we wrestled with how to make climate change visible, we naturally found an answer in art. 

That’s why we launched Honoring the Future “to harness the power of art to educate, empower, and engage the public on climate change.” We aim to spark personal and collective action on climate solutions. Since publishing our website in 2014, we have partnered with the Smithsonian Institution, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, local government, colleges, schools, community and religious organizations to sponsor over 35 art exhibitions and programs. For example, our Honoring the Future Sustainability Award at the annual Smithsonian Craft Show includes a $1000 prize recognizing the artist whose work “best educates the public about climate change or inspires or models a sustainable response to climate change.” We hope the example of the varied and creative award applicants inspires every craft show visitor to ask: how can I use my passions and talents to solve our climate challenge?

Here are 6 things to know about craft artists and climate change:

1. Craft artists are wonderful ambassadors for climate education. They are in frequent contact with the public. Their work captures our attention. And they make us think – about why and how to address climate change.

2. Craft artists can be highly vulnerable to climate change. Some – like Inuits and Pacific Islanders – are losing the cultures and communities which inspire and sustain them. Others risk losing the natural material that forms their art. Still others have lost, or will lose, studios to storms, floods, wildfires and other climate-related disasters.

3. Craft artists have responded compassionately to fellow artists wiped out by climate change. Through offering emotional support, providing community, sharing resources, providing a helping hand and fundraising, their generosity is a critical component to an artist getting back on their feet.  

4. Craft artists encourage solutions to climate change. Glass artist Toots Zynsky, for example, creates vibrantly colored glass vessels inspired by the brilliant hues of birds. Her newest glass vessels honoring endangered birds beckon us to see – and care – that a full third of North America’s bird species are at high risk of extinction. That awareness can trigger action.

Toots Zynsky, Sun Conures (2018). Region: South America. Filet de verre (glass thread). Dimensions: 7 1/8″ x 18 1⁄4″ x 7 1/8.” © Zynsky, 2018. Courtesy of Heller Gallery.

5. Craft artists model resilienceWhen coastal development threatened South Carolina’s native sweet grasses, Mary Jackson led her community of basket weavers in a successful search for new sites to grow sweetgrass to continue this ancient craft tradition.

6. Craft artists offer concrete, inventive ideas for curtailing human impacts on the environment. They use natural or repurposed materials, minimize waste and conserve water, energy, and resources.

There is so much more to be done to convince our country to take climate change seriously – and to plan accordingly. We invite you to visit our website: see the varied ways artists point to a more sustainable future, read What You Can Do to tackle climate change in your daily life, share with us your thoughts on this important subject, and sign up for our quarterly e-newsletter to stay updated on our work. Thank you for being part of this effort!  

Our staff has been conducting an informal inventory and, as of now, can report that most of the arts organizations we’ve spoken with have sustained only minor damage and leaks. Of course, flooding continues to be a significant concern in communities near rivers and dams and not everyone has been able to return to their homes and businesses.

Wayne Martin

Executive Director , North Carolina Council on the Arts

The Craft Emergency Relief Fund offers $3,000 grants and other assistance to artists working in craft disciplines who are facing career threatening emergencies. CERF+ staff is available during the week from 8:30am-5:00pm EST at 802.229.2306 and [email protected] to provide counseling and referrals to artists searching for emergency recovery resources.

Our Studio Protector is the go-to resource for artists impacted by emergencies with tips, tools and information to help in the recovery process. The most urgent need after a hurricane or flood can often be saving your artwork and other important property and assets. Flood Recovery Clean Up + Disaster Salvage has information on how to clean up after water-damage and how to salvage a variety of items.

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