Peace, Art, Faith and the inspiring Mary Button

September 14, 2010 at 8:15 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Sometimes you do something and it inspires someone else to do something great.  Usually we do not get so lucky, but that is because there is only one Mary Button.

I posted in the blog before about the youth peace summit I organized in Kenya last year in response to the post election violence in 2008, and what a powerful experience it was.   Well artist Mary Button (and theology student) was an important part of that summit, and she created art about the experience.  An interview was published about it today in Religion Dispatches.  I am posting a big chunk of the interview cause I love it.  You can see the entire series  from Kenya here and read about the peace summit in a previous post I wrote here.

JS: How did your faith or the faith of other people play a role in this series?

MB: During The Peace Summit, interfaith dialog was a real priority and so the youth participants were not only from a number of different countries—Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Kenya—they also came from a wide variety of faith backgrounds.

One of the things that I became very quickly aware of was how unsure and self-conscious I was about talking about my own faith. I was totally blown away by the openness and ease with which so many of these young people talked about what their faith meant to them. Bear in mind, now, that I am a thoroughly churched woman. Daughter of a Lutheran minister. Sunday School teacher. And about to enter my first year of seminary. And suddenly I felt like I had never really considered what my faith meant to me.

The Hymnbook Project focused on cultures [in the Southern US] with which you are intimately familiar. What challenges did working in Kenya bring?

It was a real challenge. My friend Maria Murewa, who’s an artist from Rwanda, and I volunteered to lead the workshop where we made banners and signs with the youth for the peace march planned for the last day of the summit. We ended up camping out with a revolving group of youth, and we all made really beautiful signs. We cut out doves and painted them really bright colors. We had some neon green cardboard and made signs in the shape of Africa. And we ran through hundreds of pieces of pastel poster board. There was such a feeling of urgency, and it was so tied up in their faith.

Earlier in the summit, the youth drew these really amazing life maps where they drew out these circuitous paths dotted with people and churches and told these amazing stories about how they came to be at the peace summit. And when we sat down to write out messages for our peace march, the messages they wrote overwhelming were about God’s love. Continue Reading Peace, Art, Faith and the inspiring Mary Button…


In Copenhagen, climate change is visual

December 17, 2009 at 3:57 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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Making the complexity of climate change something people can relate to is no easy task.

But this month in Copenhagen, ‘green culture’ is everywhere you look.  Subways walls are plastered with signs urging negotiators to ‘seal the deal’, and every museum and city plaza has a special exhibit about climate change.

You can learn a lot about Denmark by how they have taken on their role as host for the climate negotiations known as COP15. With so many art and cultural activities, Denmark is recognizing that sustainability will only catch on if it is linked to social and cultural identity.

Here is an overview of the few climate art exhibits in Copenhagen this week, many of which are also online or will soon travel to a city near you.

It’s a Small World

As a world leader in design, the soul of Denmark seems to lie in the Danish Design Centre.

The exhibit “It’s Small World” offers a welcome concreteness at a time when the global stakes are so high and yet so amorphous. The exhibition is about reconsidering scale – from the small choices we make about what we buy, to big visions like widely adopted electric cards.

The worlds of public policy and design merge in an interactive video-exhibit about the future of energy in Denmark. The video features a conversation between designers and the charismatic lead negotiator of the COP15, Connie Hedegaard, Danish Minister for Climate and Energy.

The participants outlines a serious vision for Denmark in 2020– where half the countries energy comes from windmills that in turn power a new generation of electric cars.  With nearly 5,000 windmills currently powering 20% of the nations energy, Denmark is working hard to position itself as a leader and future exporter of sustainable innovation.

In the basement of the center, an exhibition by young designers portrays a series of winning ‘sustainable fashion’ outfits.  There is a particular burst of creativity here at the fashion totem.

Sponsored by the Danish Ministry of Economic and Business Affairs and the Ministry of Culture, the exhibition will travel to the US and around Europe starting in February 2010.

100 places to remember before they disappear
Near the central subway station of Norreport, this outdoor photo exhibition puts a stunning human face to climate change. From archipelagos in the Pacific, to the hills of Caracas and the streets of Chicago, the pictures show 100 places on earth that are vulnerable to extreme climate change and other human influences on the environment.

While the photos are beautiful, they are also painful to look at; one can sense the vulnerability of the landscapes.  By offering pictures of the beauty that we have, the exhibit portrays a sense of wonder and value of exactly what is at stake.  One of the goals of the exhibition, sponsored by Care and CO+Life, is to put people living in poverty at the center of climate mitigation and adaptation strategies.

The website is a great learning tool, with an interactive map. The photographs are also available in a hardbound coffee table book.


In a round dome just outside of the conference center, Greenpeace is also presenting a photo exhibit.

During the opening Kumi Naidoo, Executive Director of Greenpeace International spoke about the importance of artists in fighting climate change, comparing it to the role of artists in fighting apartheid in South Africa.

“Artists are using their skills to communicate what is happening and that is a critical component that is coming together here at COP15,” said Naidoo. “We recognize the power of the images to cut through the crap of negotiations and show the face of the frontlines of climate change.

Ranging from photos of Nenet reindeer herders in Siberia, to people in India living in the shadow of a coal disaster, all of the photos were shot within the past three months.  The exhibit was a collaborative project of ten photographers from the Dutch agency Kadir von Lohuizen with support from Greenpeace.

A slide show of the photos is available on their website.


With so many people in Copenhagen this week, the art is sure to reach many of the climate faithful, though probably not the government negotiators who are trapped behind closed doors until the late hours of the night.  Hopefully the exhibits will reach many more people as they travel the world, prompting the cultural shift necessary for change.

As one activist explained, climate change is about culture. If you listen to the speeches of negotiators from small islands like Tuvulu and Maldives, projected to disappear within a generation, they are fighting for their lives.  They are thinking about how their children will grow up not knowing their own cultures.

More climate art:

The World is Yours: Contemporary art at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art

Rethink: Contemporary Art and Climate Change, four large art exhibitions by Nordic and international artists

Everyday Miracles: an art installation by Presens, real-life climate solutions

A new breed – the climate change artists

December 7, 2009 at 1:18 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Oh climate crisis!  Alas, these words just don’t inspire me to jump off the couch and do something. But Franke James inspires me.  She is part of new breed– the climate change artist.  Her artistic mission is to make something green and document it.

Her website has a series of visual essays – beautiful mixed media panels that makes science personal. Scrolling through her website is like reading a children’s book online.

James seems to be haunted by the question:  what will you tell your grandchildren you did about climate change? On her website she writes, “I know I want to be able to say I did more than change a lightbulb.” And so far, she has.

She recently launched a book of her green visual essays: Bothered by My Green Conscience: How an SUV-driving, imported strawberry-eating urban dweller can go green.

This week she is at the climate change negotiations in Copenhagen known as COP15 where she will create more art, adding a welcome lightness to the aggressive activists, hardened politicians and contracted negotiations.

She seems to be in a growing company of a few climate communicators, delivering doses of science visually.   For instance, Annie Leonard of ‘Story of Stuff’ fame just recently launched ‘The Story of Cap and Trade’ .  Her simple narration illuminates a tough subject through digestible facts and stick figure cartoons.

We are sure to need artists like Franke and Annie to help to tell our stories as the issues become complicated and more and more becomes at stake.  I’m blogging from Copenhagen this week — so will be sure to post more about climate change and art.

Love this MDG art

July 10, 2009 at 3:12 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Millennium Development Goal Art in El Salvador - photo by Penny Elsley

Millennium Development Goal Art in El Salvador, photo by Penny Elsey

Millennium Development Goal art in El Salvador, photo by Penny Elsey

Millennium Development Goal art in El Salvador, photo by Penny Elsey


A more organic approach than the licsense plate with the MDGs I posted about last year.

I love today’s art for tomorrow’s world

February 17, 2008 at 11:22 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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How cool is this magazine? The 2008 edition of the ArtAsiaPacific almanac, “Today’s art for tomorrow’s world”, profiles art in 63 countries, listing the number of public and private art galleries in each country, as well as the annual amount of art it exports.  The almanac interprets the “Asia Pacific” region broadly, spanning the entire Eastern Hemisphere, literally from Georgia (Western Asia) to Australia (South Pacific).  For instance, did you know there were several art museums in Kabul, including a modern art museum and multiple galleries? However, art exports are only around $42,000 a year for Afghanistan.

You can view the China page online, but it is best to hold the almanac in hand and flip through the pages. It certainly provokes an itch to do some global gallery hopping. Each page has some pictures of art spaces, and an overview of the art scene in the country (except the Iraq page is N/A).   Total value of art exported from China is more than $65million. There are more than 208,000 students studying art at China’s 300 university-level art programs, 28 contemporary art spaces (public & private), 23 non profit art spaces, 250 art galleries and no art foundations.

I find it thrilling to read (in the limited selection of Barnes & Noble no less!) about art powerhouse countries such as Indonesia and Israel in a guide that also has information about the art scene in struggling East Timor.  This is indeed communication for development, promoting each country’s real asset: the creativity of the people who live there.

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