a boots-on-the-ground view of the change that's a-foot

What’s Art Got To Do With It?

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

In a Grist essay in 2005, Bill McKibben posed the climate change-related question, Where’s the art? “Art, like religion, is one of the ways we digest what is happening to us, make the sense out of it that proceeds to action.”

Call it coincidence if you’d like (I prefer the idea of manifestation), but the last 4 years have indeed produced a surplus of music, books, photographs, movies, videos, festivals, performances, and many other artistic attempts to inform, teach and inspire us not just about the state of our world, but how to understand it, integrate it and act on it. On a grand scale, there was (and is), LiveEarth, which made it obvious that more of us are feeling pulled to speak out, to create, to re-define ourselves, our lives, our world. Art has the ability to shape a culture and have a political effect because it pulls at us from a deeper, core place.

And, through the revival of both technology and community, this same art is more available than it’s ever been. Large cities and small towns are bringing these works into their own communities in many ways. Collaborative projects, social events and creative education is wide-spread and constantly growing. Farmer’s markets, local stores, co-ops – even these integrate art with economics – and we are undeniably, drawn in.

Although just one example of art making a cultural impact, documentary films stand out in my mind because they inform on a direct level. These films are being shown in parking lots, on rooftops, in backyards. Consider in Brooklyn, NY, a non-profit that has been showing, producing films and teaching filmmaking since 1997. My much smaller town of Carrboro has also established a film series focusing on movies that relate to the forces pressuring towards “localizing and the solution of making the various sectors of the economy human scale.” Churches and Town Centers are also showing films, often followed by speakers and open discussion.

We are in a time like no other in history and sadly, many of us are simply unaware of it. Perhaps it’s because we’re busy trying to survive, but more likely, it’s because we no longer have enough of a relationship with nature to notice. And, if we do notice and don’t act, McKibben reminds us that, “the only role left to us — noble, but also enraging in its impotence — is simply to pay witness.”

There’s a lot of feelings that are difficult right now, but none more than that kind of feeling of helplessness. Empowering ourselves into action on both a personal and community level is a way to change that. It’s a matter of people learning to think collectively and to live more authentically. It’s a matter of not simply “paying witness” but driving ourselves and others to live in a more sustainable ways – part of an evolutionary process that will decide history. (And, contrary to popular belief, communities of all sizes can act independently – like this town in VT – of the larger political process, but they have to feel pulled from a place beneath the surface.)

It’s time to notice. It’s time to act. Bill McKibben goes on to say that “when art clusters around an issue, it means that civilization has identified it finally as a threat.” Look around and you’ll see it. Then you’ll feel it. Then you’ll get inspired and then, like so many people in so many unexpected places and ways, you’ll get involved.

We’re all actors on this stage. It’s curtain time.

One Response to “What’s Art Got To Do With It?”

  1. phyllisdiehl Says:

    how beautiful the pictures are. love that you are sharing this with all of us…….it is kind of scary, when the schools “threaten” to curtail art classes. part of life, is seeing and feeling beauty, thanks for bringing this to my life.

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