The Arts as Ally: Earth Day/Month/Year 2017

We are almost four full months into 2017, and already there have been multiple large-scale international public demonstrations, starting most notably with the Women’s March in January. And we’re between two major international marches this week – the March for Science, and the People’s Climate March. In my installment this month, I highlight a particular creative effort for the March for Science, as well as a powerful new documentary from Standing Rock, amidst the unprecedented political situation in the United States.

There is power in the rallies and marches of these past months, in the convening of individuals around shared values. I relish in the humanness – the connections, creativity, compassion. I am also thrilled by the offers of alternatives: public forums to practice alternatives to the oppressive status quo that leaves out and strips the power of people that do not fit the “dominant” type. In these imagined alternatives, there is room for nonhuman beings and forces. This past weekend’s March for Science was such a space, where those who work with data and study forces on all scales could come together in solidarity with one another, and with public supporters. My group of fellow artists and I marched to stand with the discipline of science, with the people who put the scientific method into practice, collate data to relearn our histories, and uncover our future potential as human life on Earth.

My colleagues at Artists Rise Up New York hosted pre-march workshops to construct puppets of animals with endangered status. We wanted to bring these puppets to the March for Science – which landed on Earth Day – in solidarity with the humans who study these animals and their (our) ecosystems. These puppets, fashioned out of repurposed materials, were a way to show up for our friends in science and across species. We gathered under overcast skies with our puppets in hand, amongst thousands of fellow science allies, many of whom touted posters summarizing their reasons for showing up.

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Members of Artists Rise Up with sea turtle and golden eagle puppets, March for Science 2017.

The puppets, with their playful, cartoon-like appearance, caught the attention of other marchers, particularly those under the age of 10, and their families. Young children, strapped to their parents’ bodies, had a front row seat to a non-fiction puppet show. Many were eager to engage tactically with the characters: a sea turtle and a golden eagle. The three-dimensional animal puppets inserted a level of joy and playfulness into the march, complementing the posters of scientific and Earth-based puns. Despite the rain that greeted us NYC marchers, our energy flourished down Broadway, past Trump Hotel, until dispersing near Times Square. There is a performative aspect to these marches; they offer a forum for forces, elements and species – otherwise marginalized, silenced, voiceless groups – to be seen on a large public scale, a way to more closely speak to power.

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Members of Artists Rise Up with golden eagle, eye of the whale, and sea turtle puppets, March for Science 2017.

In this week between two major marches, in the spirit of Earth Day, anti-fracking activist and documentarian Josh Fox’s latest documentary, Awake, A Dream from Standing Rock, has been released. I would be remiss if I did not wave the flag for this film (it’s streamable online and less than ninety minutes!). A collaboration with filmmakers Myron Dewey and James Spione, Awake compiles a series of stories from the peaceful resistance at the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, on the edge of Dakota Access Pipeline construction. The film is an education, for those who were not at the Standing Rock camp, in the way that the Indigenous perspective comes to the fore. This film and its makers deserve a dedicated post, and that will come. In the meantime, I wanted to call attention to the way Awake writes the history of this moment in time, as well as offers tangible actions to take toward climate justice – to resist fracking and Big Oil, educate, and support those presently at Standing Rock and at reservations around the country. I will be taking the peaceful, passionate, urgent energy of Awake with me to the People’s Climate March in DC.

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Poster for Awake, A Dream from Standing Rock.

As I reflect on the inaugural March for Science, look forward to the Climate March, and consider the themes from Awake that propel me to action, I see the role of arts in this current historical moment: the creativity of constructions at international marches, the framing of stories from Standing Rock in film, the performance of coming together in a public space, as documented for the world to see. My art-activism connections are only examples, and by offering them, I seek to keep the momentum going. We can all keep the momentum going by taking action that suits us: find a Climate March near you; support Indigenous communities; defund DAPL.

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Julia Levine is a creative collaborator and vegetarian. Originally from St. Louis, Julia is now planted in the New York City downtown theatre realm. As a director, Julia has worked on various projects with companies that consider political and cultural topics, including Theater In AsylumHonest Accomplice Theatre, and Superhero Clubhouse. She is on the Marketing team at HERE Arts Center and is a co-organizer with Climate Change Theatre Action. Julia writes and devises with her performance-based initiative, The Food Plays, to bring questions of food, climate, and justice into everyday life.

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