Stand & Resist
Artists protect the Salish Sea
What: Stand & Resist
Where: Whatcom Museum Rotunda Room, 121 Prospect St.
An exhibit of visual arts continues through Fri., April 7 at the Sylvia Center for the Arts, 205 Prospect St.
Cost: Free tickets available at tinyurl.com/zhprbkp
Wednesday, March 22, 2017
For years, Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples have been fighting back against an onslaught of fossil fuel projects trying to push coal, tar sands, oil and gas to the shores of the Salish Sea, almost exclusively for export.
Among the leaders of that resistance movement have been artists of all styles and stripes, but their work is rarely seen by the public except as a banner in the background of a group shot in the newspaper.
With so many concerns about how the current presidential administration can impact the destinies of these projects, and with this incredible resource of inspiration and creativity in fighting back, event organizers believe this is an important moment to center those artists’ voices.
Matt Krogh is the director of Stand’s extreme oil campaign. Building on its name, the organization took a stand to feature these artists.
Cascadia Weekly: A lot of different groups have stepped forward over the years, from RE Sources for Sustainable Communities to Communitywise Bellingham, from the Lummi and Swinomish Indian nations to Coal Train Facts. Why is Stand focusing on celebrating artists specifically?
Matt Krogh: About four years ago, we learned about how First Nations were working with artists in Alberta to organize against the expansion of the tar sands. I’m not an artist myself and hadn’t really noticed what they were talking about, but at a dinner meeting up in BC it became clear that they relied on artists to create the deep understanding, the narrative, to help society contemplate difficult issues.
Where people like me often rely on working with agencies or regulatory systems, artists are the folks who can actually communicate the essence of the problem, and inspire people to care about the solutions. It’s become clear both how vital artists are and, to a certain extent, overlooked by many of the folks organizing around regulatory processes and politics.
CW: So, there are both an evening of performance art and also a 10-day exhibit?
MK: The evening of performance art is really bringing forward the diverse voices, literally and figuratively, of artists who are working at the intersection of social change, this beautiful Salish Sea place we live in, and the personal and environmental threats we’re experiencing today. It will be an evening of experience. Artists performing include Tracy Rector as emcee, Imani Sims, Robert Lashley, Rena Priest, Nahaan, Dana Lyons, and Julie Trimingham.
The visual art exhibition is a broader range, I think, comprised of paintings and photographs, sculpture, puppets, signs and found object art, even three graphic novels, all of which have been part of the inspired activism or love of place that we’ve seen generated by the fossil fuel threats to the region. Most of the visual exhibit is from the Northwest, but a number of pieces—the graphic novels, some painting, some photography—are from activists in other parts of the country who are dealing with the same oil train, pipeline and tanker threats that we are.
CW: It seems like tough times can lead to explosive creativity.
MK: It’s pretty impressive the number of ways that artists figure out how to get their message out there, whatever it is. One of the installations we’re pulling together includes the signs, projection and resulting visuals from a couple of events in Seattle where folks were speaking out about their concerns about oil trains and oil train safety. That combination created a fascinating visual we’re hoping to replicate in the exhibit.
Another piece we plan to display is a seven-foot-tall great blue heron puppet who was pulled into public testimony before the Skagit Hearing Examiner on the Shell oil train proposal. It’s still unclear if the great blue heron gave prior and informed consent.
CW: A lot of folks these days are asking what they can do to make a difference, with thousands turning out for the Women’s March, and many more looking for avenues to take action. What do you anticipate coming out of these two events?
MK: Part of “Stand & Resist” will certainly include next steps and actions that people can take on the fossil fuel front, from supporting Whatcom County’s effort at a moratorium on permitting new unrefined fossil fuel export projects to signing up with groups like Stand.earth and others who provide information at the exhibit.
In reaching out to artists more broadly, though, I’ve come across groups like the Artists Rapid Response Team, a group of professional artists in the Northeast who come together to provide art support for progressive causes. It would be super-cool to see something like that result from this project.
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