We are so excited to have been selected to participate in this year’s biennial Art in the Open along the Schuykill River Trail. On May 13, 14, and 15, Sarah and I led a “PA Native Fish” mural painting project on parachute cloth with the public to help promote environmental awarenessabout conserving natural habitats, protecting natural watersheds, preventing invasive species and a dangerous fungus that fisherman can prevent spreading in streams by cleaning their equipment
(it stays alive on dry services for up to 40 days – yuck!)
Stationed outside near the Philadelphia Museum of Art and Fairmount Water Works, along the Schuykill River, we had inspirational views of water and delightful interactions with passersby.
Over the three days we also distributed trout coloring sheets and 3-D fish “make and take” projects designed by ASI graphic design artists: Tara Betts and Ugonna Muoghalu , and listened to live guitar played by ASI volunteer Lee Beebe, while other volunteers from Art Sphere Inc. and new friends worked together.
Unlike being cocooned in the safety and comfort zone of a studio, painting outdoors makes you very aware of your materials, your surroundings and your interactions with viewers. Art making can be so much fun outdoors because it naturally engages viewer curiosity and participation. During the AiO event I got such a kick when kids and adults alike jumped in to get their paint brushes wet for the first time.
As one adult said to her friends ” I always wanted a chance to paint – this is just like me to do things big!” Its a joy to share art and engage kids at heart of all ages in self expression and creativity. One pair of sisters collaborated, pointing out suggestions to each other, celebrating the exploration of materials, learning and teaching.
Water is a very common theme in my artwork and the murals I paint, which have included the “Big (block long) Fish” on Frankfurt and Palmer in Fishtown. To have an excuse to spend three days outside making art with a view of a river was very meaningful, providing me with space to be reflective. Watching water simultaneously relaxes me and fascinates me with all the complexity of layers of currents. Unconsciously it is very empowering – it reminds me to let go of my worries and get in the flow of life. I’ve seen many natural areas get developed and read about the impact we as humans have had on all wildlife. It scares me that so many pollution issues exist but art helps me face the challenges and do something about them by getting into the “creative problem solving flow”.
It’s one of the reasons I write curriculum and teach art to protect wildlife and promote programs like the Junior Duck Stamp program of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Art Sphere Inc. helps promote environmental awareness and conservation through the arts and has given me the rewarding experience of taking kids, adults and veterans for their first hikes in nature to draw what they see at John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge. Through ASI and art, I’m able to share messages of hope and information that many people are unfamiliar with – for example since 1934, sale of the annual Duck Stamps has raised over $800 million for wetland habitat conservation. Learn more: https://www.fws.gov/birds/
I’m also so glad to have had an opportunity to paint with ASI Assistant director Sarah and escape our administrative roles to be creative. I so enjoy working with her because she has such an upbeat presence in and outside the office. Collaboration is such a key part of our organization and I feel that working with her on art was a healing retreat for us away from technology and stresses it brings, and find a way to get to practice ASI philosophy even as administrators.
While we painted, we had rain, intense heat, echoing sound from being under the overpass, powerful winds blowing dust and then Sunday an amazing drop in temperature. Still, when you are exposed to the elements, in many ways it is a freeing experience because nature forces you to be one with your environment and be present in the moment. When a huge gust of wind blew over a paint container onto our finished mural, ASI volunteers flew into action and it was Sarah who loudly professed “We Got This!” I love when she says that! That’s truly her leadership skills and our group’s teamwork and spirit of perseverance in action.
A note from Sarah: