Although Dr. Farber and Pedro Lasch did not address art as an act of environmental activism specifically, the creativity, tactics, and process of making impactful, time-sustaining monuments could definitely be applied to environmental activism projects. From the power of stories to representation to hope, the Penn Monument Lab project and Pedro’s accompanying comments touched on and connected multiple themes that our class has discussed throughout the semester.
During the introduction of the Monument Lab: A Public Art and History Project, Farber described how his team analyzed the placement and characteristics of current monuments in Philadelphia. He brought up the question of presence and power, asking “What is present and what is missing? Whose stories are being told?”. I immediately thought of the Radical Mapping group because they asked very similar questions. Instead of just asking what and who the monuments represent, Farber brought to light whose stories were missing and how they can fill in those gaps. This included people of different races, genders, sexual orientations, family backgrounds, etc. – essentially “inviting everyone to the table”, as Crystal Dreisbach previously urged.
Secondly, Farber encouraged us to “meet people where they are”, which applies to both public monuments and environmental movements. If we want to engage as many people as possible, we must first welcome them into the space, then use actionable and transactional methods to keep them engaged. For example, Farber discussed the importance of quick actions such as signing a petition or writing down one’s own idea, then giving them a “gift” in a form of this transaction. He also emphasized participatory social engagement and furthering one’s own goals by connecting to others’ issues. For environmentalism, this means understanding the intersectionality of nature with issues of human health, poverty, race, etc. to reach more people in the conversation. Art, therefore, acts as an incredibly powerful tool to welcome people and keep them engaged.
Lastly, Farber and Pedro discussed the exhaustion that incurs from hours of labor behind getting permits and building the monuments, and how to combat that. Ultimately, the answer is hope. Seeing one’s work come into fruition, other people interacting with it, and pushing a project to greater levels than anticipated will further one’s motivation. The work is exhausting indeed, but Hope, this feeling of expectation, can and will keep you going.
I felt inspired by Dr. Farber and Pedro Lasch’s talk and thought that it was a great way to summarize this semester. They discussed activism, art, and people, and now it is our job to apply these concepts to environmental projects of our own.