Public art gets community talking sustainability

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This post originally appeared on EDF's blog California Dream 2.0.

"Today is about making our community more beautiful,” exclaimed California State Assemblyman Raul Bocanegra (D-Pacoima), at a recent EDF-sponsored community art show and mural launch.

I know what you might be thinking. “Say what? EDF and art?”

This is one of the new routes we’re taking in our commitment to “finding the ways that work.”

We looked to accomplish two things with this project: to help spark imagination and civic pride by bringing local artists and youth together to create a vision for a more sustainable city, and to make a concerted effort to meet the community where they are on the environmental issues they care about. The results were both inspiring and enlightening.


Our first launch event, in Fresno, CA, featured local muralist Mauro Carrera and local nonprofit partner organizations Valley LEAP, Arte Americas, and Fresno Building Healthy Communities.

The vivid imagery of the Fresno mural was spectacular: an 8’ x 16’ mobile fresco honoring the agricultural heritage of California’s Central Valley and its hardworking migrant workers, while integrating and embracing a new vision of more clean energy, fresh water, bike access, clean air, and green space.

The mural will be rotated throughout the year around several local community organizations and used for future youth conferences and monthly art walks in downtown Fresno.

The next day we moved the party to Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley, partnering with Pacoima Beautiful and local artist Kristy Sandoval for a 15’ x 30’ mural painted outside the city’s Community Center, which houses numerous non-profit youth organizations. This project featured a call to “keep Pacoima beautiful,” and a bold vision to capture some of the vast solar potential in sunny San Fernando Valley (a recent EDF study found that capturing just 5% of the rooftop solar power in the area could create thousands of jobs and reduce carbon emissions by over 200,000 metric tons per year).

The mural will expand in the future along the Community Center’s outdoor wall to include images calling to mind water conservation and urban greening, and will occupy an anchor spot on the regular Pacoima mural walking tour. 

Why sustainability through art?

EDF’s Keith Gaby nailed it last month with a blog post that set a refreshing tone for the environmental movement: "The reality is that environmentalists often have a difficult time reaching the people with whom we most need to build trust in order to accomplish our goals: Americans who don't feel a natural kinship with the traditional environmental movement. We need to accept that other people's priorities — economic or cultural — are valid and important.”

Effective environmental policy needs to recognize and prioritize the local and regional needs of communities; part of doing this means communicating policies and values that meet folks where they live, literally. Public art (such as murals) is a special way to facilitate a conversation that anyone can access, a conversation that comes from the community, for the community.

In the weeks and months leading up to the mural launches, EDF staff and partners participated in local workshops with community members to discuss climate change, clean energy, and resiliency. Our partners led the conversation and the artists took in feedback about the collective vision, incorporating it into each mural’s design. The end result was something enduring and beautiful, a bold vision for a sustainable future and a rousing call to action to help us get there. 

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Jorge Madrid

Jorge Madrid

Jorge is the Senior Partnerships Coordinator for the California Climate and Energy Team at Environmental Defense Fund. He is also a member of the Board of Directors of Voces Verdes, and a former Graduate Fellow with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute, and the California Latino Caucus Institute.  

 

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