Heating Up: Artists Respond to Climate Change A series of cultural and educational events in Lawrence, Kansas, Part One

by Lora Jost, Sara Taliaferro, Thad Holcombe, Juda Lewis, and Amanda Monaghan (planning committee members)

NOTE from USDAC: This is the first of three blogs on Heating Up. We want to share all that went into this impressive series of events cosponsored by the USDAC Lawrence Field Office. Part One, below, details the wide range of activities working in unison. Part Two will be an interview with planning committee member Sara Taliaferro, focusing on how such a thing is organized and the impacts it has already had. Part Three lists all of the people and groups who helped make it possible, and what they did.

On a cool spring evening in March, a flood of people gathered for the opening of a community art exhibit called Heating Up: Artists Respond to Climate Change. The Lawrence Percolator, a flourishing community art space located in a downtown alley, hosted the opening on a Final Friday, Lawrence’s monthly open-gallery night. The exhibit was the first in a series of related events on climate change that took place during the month-long exhibit. The series included a panel discussion, dance and poetry performance, writing workshop, children’s art workshop, teen art exhibit, and community workday to help restore the Haskell Wetlands.

The art exhibit and opening event included the work of over fifty artists, poets, presenters, musicians, and spoken-word performers whose work, showcased together, made a strong statement that climate change is an urgent concern in our community. The exhibit presented climate change through the lens of many makers with diverse viewpoints, bringing nuance to the issue beyond simplistic black-and-white portrayals often seen in mainstream media. Some of the art pieces concerned the roots of climate change and the effects of fossil fuel consumption on the weather, water, animals, and people. Some of the art conveyed despair. One piece was about creativity born from crisis. Additional art pieces offered hope, visualizing ways to work together toward solutions.

The exhibit opening reception for  Heating Up: Artists Respond to Climate Change .

The exhibit opening reception for Heating Up: Artists Respond to Climate Change.

The exhibit opening highlighted poetry and music, including a musical/spoken word adaptation of Langston Hughes’s “I’ve Known Rivers” performed by musicians from two bands, The Delta Blues and Ovaries-eez. The event also included a reading of poems by seven Lawrence and Topeka-based poets, and a brief talk by Doug Hitt, co-author of the richly illustrated book A Kansas Bestiary that celebrates Kansas wildlife.

The event series was co-sponsored by the USDAC Lawrence Field Office and LETUS (Lawrence Ecology Teams United in Sustainability, a coalition of faith-based ecology teams), assisted by Haskell Indian Nations University (HINU) and the Lawrence Percolator. For photos and additional information about the exhibit visit the Facebook event page and LETUS webpage.

Music and spoken word performance by The Delta Blues and the Ovaries-eez (Cheyenne Hansen, Monica George, Johni Lacore, Amber Hansen, Josh Connor, Robert Baker, and Roger Holden) at the opening for  Heating Up: Artists Respond to Climate Change.

Music and spoken word performance by The Delta Blues and the Ovaries-eez (Cheyenne Hansen, Monica George, Johni Lacore, Amber Hansen, Josh Connor, Robert Baker, and Roger Holden) at the opening for Heating Up: Artists Respond to Climate Change.

The second event in our series, How Can We Work Together on Climate Change, was a discussion with five panelists who spoke to a packed hall of seventy people at Haskell Indian Nations University. Lakota singer Ron Brave welcomed audience members to the event and sang. Moderator Sara Taliaferro introduced the panelists: Saralyn Reece Hardy, director of the University of Kansas’s (or KU’s) Spencer Museum of Art; Thad Holcombe, retired university campus minister and LETUS moderator; Eileen Horn, Sustainability Coordinator for Douglas County and the City of Lawrence; Jay T. Johnson, KU professor in the Department of Geography and Atmospheric Science; and Daniel Wildcat, HINU professor in the College of Natural and Social Sciences. Alex Williams, an HINU graduate and doctoral student at KU, performed a special song that she wrote to close the panel.

Unlike many presentations on climate change that focus on science, this panel addressed the cultural shifts and ways of being needed to address the climate crisis. Pastor Thad Holcombe invited us to become "sacred strangers,” moving beyond the predominant culture’s excessive individualism by participating in diverse “anticipatory communities” that support eco-justice, where people recast for the present ancient practices of asceticism, mysticism, and prophetic insight, affirm the sacred web of life, and gain wisdom through the arts.

Professor Daniel Wildcat shared from an indigenous perspective the importance of respect and relationships. It is not important only that we do something, but how we do something. He asked, what if resources were not viewed as resources but instead as relatives? What if the notion of individual autonomy were also balanced with an unalienable sense of responsibility? Saralyn Reece Hardy spoke of the role of the artist in this moment; artists must encounter what is happening in the world right now with courage, must perceive without rest, and find meaningful ways to incorporate issues and observations into their lives and work. We are in a “period of elegy,” she said, and must grieve the things we’ll never see again. For more information about the panel and photos visit the Facebook event page.

Mrs. Noah in Poetry and Dance, our third event, was a collaborative performance, performed twice at the Lawrence Percolator in the midst of the art exhibit, by poet Elizabeth Schultz and dancer Joan Stone, both retired professors from KU. The performance, as described in the program notes, included Stone’s “insightful dance interpretations of Schultz’s poems, reflecting on the relationships among humans and animals, examining how catastrophes disturb these relationships, how the resulting tremors connect us, and how we survive together, learning from one another.” For more information and photos visit the Facebook event page.

A Change in the Weather: Writing From Climate Change Art, our fourth event, was a free writing workshop open to the public, led by former Kansas Poet Laureate Caryn Miriam-Goldberg and naturalist and writer Ken Lassman. The workshop included writing from prompts about our “internal and external weather” in relation to climate change. The workshop leaders oriented eight participants to write about their immediate experience of place at the Lawrence Percolator, and later to experience and respond to the art in Heating Up: Artists Respond to Climate Change as a writing prompt, too. For more information about the workshop and photos, visit the Facebook event page

Three affiliated events sponsored by additional community organization completed the series. The Spencer Museum of Art’s “Art Cart” event, Landscape Transformations, and Hang12’s exhibit Effecting Change, involved art made about the environment by children and youth. The Spencer Museum’s drop-in children’s activity station, held at the Lawrence Public Library, invited children, families, and other groups, to learn how to create a landscape pencil drawing inspired by works in the Spencer’s Classroom Collection, and to “watch them transform with water.” Effecting Change was an exhibit by teens that ran concurrently with Heating Up, curated by the Lawrence Art Center’s youth curatorial board Hang12. Their exhibit statement reads, “Climate Change is an issue that impacts all of us. To bring awareness to this subject we asked artists to use repurposed materials within their artwork to take a stand on Climate Change and environmental issues.”

The final event in our series, Haskell’s First Annual Wetland Restoration Day, was coordinated and led by HINU’s student group Eco Ambassadors. Eco Ambassadors invited Lawrence community members to help seed and plant, remove weeds, plan paths, restore the Medicine Wheel, and remove an extensive barbed-wire fence, as initial steps in restoring the Haskell Wetland following the recent completion of a controversial highway through the wetlands. For more information and photos visit the Haskell Ambassador Facebook page and the event page.

For press coverage of our project visit:

Lawrence Journal World

Indian Leader

Topeka Capital Journal