Changing the environment through art

Golden Ball procession (1999)

Golden Ball procession (1999)

Invited Article written  by Del Jackson

There has been an increased amount of news coverage recently about global warming and the UN’s recent report on climate change. After reading the coverage, it upsets me that something which is so vital to our existence as the environment is left up to politicians to argue about the best course of action.  Especially since it seems that the politicians in the US only seem to care about being re-elected instead of actually doing what is right and just for the people they serve.

However, after recently moving to Boston, I have found artist and designers who are making a difference in the environment through their artwork.   The first project I found that made me feel this way I discovered during Boston Artweek at a lecture with the Boston Society of Architects.  Mags Harries was presenting her artwork and showed a project that she and her husband Lajos Heder executed in 1999 on the Bronx River.

The artwork was a performance piece that turned into the Bronx River Golden Ball Festival.  She said that in 1999 when they visited the site of the performance, the river was filled with garbage and really unpleasant.  For their performance, they wanted to float a large golden ball down the river and guide it along from a canoe.  People were encouraged to follow the ball along the 10 mile journey though the different communities to see how the river connects one another.  The artist said the performance attracted thousands of people that day.  While the artist had to clean up the river to allow for the canoe to get through, this performance ultimately lead to a reoccurring festival on the river and helped raise $39,000,000 to improve the river and its surroundings.

This was the first project that made me aware of the impact artwork can play in improving the environment.  The second one occurred on the campus of MIT in late April.

Tape at MIT

In April, I was getting off the subway at Kendall square when I found a plastic blue tape scattered all around the area about waist high.

The tape was four miles long was set at the water level which would be experienced if a storm like Sandy hit Boston in 2050.

Its goal was to get the institute to divest its $11 billion endowment from the fossil fuel industry.  This was a very effective artwork in my opinion because it really put the issue of the environment directly into my immediate environment.  While I am not sure if the tape actually influenced MIT to make a change, I think it defiantly left an impact to all the people who encountered it in a way that nothing other than a work of art could have.

In conclusion, I am excited to see that artwork can make big difference in improving the environment.


Del Jackson lives and works in Boston, Massachusetts, USA.  Aside from his own artistic practice, he is currently an artist assistant to Nancy Selvage, Mags Harries, and Lajos Heder. He graduated with his MFA in Art from the University of Iowa in 2013 where he also majored in Civil Engineering.


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