By Christina Bryson
Special to the Tribune
Linda Weintraub, curator, educator, artist and author, will give a presentation, “EnvironMentalities: Artists as Conservationists, Preservationists, Restorationists,” on Wednesday at 4:30 p.m. Open to the public, this event will be held in the Doane Hall of Art, room A104, at Allegheny College.
“Ecoart particularly focuses on a remediate kind of process, and it also focuses on trying through the arts to get people to think about ways of addressing and re-envisioning not only art but aspects of culture,” said art and environment project director Amara Geffen.
Weintraub will discuss the new field of ecoart and how artists portray environmentalism within their works. According to Weintraub, environmentalists share the same basic beliefs, but there is no definitive approach in addressing the issue, especially concerning art.
“People certainly aren’t united when they say they care about the environment,” Weintraub said.
Found within many of the Allegheny College and community partnered initiatives, ecoart is widespread throughout the Meadville community: Read Between the Signs, Mill Run Highlighting and stormwater runoff landscaping.
Geffen developed the Arts & Environment Initiative at Allegheny College in 1997, and since then, she has been collaborating with local partners to create public art projects. These initiatives focus on the concepts of reuse, repurpose, restoration and revitalization.
Read Between the Signs, the 1,200-by-9 foot road sign display along Route 322, was one of the initiatives founded by Geffen. Beginning in 2002, Geffen collaborated with the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation and had more than 900 community members, including youth, submit designs for the project. Members of the college and community would then collaborate to produce and install the signs across the PennDOT property fence.
“This roadside intervention celebrates our community, and the landscape and environment that both surrounds and contains us, and defines who we are,” Geffen said.
In addition to the repurposed road signs, the project also incorporates a kinetic, wind driven element. Part of the display features a snowflake scene, which has the ability to spin, making this art project a Meadville landmark.
Mill Run Highlighting is an additional ecoart initiative within the broader “Mill Run: Not Your Run of the Mill Community” project. In 2004, Meadville community members discovered the Mill Run and the locating project was organized through the college’s Center for Economic and Environmental Development. In 2010, CEED organized students to paint aquatic designs on city streets to “highlight” and reveal the location of the stream, most of which is underground.
Additional ecoart projects within the Meadville community include stormwater runoff initiatives at the Market House garden and the I-79 Meadville exit, the Urban Art Trail, Greening the Gateway, a roadside beautification effort, and Shadybrook Park restorations.
“These projects often create opportunities for youth engagement through the arts, and so provide opportunities that transform both people and place,” Geffen said.
Geffen emphasizes these opportunities in her art and environment courses and even uses Weintraub’s most recently published book, “TO LIFE! Ecoart In Pursuit of a Sustainable Planet,” which features the new contemporary movement surrounding environmental art.
“It’s like the Renaissance, like a revolution. It’s something new,” Weintraub said. “This is a brand new field that hasn’t yet been absorbed into the curriculum.”
With the development of the Arts & Environment Initiative at Allegheny and the many community-partnered projects, Geffen is making the city of Meadville and Allegheny College participants in the ecoart movement.
“I enjoy collaborating with diverse groups and helping local partners reach consensus and realize public art projects that celebrate place and local assets,” Geffen said.
In addition to her public lecture, Weintraub will also lead an informal presentation and workshop on ecoart for students and the campus community.
Christina Bryson is a student at Allegheny College.