Thursday, April 23, 2009

To Make a Prairie--Part V, Artists and a Culture of Advocacy

a view north toward Deep Lake in the Upper Indian Head Creek drainage

At the Dunlop Art Gallery in Regina two nights ago a group of artists and environmentalists came together to talk about the role art can play in helping the wider culture address environmental issues. (Listen to a podcast here.) We talked about advocacy and activism and the leadership artists can provide with some of the big energy issues we are facing right now: climate change, dirty oil, and the renewed campaign for nuclear power on the Canadian Plains. By the end of the evening, we had come round to the thought that perhaps the most important role for the arts is to create the poetry, music, dance, and images that invite us to re-enter the beauty and solace of the "more-than-human world" where all issues are played out.

sunset at Cherry Lake

That phrase "more-than-human world" comes from American eco-philosopher, David Abram and his book Spell of the Sensuous, for my money one of the most important books on culture and wildness to come out in the last twenty years. As I listened to people speaking about the arts and advocacy the other night, I thought about Abrams' book and how it might inform a rediscovery of the northern Great Plains by artists. Unlike those gathered at the Dunlop, many artists who live in this part of the world have not been able to encounter prairie places as they have say, wooded or mountainous places. There are many good reasons for that, some of which run deep in our culture as people of treed, parkland environments. The desert is never the easiest or most inviting of landscapes for a day of hiking with plein air easel. Yet, if are to continue living here, and find ways of living well, we will need artists and writers to show us the enchantments of this land. I think we have just really begun that work.

The first steps in building a culture of advocacy begin with going out to the wilds to make contact once again with the real and sensuous world in all of its complexity, diversity, and mystery.

When the evening was over, we talked a bit more informally and some of us carried the discussion on across the park at a local pub. By the time I went home I had an envelope covered with the names of artists, photographers, filmakers, and poets interested in making an expedition out to the Crown grasslands for a few days this summer. I am looking for possible locations and some help in getting this organized, so if you have an idea or some time to help out, send me an email at

camping at Grasslands National Park

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