Connect with Mary on social media
The job of the artist is to make revolution irresistible.
Toni Cade Bambara
Someone will hurl a rock through our window.
Neighbors won’t loan us sugar anymore.
My insecurities battered me as I hung fabric leaves from the maple trees by our sidewalk.
Inspired by both Occupy Wall Street and the approach of Thanksgiving, I set out to decorate our yard with a display that expressed gratitude for things we often take for granted. Sharpie in hand, I wrote on flame-colored leaves the names of things my family appreciates that are threatened.
The EPA. Social Security. Salmon.
High schoolers bustled by, eyes averted from the lady on the ladder. A jogger surveyed my fake orange leaves and nodded politely. I soldiered on until the names of 150 wonderful, endangered things swayed and spun in the air above our sidewalk.
Affirmative action. Coral reefs. Public education. Habeas corpus. The Clean Water Act. High-speed trains. Glaciers.
Neighbors, it turns out, found the project pretty cool. My kids weren’t sure. Once, arriving home, they lingered in the car until peers passed the house with all that stuff in its trees. But no rock splintered our windows. No hate letters arrived in our mailbox.
My children became less self-conscious. Spying from the living room, they announced “customers” — those who slowed, grinned, and read the leaves. My kids began to act quietly proud of our creative yard display. I relaxed, and delighted in how the installation changed over time as the
living leaves fell away.
We went on to create another fifteen installations — each more interactive than the first — involving single-use bags, “pocket poems,” food for the homeless, prayer flags, and faux fracked-gas pipelines. All celebrated the Earth and the ways it renews the human spirit. All advocated for a just, healthy, fun world. My kids, their cousins, and our neighbors and friends all helped. Journalists sometimes interviewed us. People left flowers and even donations with notes like, “Thanks for being the neighborhood’s inspiring house!”
Try playing with public spaces you control. Once you start maximizing the visibility of your apartment or office door, yard, balcony, cubicle, bike, car, shopping bag, water bottle, or body, you might find it, as we have, exhilarating and remarkably freeing. Easy projects like the ones below can open the door to extraordinary possibilities.
If you have . . .
Five minutes: Search “climate protest art” for an eyeful of possibilities. Or visit the Art in Action page on my website for simple and affordable ideas.
Tie a ribbon on your wrist or arm as part of a campaign to stop a pipeline, clear-cut, or oil train, or to support fossil-fuel divestment, solar investment, or climate-recovery legislation. If the band’s visible enough, people ask, offering an opportunity to share your thoughts and perhaps inspire others.
One hour: Make a sign for one of your public spaces or decorate a T-shirt — or your arm cast, wheelchair, or cane — with paint.
Make a voter registration station on your lawn. Print forms from the internet; include the local precinct address. Feeling flush? Stamp them.
Five hours: Collaborate with friends and family to adorn your space withp ositive, invitational, and celebratory suggestions. Live in a high-rise? Make your apartment door an artistic climate kiosk. Post petitions, rally invitations, photos of your patio garden, and inviting information on how
neighbors can join you.
Attach an “End climate destruction!” banner to your bike, or pain tyour child’s bike trailer with “Keep fossil fuels in the ground!”
Tattoo “Heal the climate” on your forehead.
See more ideas on the Art in Action page.