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Art + Nature: Enriching Lives and Neighborhoods

The connection is obvious between art and nature. For hundreds of years, nature has been the subject of art. Nature inspires art. As urban conservationists, connecting people to nature is at the heart of our work, so it only makes sense to more fully explore how art can inspire nature. How can we use the creativity and bridge building of art to restore land and water?

The US Water Alliance recently released “Advancing One Water Through Arts and Culture” at the One Water Summit in July in Minneapolis. It outlines how the arts can aid communities like Kansas City in re-thinking better ways to manage and care for water. Integrating arts and culture strategies help people better understand complex issues, engages more diverse people, supports community activism, brings new perspectives and integrates natural resources into the fabric of our community. The report includes eight case studies with specific findings related to water. We don’t have to look too far to see examples of this working right here!

Since August, Kansas Citians have been enjoying “Open Spaces.” With KC Parks’ Swope Park as its hub, community members have been exploring 40 visual artists in a wide range of media installed throughout the city. The exhibit takes place over the course of two months and offers participants an ongoing program of activities. This KC Parks event takes place August 25 – October 28. What better way to bring a wide range of people outdoors!

Families enjoy Thies Park and learn about water at a recent outdoor festival, Illuminated Waters. The StoneLion Puppets are another amazing success story that exemplifies how art supports, engages and connects people to nature. With a broad variety of environmental focused shows, they have been inspiring audiences for decades. Heather Nisbett-Loewenstien, Artistic Director, started StoneLion after discovering puppetry melded performance and design into one big lump of fun that could communicate complex ideas and messages in a way that traditional theater could not. In its early days, StoneLion provided Earth Day themed outreach programs in underserved neighborhoods in partnership with KC Parks. In 2008, their Earth Day community outreach led up to an environmental giant puppet play in the sculpture garden of The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in May. Most recently, we enjoyed being a part and learning about water at the Illuminated Waters event held in KC Parks’ Theis Park as part of our Renew the Blue efforts.

Another example of art bringing new audiences to nature includes a project called “Art and Science on the River” that is hosted by Healthy Rivers Partnership and a teacher Adam Finklestein at Shawnee Mission East. Since 2012, they have taken youth on a boat tour of the Missouri River and invited them to create art inspired by their experience. First Fridays in May they host an art show with estimated 800 attendees. The work is impactful and the immersion experience introduces young people to rivers and makes it personal.

Artists set up for a Plein Air competition as part of National Trails and Prairie Day amidst the flora and fauna of Jackson County’s only remnant prairie during Party on the Prairie at Jerry Smith Park. A more recent example of using art to bridge cultural differences will begin construction this fall in the Marlborough Community. Heartland Conservation Alliance in partnership with the Marlborough Community Coalition and The Conservation Fund are creating public open space that is beautiful, provides habitat for wildlife and connects people to nature in meaningful ways. Engaging with artists has been a long-standing connection for conservationists. This tradition continues to evolve and grow and we embrace new ways to use the power of art to connect people to nature and find ways to bring nature into our everyday lives.

Former Marlborough Community Coalition President, Brenda Thomas, congratulates young artists who are showing their work at ArtzPalooza.

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