Earth Day began 51 years ago when thousands of people came together in the United States in protest, demanding cleaner water and air and the inclusion of environmental issues on the national agenda. The movement grew over the next 20 years and went international in 1990 when over 200 million people across 141 countries and countless organizations raised their collective voices to advocate for global environmental issues and action, and it has continued to grow from there.
While the evolution of the movement is inspiring, the need to nurture human caring, change human behavior and restore ecological balance is heightened. More than ever, we need to understand and protect our planet, even when the gap between where we are and the future we desire feels overwhelming.
Reflecting today on the important progress we’ve made, on the ever-evolving problems that challenge our progress and on Sitka’s role within the environmental movement, I am reminded of the powerful ways in which individual artists and scientists amplify issues and inspire change. In 1969, one marine biologist’s book on pesticides helped raise awareness and launch an environmental movement. In 2021, one young poet-activist performing on inauguration day renewed our nation’s vows to pursue a more just and inclusive society.
At the heart of Sitka's residency program is our belief in the power of curious and creative people to move us all forward. By supporting individual writers, artists, scientists and activists whose work invites us to consider and care more deeply about each other and the planet we share we join together in creating a greater good.
Spring 2021 stream biologist in residence Kurt Fausch makes the case for storytelling as a vehicle for change this way: “Like trees and music and good health, streams and rivers are a gift to us as humans… In the end, I believe we will need to understand how and why we love rivers, if we hope to conserve them.” You can learn more about Fausch’s book, For the Love of Rivers, and video projects here.
The deeply empathetic characters created by 2020 writer in residence Kirsten Valdez Quade remind me that we are all capable of change and rebirth. In a recent NPR interview celebrating the release of her highly anticipated debut novel, The Five Wounds, Valdez Quade reflects on her protagonist’s journey, “…it's only when he's able to truly see the people around him that he's able to step up and take responsibility for them. And that's when he begins to change.” While Valdez Quade’s writing does not have an overt call to action, her stories invite me to reconsider the biases and assumptions that polarize my own moral compass and to ask, from here, what’s next?
I look forward to a future when Earth Day is truly a celebration of restored balance and not an annual reminder to recommit to action. Until that day, I remain grateful to those artists and scientists whose work in ways large and small, outward and intimate, is working toward that day.
Sitka’s final resident Show & Tell event of the season takes place today on Earth Day. I hope you will join me to learn about the work of these five individuals, each meeting this moment with creativity.