For the last 14 years, the Artists in Residence in Everglades (AIRIE) has strengthened the bonds between science and art as a means of creating awareness and insuring the survival of the Everglades -- a unique and delicate ecosystem that is unique and should be of utmost concern for all Floridians. Over the years, AIRIE has faced the same problems that routinely plague nonprofits but has continued to attract cutting-edge, contemporary artists to "mingle" with the Park's scientific staff and create new works based solely on their experience in the residency.
Artist and Executive Director of AIRIE Deborah Mitchell will moderate a panel -- Science + Art: Transformative Experiences in the Everglades -- with an introduction by retired biologist Skip Snow, composed of the latest batch of artists who took up home in our beloved "swamp." This diverse and multi-disciplined group of artists include Gustavo Matamoros, Valerie LeBlanc, Daniel Dugas, McCrary Sullivan and Van Brunschot regarding their work within the fragile ecosystem. Local historian Dr. Paul George will review the historical aspects of the Everglades.
We had a chance to speak with Mitchell about the program, its vision and what the future holds for the science and arts partnership in the Everglades.
New Times: The Everglades are a unique ecosystem, the only one of its kind in the world. Why do you think it's the immediate neighbors who are the most ignorant on its significance and importance to the well-being of Florida's ecology?
Deborah Mitchell: The health and well-being of Florida's ecology lies in the abundance of fresh, clean water. This complex issue often eludes the interest of the general public for many reasons, due largely to the misunderstanding of critical issues. Policy and legislation on the restoration is often challenging to comprehend, and on a more basic level most people don't know much about the Biscayne Aquifer.
Think about the significance of our consumption in terms of drinking water, agriculture, tourism, and commercial fishing. It is almost impossible to measure the economic benefits of how we manage this critical resource.
What has been AIRIE's biggest concern since its founding?
A huge challenge for AIRIE during 14 years of operation has been funding, as is the case with most nonprofits. Our budget operates in large part due to generous support from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Tauk-Romano Innovative Philanthropy, community grants, and small, grass-roots fundraisers. The Board of Directors has recently expanded to include a high caliber of individuals, whose professional experience and visionary ideas will push the program forward. We have really rolled up our sleeves to increase exposure, hoping an endowment will assist us with maintaining a steady operating budget to fund our next set of goals.
You participated in an Artist-in-Residence program at Big Cypress back in 2007, what experiences there were you able to translate into working in the Everglades environment?
AIRIE is unique in that it has always been operated by artists; first by Donna Marxer in 2001, then by Christy Gast in 2009. We understand the needs of highly creative people and try to anticipate their needs, such as pre-arranging visits to the South Florida Collections Management Center for in-depth research. My experiences in Big Cypress continue to be intensely rewarding. Every summer I still venture out looking for ghost orchids with my friends and hike with my family in the winter. It is an honor to take AIRIE artists out in the field to meet with the locals, hike in the backcountry or kayak the Turner River in Big Cypress.
After all, the concerns of the Preserve and the Park are both centered around the flow of clean water from Lake Okeechobee southwards for our growing urban population. It is through cultural outreach events and programming that we expose the public to the interpretations of artists who have had the privilege of immersion in this subtropical wilderness. This will lead to a greater understanding of how vital it is to protect and preserve our precious natural resources.
What has been the biggest impact of the program on the park?
In recent decades, artists have utilized the latest advances in science. The immense popularity of the new book Colliding Worlds, How Cutting Edge Science is Redefining Contemporary Art by Arthur Miller, proves that there is growing interest in the connection between the two fields. Enrollment in STEAM-related classes has increased, too. On March 4 at the University of Miami CAS Gallery, select AIRIE fellows will (together with local artists and scientists) lead a workshop and exhibition entitled AnthropoScene: Art and Nature in a Manufactured Era. When these types of partnerships emerge within our community, increased attendance and awareness of environmental issues impact the Park in a positive manner.
What type of artist is attracted to work in the Everglades and what can the park give said artist in return?
AIRIE receives applications from artists working in all disciplines who are seeking time to work unfettered by the demands of today's fast paced world. The allure of the Everglades attracts artists who recognize this unique biosphere as a place so awe inspiring that it creates a stillness within. By achieving this personal transformation, an artist becomes free to process the experience and create new work in the AIRIELAB, our live/work space provided by the Park. The Park makes introductions between AIRIE Fellows and Park staff, assists with events, provides gear like bikes/kayaks, gets artists into the back country by letting them shadow scientists, and advises on the application proposals.
What can be expected from the panelists and how their diverse mediums have been affected by the park?
The Swamp panelists will be discussing how science and art can inspire transformative experiences in the wilderness. The diversity of mediums represented will ensure that there is something valuable for everyone's tastes. We are absolutely thrilled to debut videos of Canadian team Daniel Dugas and Valerie LeBlanc entitled FLOW - BIG WATERS. In July 2014, this talented Canadian team worked in collaboration on the project in the Park recording and researching several aspects of this special biosphere. They are currently producing soundwalks to be made accessible to Park visitors online next year. Reed Van Brunschot, Gustavo Matamoros, and Anne McCrary Sullivan will also present and discuss their dynamic new work.
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Overall, what do you want folks who learn about the program to come away with and what is the next step for AIRIE?
We hope to inspire people to get out and explore our wild peninsula, meet the artists, and think about how our short and long-term actions will affect the future generations. AIRIE is ready to increase its visibility and expand to a very strong and healthy organization. Come out and meet us at AIRIE in the Garden on January 24 from 2 to 5 p.m. at Pinecrest Gardens for our annual benefit! We will have live performances and readings featuring several artists from the 2014-15 program.
An Evening with AIRIE (Artists in Residence in Everglades) at Miami Book Fair International on Tuesday, November 18, at 7 p.m. at the Swamp Pavilion. Look for the big tent at the southeast corner of NE Third Street and Second Avenue. Call 305-237-3258 or visit miamibookfair.com.