Posts Tagged With: art

Mayor John Fetterman

Mayor John Fetterman (or Mayor John, as he likes to be called) is the -you guessed it- Mayor of Braddock, Pennsylvania. After coming to Braddock in 2001 to work in a youth program, he was inspired by the towns “malignant beauty” and decided to stay. Wanting some leverage to help revitalize the post-industrial town in disrepair, he ran for Mayor and won by one vote. Since then, he’s been on a misson to save the city that has lost 90% of its population and business since its steel industry left in the 1980s.

Braddock, Pennsylvania is a small town near Pittsburgh with a population less than 3,000 (down from a former population of 20,000). In its heyday, it was bustling and prosperous. However, because of America’s tendency to have a “laissez-faire” approach to failing cities (unlike its approach to failing banks), once the industry left town, there were few attempts to preserve the community. People left in droves and buildings lost so much of their value that landlords resorted to burning them down. The town, however, has not lost its strong-willed and they are the residents that give Mayor John hope to turn the area around. He believes that no community deserves to be abandoned.

Already having reached its low point, Mayor John believes that Braddock has no way to go but up. With a 25% unemployment rate, Mayor John’s vision is for Braddock to have a green-infused rejuvenation. He sees the abandoned steel plants and buildings as a foundation for a green energy sector. He sees the 1,000 vacant lots from demolished structures as spaces to institute urban agriculture (the town no longer has a grocery store). With an influx of wind turbine and solar panel production, the town would have jobs for its residents in a field that marks America’s future. Urban gardens would not only provide a healthy source of food for the community but would also provide kids with something productive to do- an alternative to getting involved in the streets.

Mayor John’s number one focus is to give Braddock hope, by focusing on improving its social justice. As he says, “everyone deserves to live in a community where they’re safe and where conditions are continually improving”. He has used art as one way to inspire the community and promote its expansion. His non-profit, Braddock Redux, helps run the Braddock Youth Project, a summer program for teens that teaches them silkscreening skills and how to create PSAs. It also offers a renovated art space with cheap rent to attract more artists to the community. Mayor John also supports graffiti art and has allowed local groups to make their mark in ways that enhance the community’s landscape. He believes that all of his efforts are part of a larger “organic grassroots community building”.

With median housing prices around $5,000, Braddock has potential for newcomers to start afresh. The Mayor’s website describes the town as: “richly historic, large enough to matter, small enough to impact, [presenting] an unparallelled opportunity for the urban pioneer, artist, or misfit to join in building a new kind of community.” Braddock and other rust belt cities represent a new “frontier” for 21st century development, which Mayor John sees in the green revolution. He doesn’t plan on leaving the town anytime soon and will continue to fight for its revival.

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Daniel Dancer

Daniel Dancer is the creator of Art for the Sky, a living art project that aims to re-create relationships between people and their environment. His idea started after his trip to Peru in the 80’s, where he observed giant images chiseled into the desert by the Nasca people 1,500 years before. His first attempt to bring the art form home involved working with Kansas field artist Stan Herd, using crops and a tractor to create a portrait of a Native American chief. Dancer used school children to symbolize the beads of the head piece and voila- his art form was born.

The Art for the Sky project goes into schools and offices and combines a curriculum on a relevant environmental/social topic with a planned, impermanent art piece. The chosen design is outlined in an outdoor space and participants use colorful shirts to create the full image. Dancer, an environmental photographer, then uses a crane or hot air balloon to photograph the image and show the artists their masterpiece from a bird’s eye view.

Art for the Sky has become a transformative way of gaining perspective on environmental issues a la the big picture, which Dancer terms “sky-sight”. Dancer sees our personal and societal problems as hard to grasp from our normal frames of mind- but when we use art to model the problems and height as the vantage-point, he believes we can come closer to understanding and form wiser solutions. Dancer says:

Training our imaginations to awaken our sky sight, to rise above our problems and see the elusive Grand Picture and how each part fits into the whole is a vital skill that can lead us to the most creative solutions. By embodying a bear, a salmon, an eagle, or other creature, we can begin to learn to see through the eyes of all beings and through the eyes of future generations.

Dancer believes that his practice not only aids in solving environmental troubles but also fosters community building and collaboration, which are necessary in decision-making. The Art for the Sky project uses every child/employee from a school/office and each body makes up a crucial part of the image, so there is no hierarchy and no exclusion. In addition, since studies show that experiential learning is most effective, Dancer hopes the projects have a lasting impact on their creators.

When Daniel Dancer isn’t creating large, living art, he is living at an intentional community he founded in the Columbia Gorge area of Oregon. Spurred by news that a pristine area he loved was being put on the market for mega-development, he decided to purchase the 200 acres and form a 10 parcel neighborhood called Rowena Wilds. The acreage is filled with nature lovers living in earth friendly, possibly recycled-material homes. The community, like his art, is the fulfillment of his desire to eliminate the illusion of separateness between human beings and our surroundings. They are both representations of his belief (and mine) that creativity can change the world for the better.

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