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A Climate Change Arts Festival Takes Over LA

As COP21 continues in Paris, artists in Los Angeles weigh in with wit, whimsy, and some serious business.

by Shana Nys Dambrot
Dec 8 2015, 8:30pm

Yael Pardess. Images courtesy the artists

When it comes to winning the future, LA is the best of cities and the worst of cities. Known as a car capital, it’s also at the forefront of electric vehicle innovation. It’s a desert city with a famously precarious water-source backup plan and a persistent drought problem, but it’s also got one of the highest concentrations of science and tech giants all hard at work on solutions. It passed its own renewable energy initiative, a municipal model for the nation. And at the moment it’s also a visual art capital of the world—like science, a profession dedicated to invention. And now, in an inspired partnership with sister city Paris, France, LA is about to change the world again, by using the arts to refocus the world’s attention on the most pressing issue of our time: climate change.

From Monday, November 30 to Friday, December 11, the United Nations 21st Conference of the Parties on Climate Change (COP21) convenes in Paris—and so does the VisionLA ‘15 Climate Action Arts Festival in Southern California. A county-wide, climate-focused arts festival, the Los Angeles iteration is concurrent with the Paris-based ArtCOP21, and part of a global family of some 22 nations sponsoring at least 180 public art installations, exhibitions, concerts, performances, talks, conferences, readings, workshops, and film screenings. So, what do artists and performers have to contribute to a conversation with so much at stake and so far to go? Maybe some magical, unconventional, optimistic thinking is just what the situation requires.

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Robert Rosenblum

Events and happenings are programmed in eclectic spaces, galleries, city streets, public parks, storefronts, and theatres, from Pomona to Santa Monica, Downtown to Culver City, Hollywood to Coldwater Canyon, and of course, the LA River. One can't-miss highlight is the ambitious group exhibition Art Makes Change, presenting the work of some 60 visual artists at the former digs of the Santa Monica Museum. Paintings, sculptures, photographs, and site-specific installations were co-curated by Dale Youngman and Lilli Muller, with major works focusing on several aspects surrounding the environmental crises, “while also reminding us,” note the organizers, “of the beauty of the planet we need to protect.”

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Osceola Refetoff

There’s also film festival-within-a-festival screening 20 topical documentary shorts and features, and a host of events from the new age to the edge of activism, like a big community chalk-drawing, student art-making workshops, theatrical and mixed performance productions like CompassioN, investigating the historical and contemporary understanding of compassion through the lens of climate change; Dominique Moody's Nomad residence and assemblage art workshop; the legendary LA Mudpeople performing an improvisational “walkabout” at the LA River; and something called the Earth Harp Collective.

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Still from The Breach

“I feel that each of us needs to come to the challenging work of climate action through the communities and activities we love the most, and for me, that’s the Los Angeles arts scene,” says VisionLA founder and co-executive producer Cheryl Slean. “The Festival invites Angelenos to engage in the issue through the joyful, inclusive, open door of art. Around the world, projects like VisionLA ‘15 and ArtCOP21 in Paris are creating the cultural narratives that will inspire us toward a thriving future for all.” The promise of art is that even small populations of concerned citizens can change the world. Never doubt it, as the saying goes, indeed it’s the only thing that ever has.

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Aline Mare

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LA Mudpeople

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Nicole Fournier

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Karen Fiorito

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The author and art by Colette Miller

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Still from 100 Mules Walking the LA Aqueduct

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Catherine Ruane

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William Hogan

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Still from Standing on Sacred Ground

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Art Makes Change

VisionLA ’15 is co-executive produced by Cheryl Slean and Guy Zimmerman in association with So Cal Climate Action 350, the Los Angeles branch of environmentalist Bill McKibben’s 350.org climate activist organization, and Arts Earth Partnership.

Check out more of our COP21 coverage in the links below: 

JR and Darren Aronofsky Project a Silent Climate Protest

600 Fake Ads Flood Paris to Protest Climate Talks

90 Tons of Glacial Ice Melt in Front of the Paris Climate Talks