Ecological City: An Ecological Arts & Climate Action Project

EARTH CELEBRATIONS

in partnership with
LUNGS (Loisaida United Neighborhood Gardens – 48 gardens),
Loisaida Center Inc. and over 20 community partners

ECOLOGICAL CITY PROJECT SUMMARY
Cultural Organizing: Ecological Art & Climate 
Action
Ecological City is ecological arts and cultural climate action project (May 2017 – May 2018), to develop and bring climate resiliency and ecological sustainability plans, policies and solutions within the gardens, neighborhood and waterfront on the Lower East Side of New York City, and their contribution connecting local efforts to city and global climate challenges.

Ecological City applies Earth Celebrations’ pioneering creative community-engagement strategies, developed  over the past 30 years through such project as Save Our Gardens (1991-2005), which applied creative strategies with a community-based cultural project to build a citywide garden preservation coalition and grassroots effort that led to the preservation of hundreds of community gardens throughout New York City.

Through the year-long project Earth Celebrations will engage stakeholders, including community gardeners, river-based groups, artists, community centers, organizations, schools, youth and residents to develop a large-scale ecological cultural project and theatrical pageant. The entire neighborhood will be invited to participate throughout the process including 6 months of ecological and creative engagement workshops and sessions.  The artistic works created by the community in collaboration with artists and guidance from environmental experts explore these neighborhood sites and their climate resiliency initiatives, including green infrastructure design to mitigate flooding, pollution run-off and consequences of climate change. Ecological sustainability solutions including solar gazebos, permeable sidewalks, water filtration bio-swales, rain/pollinator gardens, water harvesting ponds, composting/gray-water recycling, plastic-free zones/bio-degradable packaging and carbon pricing/sustainability rewards, are projects being implemented and highlighted through the ecological and cultural public pageant.

The culminating procession of visual art, mobile sculptures/puppets and spectacular costumes with 15 site performances of theater, dance, music and poetry exploring climate resiliency and ecological sustainability solutions will be enacted by the community through the streets, gardens, neighborhood and East River Park waterfront on Saturday May 12, 2018.

FALL 2017 – SPRING 2018
Click here for event timeline

EARTH CELEBRATIONS initiated and directs ECOLOGICAL CITY in partnership with LUNGS (Loisaida United Neighborhood Gardens – representing 47 Lower East Side Gardens/member of NYCCGC – New York City Garden Coalition), Loisaida Inc. Center and over 25 community partner organizations.

ADVISORY COMMITTEE/PARTNERS
The Advisory Committee and Partners includes: LUNGS (Loisaida United Neighborhood Gardens – representing 48 Lower East Side Gardens/member of NYCCGC – New York City Garden Coalition), Loisaida Inc. Center,  Green Map, Lower East Side Girls Club, GOLES (Good Old Lower East Side-Housing/Resiliency), LES Ready, Lower East Side Ecology, Solar One, Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance, , University Settlement, Henry Street Settlement/Abrons Arts Center, The Earth School, Sixth Street Community Center, Times Up, Museum of Reclaimed Urban Space, Arts Loisaida, FAB (Fourth Street Arts Block Association), Theatre for the New City, Hunter College-School of Community Organizing and New York University. Numerous groups and residents throughout the neighborhood will be invited to join.


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EARTH CELEBRATIONS – Engaging Communities to Generate Ecological and Social Change through the Arts
Earth Celebrations is a non-profit 501(c) 3 organization founded by social action artist Felicia Young in 1991 on the Lower East Side of NYC to engage communities in effecting ecological and social change through the arts. Our projects generate change on social and environmental justice issues including climate change, river restoration, water quality, waste management and the preservation of community gardens, parks and a healthy urban environment. For the past 27 years, Earth Celebrations has developed creative strategies and a methodology utilizing art, civic engagement, partnership-building and environmental action. Our community-based and collaborative art projects build broad-based coalitions and cross-sector partnerships with community service centers, environmental/garden/river-based groups, cultural organizations, academic institutions, government agencies, schools, youth and residents to work together creatively on common goals, mobilize action, develop solutions and impact change.

PROGRAM HISTORY
Earth Celebrations’ past ecological art programs include the successful 15-year Save Our Gardens project (1991-2005), which utilized the transformative power of culture and an annual large-scale collaborative art project to mobilize a citywide grassroots coalition effort that led to the preservation of hundreds of community gardens in New York City. The Hudson River Restoration Project (2009-2012) applied this creative model to engage community in climate impacts on the waterfront and restoration efforts of the Hudson River estuary. Earth Celebrations then applied its creative methodology to a global context, initiating the Vaigai River Restoration Project (2014-2015) applying an ecological cultural project and theatrical pageant to mobilize an effort in the city of Madurai, South India to restore the river, in a severe crisis due to pollution and the drying effects of climate change.

Our ecological and cultural programs include large-scale collaborative art projects, theatrical pageants, exhibitions, performances, workshops, artist residencies, coalition building/advocacy initiatives, artist/community collaborations and creative partnerships with schools, community centers, organizations, academic and cultural institutions, municipalities, neighborhood associations, parks, gardens and local residents.

We serve the low-income constituency on the Lower East Side and beyond in New York City including those of Latino, African-American, Caribbean and mixed cultural heritage that have struggled against city neglect, lack of parks, increased pollution and toxins, reduced city services, and displacement due to market-rate development, as well as location on a flood plain. While our projects are primarily based in our hometown of New York City, we were able to demonstrate with the Vaigai River Restoration Project that our methodology has broad application, applying the arts and community collaboration to generate impact and social change.

Since Earth Celebrations was founded it has produced creative collaborations and projects that engaged over 10,000 participants, 500 artists and 200 community organization partners, including gardens, schools, community centers, environmental and neighborhood organizations.

Awards and grants include the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs: Public Service Award, Lower Manhattan Cultural Council: Fund For Creative Communities Award, International Friends of Transformative Art Award, Threshold Foundation: Arts and Social Change, JM Kaplan Fund, Con Edison, Fund for the City of New York, Howard Bayne Fund and the Women’s Caucus on Art to the UN-Artistic Activism Award.

GEOGRAPHIC AREA & COMMUNITY ENGAGED
The project directly serves the neighborhood of the Lower East Side of New York City within the area from East 14th Street to Canal and from the Bowery to the East River Park waterfront. It also serves as a project contributing to the larger geographic areas of East Side Coastal Resiliency Plan of New York City and US Coastal Resiliency efforts as well as New York City’s goals in the upholding of the global Paris Climate Agreement.

COMMUNITY GARDENS: HISTORY & PRESERVATION EFFORT
The community gardens had been created by local residents clearing out rubble strewn vacant lots that developed due to city neglect in the 70’s and 80’s. Residents over the next 20 years reclaimed these vacant lots to improve their neighborhood themselves that had become dens for crime, drugs and gangs, and cultivated over 500 city-owned lots throughout the city and over 50 on the Lower East Side. Residents planted trees, flowers and vegetable gardens. The gardens soon became a critical asset  which was more than vital open green space as they had grown into hubs of community life where neighbors of diverse backgrounds got to know one another served various functions as outdoor community and cultural centers, environmental science classrooms and health wellness centers that countered the crime and drugs while cultivating a positive and life affirming culture along with vital open green space.

In 1991 as the gardens came under increasing threat by development plans, Earth Celebrations launched the Procession to Save Our Gardens and built a creative grassroots coalition effort to preserve the community gardens. The effort began locally on the Lower East Side and then citywide when in 1996 Giuliani aimed to sell off and develop over 800 gardens throughout NYC. Earth Celebrations brought together gardeners from Harlem, Upper West Side, Bronx, and Brooklyn with the Lower East Side and the NYC Garden Preservation Coalition was formed (now NYCCGC). Our united efforts and grassroots initiative that combined creativity and community-based arts with grassroots organizing led to preservation of hundreds of community gardens throughout NYC in 2002 when Mayor Bloomberg transferred nearly 200 to the Parks Department, where they remain temporarily protected.

COMMUNITY GARDENS: CLIMATE RESILIENCY & ECOLOGICAL SUSTAINABILITY
After Hurricane Sandy when the Lower East Side and low-income community was devastated by flooding, the gardens that had been preserved were now seen in a new role towards climate resiliency and ecological sustainability of this urban neighborhood to reduce impacts of flooding, storm surges, pollution-run off with increasing frequency due to consequences of climate change. The gardens provided a natural system of permeable earth to absorb flood waters and trees to filter air, transforming carbon pollution to oxygen.

 COMMUNITY GARDENS: LOCAL ACTION & GLOBAL IMPACT
The gardens are also a boon to recent initiatives for New York City, Mayor de Blasio and his Office of Sustainability in commitments to uphold the Paris Climate Agreement to reduce carbon emissions 80 percent by 2050 and keeping a global temperature increase below 1.5 degrees celsius. The gardens provide a direct visceral connection for residents and children in the city to environmental issues, sustainability, our natural world, our water, air, earth, planet’s atmosphere, larger ecosystem and the importance mitigating local impacts of climate change, connecting local efforts to global climate challenges.

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CLIMATE RESILIENCY PLANS: GARDEN RISING & EAST SIDE COASTAL RESILIENCY
ECOLOGICAL CITY aims to increase community engagement on climate resiliency initiatives including Gardens Rising, implementing green infrastructure and storm water capture systems within the 47 Lower East Side community gardens to increase permeability and mitigate effects of flooding which severely affected the neighborhood in Hurricane Sandy. The project also works in partnership with GOLES (Good Old Lower East Side) leading efforts on the East Side Coastal Resiliency project for the city. For Phase 1 they are gathering and compiling data on these various resiliency plans that will be applied towards the community’s interpretation of the data in the Creative Engagement Phase 2. Phase 3 will continue beyond the 2017-2018 pageant project with the on-going implementation of these initiatives throughout the neighborhood. Documentation of the pageant and live performance excerpts can be presented as creative testimony through the on-going city planning process.

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ECOLOGICAL SUSTAINABILITY
Environmental action sustainability initiatives and creative work will be developed exploring renewable energy, solar, local organic agriculture, permaculture, pollinator/ butterfly-bee gardens, composting/gray-water recycling, bio-degradable packaging/plastic free zones, waste reduction and carbon pricing/sustainable steward rewards initiatives. With the re-designed East River Park set to begin construction, the East Side Coastal Resiliency Project, a comprehensive flood protection plan with proposals under review, along with housing redevelopment on the Lower East Side, it is a critical time for the community to reaffirm their vibrant culture, garden network and ecological sustainability solutions which contribute to neighborhood, city and global climate challenges.

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CREATIVE COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT: ECOLOGICAL ARTS WORKSHOPS
9 months of community engagement planning/design sessions and workshops from September 2017 through May 2018 engage gardeners, river-based groups, community centers, schools, youth and residents to collaborate with artists and environmental experts to develop visual art, giant puppets, costumes, performance, dance, music and poetry/spoken word works addressing climate resiliency and ecological sustainability plans, initiatives, issues, policies and solutions.

Workshop sessions are offered free of cost, mid-February – mid-May 2018 including 45 Ecological Art Workshops led by 2 Artists-in-Residence (puppet/sculpture & costume/fiber arts). 10 Artist and Community Partner collaborative projects with 100 workshop sessions in visual art (visual art, music, dance, performance and poetry/spoken word).

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ECOLOGICAL CITY PAGEANT – SATURDAY, MAY 12, 2018 (rain date Sunday, May 13)
The artistic works, created in the workshops by residents, youth, schools and organizations in collaboration with artists and guidance from environmental experts, are featured in a culminating spectacular procession with 15 site performances exploring climate resiliency and ecological sustainability solutions through the Lower East Side neighborhood, gardens and East River Park waterfront.

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PERFORMANCES EXPLORE CLIMATE RESILIENCY & ECOLOGICAL SUSTAINABILITY SITES, PLANS, POLICIES & SOLUTIONS
Partner organizations, schools and community service centers in collaboration with artists and environmental experts create performances featured at specific gardens, neighborhood and waterfront sites exploring climate resiliency initiatives and ecological sustainability plans, policies and solutions.

EARTH CELEBRATIONS’ VISION
Earth Celebrations’ Ecological City project empowers the community to express itself through arts and culture and to work together creatively and collaboratively to impact issues affecting their lives. Its process demonstrates an alternative mode of action where creativity, collaboration and shared responsibility generate results, and through art nurtures, strengthens relationships and communicates at the deepest emotional level. The enactment of the project and its transformational process is a goal, generating social change through creative and collective action.

The Ecological City pageant through this artistic vision and creative collective action, engages people in a visceral experience of an ecologically sustainable future for the Lower East Side and its contribution connecting  local efforts to city and global climate challenges.

IN THE PRESS
Earth Celebrations cultural organizing (community-based arts, grassroots coalition efforts and environmental action projects) have been extensively covered by local and international newspapers, TV news, radio, academic journals, books and film documentaries.

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SLIDE-VIDEO: EARTH CELEBRATIONS – OVER 25 YEARS OF CULTURAL ORGANIZING PROJECT TO GENERATE ECOLOGICAL & SOCIAL CHANGE

 


Interview with Felicia Young, Founder/Executive Director of Earth Celebrations and director of the Ecological City project discusses 30 years of cultural organizing projects to generate ecological and social change.

Read full interview here