In a park known for its spectacular and diverse wildlife, the art and voices of AIRIE artists reveal other unique, and often missed, dimensions of this special place. – Dan Kimball, former Superintendent of Everglades National Park
Scientists and artists have at least one thing in common. They know the Everglades is more than a special place and more than a beautiful place. As the primary source of potable water for some 6 million people living in South Florida, the Everglades is indispensable for human survival. Ponder that fact.
Through their work, many eco-artists demonstrate that Greater Everglades, which includes the national park, must be restored and protected. These artists also know that people protect what they care about. As such, artists want people to care about the Everglades so they will actively participate in reversing the mismanagement of water in this vital ecosystem.
The challenge is getting people to become regular visitors to the park, to experience firsthand its awesome and fragile beauty.
In 2000, when Congress authorized the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, Dade County native and artist Donna Marxer realized that artists themselves needed to be part of the restoration effort and serve as ambassadors. She created Artists in Residence in Everglades (AIRIE) that lets artists live and work in the park for one month. In return, artists participate in community outreach that encourages South Floridians to see the park for themselves.
Currently, AIRIE is “rewilding” South Florida, Miami in particular, with “Wild Billboards” and by inviting residents and tourists to participate in Wild Culture Sundays in the Park. Supported by the Knight Arts Challenge, the program invites the public to learn about the Everglades by watching performances and viewing installations by AIRIE fellows.
The first program kicks off at 3:00 on Jan. 31 at Long Pine Key with Miami-based musician Jose Elias and multi-disciplinary artist Christina Pettersson.
Elias will perform music from Everglades Songbook Suite. “My goal is to compose a musical soundscape that showcases the many aspects of the diverse ecosystem that is the Everglades,” he said. “By creating music that incorporates field recordings of wildlife and nature, I will be able to tell a story of resiliency and survival. I’m using the universal language of music to highlight a new chapter of the Everglades that focuses on its restoration and a healthy future.
“These performances will not only entertain but educate audiences about certain aspects and historical moments that led to the creation of the park. Our presentations will share stories of the wildlife and landscape that have been affected by agriculture and real estate development that encroach upon the watershed.”
Pettersson will showcase The Furies of the Swamp at 4:00, a performance highlighting the dark history of Florida’s plume hunters. Women will act as the plumed birds taking revenge on the hunters. It promises to be an unforgettable experience.
AIRIE Executive Director Deborah Mitchell, who is an artist, takes a no-nonsense approach to the importance of the Sundays in the Park program.
“As the director of an artist residency in a National Park faced with critical environmental issues, I want artists who are thinking of applying to AIRIE and guests attending the event to think more deeply about why we should all care about the fundamental concept of water quality and water quantity in Florida. With Sundays in the Park, AIRIE shares music and performance art which connect and inspire us to restore, conserve and protect this wilderness.”
The purpose of Wild Culture Sundays in the Park, Mitchell said, is to help visitors become aware of the essence of the Everglades, a World Heritage Site that is endangered as a result of human conduct.
Park Superintendent Pedro Ramos welcomes and supports AIRIE’s outreach, especially during the centennial year of the National Park Service.
“As we embark on our efforts to become more relevant to all people,” he said, “the arts are an important venue for many Americans and international visitors to identify themselves with the amazing natural wonder that is Everglades National Park. For generations, both the arts and the parks have been telling the story of our country. It makes a lot of sense to bring them together in order to help make the storytelling much more powerful and relevant to people, perhaps enriching their lives.”
Bill Maxwell is a volunteer writer for the centennial celebration of the National Park Service.