Section: Arts

The Art of Trees scholar talk introduces Elizabeth Morr

Elizabeth Corr, the first director of Arts Partnerships at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), presented at the Art of Trees scholar talk at Gund Gallery Community Theater.  NRDC not only partners with artists, but also with museums, art fairs, cities and municipalities. Through their various alliances, the NRDC tackles various topics ranging from monarch butterflies and pollination to defending the Migratory Bird Act.

The NRDC is a 50-year-old international nonprofit currently maintaining 3 million members, with celebrities such as Robert Redford on their board of trustees. Since President Trump’s election, NRDC has filed over 100 lawsuits against the administration, 40 percent of which have been decided— and all of which were ruled in their favor.

While the NRDC is primarily focused on the legality and logistics of environmental advocacy, Morr’s program allows for the nonprofit to cover more ground by appealing to the arts contingent. 

“What we want is to create an experience that is informed by science, but that manifests into contemporary art,” Elizabeth Morr said.

The NRDC collaborates with many notable artists, one of which is Jenny Kendler. The NRDC has worked with Kendler for the past four years, and one of her projects during that time consisted of milkweed-seed-filled balloons. Created in response to Monsanto, an American agrochemical company that produces a glyphosate-containing weed-killer deadly to milkweed, a main source of food for monarch butterflies, NRDC commissioned Kendler to make an exhibition to spread the word about this seemingly minor but pressing issue. Thus, Kendler produced biodegradable balloons filled with milkweed and distributed them at a food festival.   

One prerogative of the NRDC’s art department is to engage with the communities that would be affected by their initiatives. Morr referenced a project where she accompanied NRDC scientists to a plantation containing black dust, which is worse for the environment than oil or gas. Once they arrived at the Chicago suburb, instead of immediately enforcing their own methods, the NRDC asked residents how they could best help.

In her Q&A and throughout her presentation, Morr made a continuous effort to emphasize the importance of artists engaging with their community, as well as highlighting society’s lack of appreciation for the works that they create.

“Art and artists are people we continually undervalue in society; we don’t pay them well, we don’t offer them opportunities to make a living doing their work, they often hold one, two, three jobs just to try to make ends meet,” she said sorrowfully. “Imagine a world where an artist can just be an artist, and get paid to do what they do.”

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