The Home Page of greenmuseum.org features new content, a general introduction and links to the rest of the website.
This is the Forum, greenmuseum.org's online discussion area. It's a place to discuss art and exchange practical information and tips about the making, planning and teaching of environmental art.
"New Media Meets the Environment" is an online exhibition curated by Jonah Brucker-Cohen of MediaLab Europe.
"ecovention: current art to transform ecologies", the online exhibition catalogue on greenmuseum.org of an exhibition developed by Contemporary Arts Center of Cincinnati in collaboration with ecoartspace.
“If there is truly a new museum for the 21st Century, the Web is where it will be built. Unlike the old model, it will not be a single collecting institution, but a partnership of several cultural organizations with very different missions.”
Bernard F Reilly, Jr., Museum News (American Association of Museums), J/F 2001
greenmuseum.org, a nonprofit online museum for environmental art, advances creative efforts to improve our relationship with the natural world. The entire Earth with its myriad ecosystems and complex phenomena are the inspiration for this work. It should not be surprising that artists concerned with the environment are also dispersed around the globe. We are fortunate to live in a time of increasingly sophisticated digital networks that enable messages and information to spread rapidly across vast distances. It turns out that there are tremendous advantages to an online museum.
“Environmental art” is often used in the United States as an umbrella term to refer to an art movement which includes everything from early Land and Earth Art, to Eco-art, Restoration art, Art in Nature and contemporary works of various media addressing environmental issues. This growing and global movement has expanded and evolved considerably since its official origins in the 1960's and taken on an increasingly collaborative eco-activist agenda as well as a visually stunning and celebratory one.
Artists and environmentalists are often surprised to find an intersection between their two disciplines. Many environmental art projects push the boundaries of what people think of as art and the general public might overlook them if they saw them outdoors. Information about this art has also been hard to find. Indeed, many environmental artists have had little access to what their colleagues are doing in other parts of the world and a limited sense of the context for their own work. While some artists create more traditional art objects which address environmental issues, much environmental art can't easily be moved or shown in museums and commercial galleries. It might involve community education and outreach components, or is either too large, or site specific or ephemeral to show in a traditional art context. These artists must depend on documentary photography, written descriptions or installations, which refer to the “original” large scale or ephemeral outdoor art, for public outreach.
In the late 1990's, it became clear to a number of artists in the San Francisco Bay Area that this movement was the future of art and that artists had an important role to play in the urgent environmental issues of our time. Their research revealed that there was much more going on in the environmental art movement than could be found in the big coffee table books or even online during the height of the internet boom. A collaborative group called Meadowsweet Dairy held a number of meetings with other artists and environmentalists, arts professionals and technology experts and formed a nonprofit organization to address this problem called greenmuseum.org.
Launched on the December Solstice of 2001, greenmuseum.org has built a growing archive of information about the art and artists who make up this exciting movement. The site features curated online exhibitions, essays and interviews with the artists, resource managers and cultural figures involved with this work. There's also a Community discussion area including a Forum for educators to post course descriptions and a place for artist Work-Journal entries.
The idea from the start was not just to create another website. greenmuseum.org was designed to help support and advance the environmental art movement. Art is an effective tool for communicating complex messages and can help directly address the urgent needs of our communities and ecosystems through inspiring and effective interventions. People are using art to build community through collaborative projects that restore eroded landscapes, create habitat for endangered birds and clean up polluted watersheds. Artists also celebrate the ephemeral beauty of nature when they create sculptures from icicles, petals and leaves. This helps inspire a connection with the natural world and an appreciation for treading lightly on the earth. These efforts are important and more people need to know about them.
A website can present thousands of artworks and exhibitions without having to take them down or fret about shipping and insurance costs. Once someone is online, they can find out about projects or exhibitions near where they live and learn equally about ones that are not. People can exchange information about the making of environmental art instantly and find links to numerous useful resources and organizations. Access to all this from a central location is convenient and facilitates unprecedented opportunities for comparison and analysis.
greenmuseum.org is free to visit, open 24 hours a day and can be visited by anyone around the world with access to a computer and the internet. greenmuseum.org has visitors from over 87 different countries and provides a central source for hard to find information. We're a lot more efficient than a conventional museum, too. Just a couple people working out of a tiny office, with additional help from Board members and supporters internationally, serves close to 450 people per day. The website is based on free Open Source software and is a form of “digital commons”, where people can share information and experience to the benefit of all. It contains many images, yet has been structured so that it is easy for visitors with slow internet access to view.
The art critic, Saul Ostrow, suggested that greenmuseum.org is not, technically, a museum. It is not a big box filled with treasures, instead, it's many boxes (computer monitors) pointing visitors back out into the world to see what's been made by others and so they can be inspired to make their own art. The Earth is really the focus, not what's in the box.
greenmuseum.org was designed to spread the word about these new developments in the role of art and artists in society. It is meant to be a place for artists as well as the environmentalists, resource managers, educators and community groups who have historically collaborated on these projects. Since many other organizations, like the Landscape and Arts Network, are also concerned with these issues, we seek to support their efforts through collaborative projects and information sharing. The healthier and more diverse the artistic and institutional ecosystem is, the broader and more effective the reach of this movement.
Once people can see the art, learn about what it can do and why it's important, they are more likely to want to make more of it. Once they have a place to exchange information about how to make it and post events and opportunities in a central location, they might find it easier to make more. Addressing the world's problems will require creative and inspiring collaborations between people, places and creatures. Environmental art has an important role to play.
greenmuseum.org is a tool to facilitate the creation of new work which helps our communities and ecosystems. The internet can help bring people together to make this possible. The rest is up to you. We welcome your comments and participation.
Sam Bower, Executive Director, greenmuseum.org, was born in New Jersey and raised in Venezuela until age 11. He worked in Ecuador for 5 years as an artist creating environmental education materials, and as an activist for grassroots rural environmental work and intercultural education. Back in the U.S. by 1993 in Oakland, California, Bower spent 8 years as part of a collaborative art group called Meadowsweet Dairy where the concept for greenmuseum.org was born.
This article was originally published in Landscape & Art, Summer 2003.