At this stage of climate crisis, we're trying it all: massive school walkouts (inspiring!), throwing food on famous artworks (controversial!), consumer tax incentives (you gotta be good at math!). Nothing has made enough of a dent to save us from imminent disaster.
Portland art collective Making Earth Cool, is asking a simple question: Has anyone tried having fun? They’re hoping to get some answers (and have a good time) during their two-month long residency at Parallax Art Center, which kicks off with a public celebration tonight for First Thursday.
If anyone is qualified to run such an experiment, it’s the folks behind Making Earth Cool. The team includes Sarah Baker, founder of Boogie Buffet Productions and host of wildly popular themed dance nights and costume parties all over town; artist Shawn Creeden, whose work with Portland Tropical Gardens back in 2018 aimed to relieve our city’s winter blues and encourage visitors to listen to plant life; and filmmaker Nora Colie, managing director of the annual POW Film Fest. Other collaborators bring skill sets in commercial art direction, marketing, and social work, making for a group of experts at facilitating good vibes and community.
What exactly is Making Earth Cool? Creeden describes the project as "building and activating community in service of the earth," while Baker says that it "uses the language of love and creativity to talk about the climate crisis."
Since the idea first began percolating, in 2019, the group has made wacky videos encouraging everyday environmentalism; a series dubbed "Earth News," a sort of community bulletin board hosted by mascot "Earthy;" and even a mock funeral for our ailing planet.
The striking throughline to everything the group produces is big, colorful—almost childish—visuals. "It looks great, and it's hilarious. And there's like, a handcrafted-ness to it—it's like Pee Wee's Playhouse," Creeden said of the team’s collaborative style,
This lighthearted mood is part of the strategy: "[Climate change is] a terrifying subject, but when you bring art and fun into the reflection instead of only doom and gloom, fewer people look away and more people want to engage," Colie explained. "We believe that by reminding ourselves and others how fucking beautiful this blue dot we live on is, people will be less terrified and more willing to face this oncoming battle with their eyes wide open."
"I think that the idea of modeling [a better world] or showing people that another way can exist is crucial," Creeden added. "Because it's hard to come out the other side of that sort of sadness and paralysis, like, what can I possibly do? It's overwhelming." As with their previous projects, Creeden emphasized the importance of connecting with nature on a more intimate scale. "Like, how is this flower coming into being? And then how can I kind of recreate that with recycled paper?"
Youthfulness is a deliberate tonal choice as well, in acknowledgment of the disproportionate impact young activists have had on the discourse around climate action. "It's like, oh yeah, I thought that after the Exxon Valdez thing that we would have got some change," Creeden said. "[Or with] the ongoing hazardous crisis in Palestine, Ohio... Surely, some adult in the room will do something."
Creeden sees most the most valuable role for adults right now as one of encouragement and support for youth-lead movements. "It's like: Yes, do this. There's so much in the world that's trying to distract you, or prevent you from doing this. You got it! How do you make it fun? How do you make it sustainable?"
A week before the residency's First Thursday opening event, Parallax Art Center was buzzing with creative activity. People of varying ages sat at a crafting table covered in colorful recycled materials, next to a giant display of charming construction paper ferns, mushrooms, and seagrass. They followed step-by-step instructions to make their own native flora. Paintings by Portland artist Ralph Pugay lined the wall, ready for installation.
Behind a well-stocked snack area, a secluded room was being filled with soft furniture and aqua-blue decorations. Creeden described the overall vision as a series of distinct environments based around the different biomes of the Pacific Northwest.
Looking ahead, there's a mural in the works, to be designed by members of Portland Youth Climate Strike, along with plans for a "parade of invertebrates" marching down the hallway, a "resource reef" with zines and books on activism and nature, and an "activation station" where visitors can link up with direct action groups including Families for Climate and 350PDX.
Making Earth Cool members emphasized that the residency is a collaborative artistic process in action, as opposed to the kind of polished art exhibition you might expect to see in a gallery in the Pearl. "This residency is a work in progress," Colie said, “It will grow with the help from our volunteers and visitors. It's a communal build." Creeden predicted that the First Thursday event would be "like a fun and rowdy open studio."
"There is room for everyone in this project," Baker added, "and it is so fun to see folks find their place in it, and to learn about what they care about and what they can do!"
Making Earth Cool's residency runs through June 6 at the Parallax Art Center, 516 NW 14th, with an opening Thurs April 6 from 5-9pm. For info about future residency events, follow Making Earth Cool on social media.