Arts and Activism

By Ty Johnson

With constant advertisements, entertainment, and smartphones to keep us all “plugged-in,” it’s little wonder non-profits like Amigos Bravos in Taos, NM are hard-pressed to find ways to get people involved in the environment.

That’s why founders of Amigos Bravos, Brian Shields and Swanie Morris, have decided to “branch out” and add an arts program to their environmental non-profit organization. Through their “Arts and Activism” approach, they hope to bring new interest and attention to environmental issues and redefine the way people identify with environmental non-profits.

The Beautiful Midden Project is one such program in Taos. The collaborative project combines the efforts of several area non-profits, including Amigos Bravos, to create a public dialogue about illegal trash dumping and its effects on the environment. “Midden” is an archaeological term that refers to old dump-sites filled with artifacts from day-to-day life. The Beautiful Midden Project represents this challenge: what are we leaving for future generations to see?

The Beautiful Midden Project attempts to use images like this to start the dialogue about environmental degradation. SOURCE: The Beautiful Midden Project

The Beautiful Midden Project attempts to use images like this, taken outside Taos, NM, to start the dialogue about environmental degradation. SOURCE: The Beautiful Midden Project

Currently, trash dumping — everything from plastic bottles to refrigerators — is a major problem along New Mexico’s rivers and mesas. By combing arts and activism, the Beautiful Midden project is “designed to unite the community in creatively addressing the systemic social issues that underlie causes of environmental degradation.” In 2012, their “Can Phone Project” kicked off the collaboration, with the installation of a string phone that stretched across a trash-filled area of the Rio Grande Gorge.

Two boys listen to the music that comes from the wind playing on the string that stretched across a trash-filled gorge during the "Can Phone Project"

Two boys listen to the music that comes from the wind playing on the string that stretched across a trash-filled gorge during the “Can Phone Project”

An exhibition of photographs, videos, and re-conceptualized artifacts was displayed at the 2012 International Symposium of Electronic Arts in Albuquerque. More photos from the exhibit can be seen on the Amigos Bravos Arts and Activism page.

Currently, The Beautiful Midden Project is looking for creative interns (artists with an environmental passion) for 2014 to help continue with their work. By integrating media arts with the environment, people are able to stay “plugged-in” while they see the impact of their daily lives and help instigate change.

To see the Beautiful Midden Documentary Trailer, click below.

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