COLUMBIA, MO: Climate change affects us all differently, and the ways communities need to respond—working to prevent its worst effects, and also preparing for them—differ widely. Take a bike ride or walk on the MKT rail trail that winds nearly ten miles through Columbia, and at the underpass by Elm Street, you’ll see a massive mural artfully displaying the city’s particular areas of concern, complemented by depictions and descriptions of what residents can do to address them in their own lives, wrapped in the eye-catching words of philosopher and futurist (and one-time Missouri resident) Marshall McLuhan: THERE ARE NO PASSENGERS ON SPACESHIP EARTH, WE ARE ALL CREW.
The mural is one of six nationwide art installations in 2018 funded by a grant from the Union of Concerned Scientists, as part of its Art for Science Rising initiative, which awards $10,000 each to artists creating public-facing work that highlights the important role science plays in protecting our health and safety. Project leader and grant recipient Madeleine LeMieux is co-founder of Resident Arts in Columbia, a nonprofit art collective that offers training, studio space, and other opportunities for artists in the city.
“The first thing I hope people get from it is that it's visually attractive, that it's beautiful,” LeMieux says of the mural. “And that they’ll absorb the poeticism of the quote. Then they’ll start seeing the activities we’ve painted: installing solar panels, biking to work, planting in a community garden. I hope it engages people to start thinking: how do I take responsibility for what I'm doing to my environment?”
From its conception to execution, the mural has been a collaborative project. LeMieux solicited input from Columbia’s Office of Sustainability, who helped inform the mural’s focus on transportation, sustainability, agriculture, and water supply—each areas of concern for the city in its Climate Action and Adaptation Plan. She then held a community meeting to solicit design ideas and feedback for the mural. And when it was time to paint, she threw a party and invited the entire city, including the young artists who participate in her Resident Arts programs.
“I got a taste of community art early in my career and never looked back,” she says of her collaborative process. “Having a lot of people involved in these art projects, and the feelings that come from that, that makes art worthwhile to me. Most people have a relationship with art where they think it’s something magic that they can't do, if they're not already talented or inclined to do it. Community art-making gives access to people, to that art-making process. And they feel great about it.”
LeMieux says that collaborative art, like community-painted murals, helps people feel a sense of ownership over what they’ve helped create together. Hundreds of people use the MKT trail every day; many will view and appreciate the mural over time. Ideally, she says, the pride in accomplishment will translate to a pride in the messages of conservation and sustainability they’ve painted.
“The words, the illustrations, they invoke the idea that the planet is not this limitless resource. It is literally our lifeboat,” LeMieux says. “We’ll all be stewards of the imagery, and the message.”
Madeleine LeMieux is a multi-media artist, arts admin, and community organizer from Chicago, IL, currently residing in Columbia, MO. Her personal work is often conceptually driven, using print, paint, photography, and assemblage to express raw and intimate experiences. She believes the collaborative act of artmaking is one of the most powerful tools of resistance in today's narcissistic/solipsistic culture.