Birdwhispers: the role of art in enabling communities to imagine the sustainable future of their environment, particularly the Barmah Forest
Author(s)MacAulay, Kerry Ann
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AbstractThe intention of this project is to examine the role art might play in enabling communities to imagine sustainable futures for their environment, using the Barmah Forest as the basis of the research. The Barmah Forest, situated in Victoria on the Murray River north of Melbourne, is part of the world’s largest River Red Gum forest. The Forest environment is in decline following prolonged periods of drought, the regulation of the river for over 80 years, cattle grazing, commercial logging and the introduction of feral plants and animals. The Murray-Darling Basin Authority is responsible for regulating the water flow in the Murray River, which has a direct impact on the Forest. The Forest has a large community of stakeholders passionate in their desire for its sustainable future. In 2010 the Forest was declared a National Park. This has changed the rules governing its use and management and has created some community dissention and controversy. Environmental philosophers advocate a new relationship between human beings and the environment based on the idea of humans as part of the ecology of the planet rather than its masters. This philosophy is in line with the understanding of Indigenous people and their relationship to country. The Gaia Theory also proposes that the Earth is a self-sustaining, integrated, living system. Since the birth of environmental art in the 1960s, artists have played a role in highlighting the environment and its sustainability and in using their art to bring environmental issues to public attention. Artists have been strong advocates for the possibility of making a difference in environmental awareness and human consciousness and for the transformation of life and society through art. The community-based dialogical art project, the Birdwhispers Project, was created as part of this research in the Barmah Forest community. In collaboration with the locally-initiated Superb Parrot Project Group, community members were invited to paint the milk cartons that are used to protect the thousands of trees planted each year by the group as foraging habitat outside the Barmah Forest for the endangered Superb Parrot. Using theories of dialogical aesthetics, the possibilities of conversations and dialogue were put into practice throughout the project as tools to open up new ways of listening to others in the community and of imagining new futures for the environment. By involving the community in a non-threatening, convivial art project, it was possible to see how art can transform a community’s awareness of, and aspirations for, the sustainability of its environment.
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