Art & Activism
Beautiful Midden Project
Artists hold the potential to bring creative energy to issues and redefine public space in ways that may stymie the scientist and the environmentalist and change the matter of fact. They are able to expose pertinent questions and bring light to issues by putting a new perspective on those issues without implying judgement or shame, thus safely bringing together wide and diverse interest and attention.
Scott Moore, Artistic Director of the Beautiful Midden project
For detailed information on this project, please visit the Beautiful Midden Project website at www.beautifulmidden.org
Amigos Bravos began partnering with the Beautiful Midden Project in 2012 with the aim to enlist art and education to inspire not only the people who are already eager to find constructive channels for acting on behalf of local wild and semi-wild places, but also populations that are alienated, disempowered or simply unaware of the damaging affects of degradation. The project provides a deep synergistic link between education, the arts and ecosystem restoration, an approach that we believe holds enormous potential for change.
The illegal dumping of trash and firing of lead based ammunitions into arroyos, across the mesas, along the rivers and in riparian zones has been a major problem throughout Taos County, New Mexico for many years. One site of intensely concentrated dumping is located at the end of County Road 110 south of Taos, in the area where the Rio Pueblo de Taos meets the Rio Grande. Many of the dumped materials are physical hazards potentially leading to entrapment of wildlife in addition to being toxic pollutants. Trash and its correlated toxins end up in the Rio Pueblo de Taos, then in the Rio Grande, and then downstream in reservoirs and irrigation systems, inevitably affecting the health of public water and food sources.
The word “midden” is an archeological term that refers to a refuse heap. Beautiful Midden is by nature transformative. It is a collaborative arts and education initiative designed to unite the community in creatively addressing the systemic social issues that underlie causes of environmental degradation.
As a featured project of ISEA2012, an international art conference that focused on the subject of “machine wilderness” (http://socialmedia.hpc.unm.edu/isea2012/), the Beautiful Midden kickoff was the installation of a can phone that stretched across the expanse of a trash filled arroyo, positioned as an artistic gesture of intent to begin a conversation with the community. The string of the can phone created an aeolian harp, using the natural force of the wind to create an etherial music that has indeed inspired many poignant conversations between individuals of all ages and walks of life. An exhibition of photographs, video and displays of re-contextualized “artifacts” found at the site were displayed at a gallery of the University of New Mexico and drew the attention of ISEA conference participants, UNM art students and members of the general public. As a healing gesture, a day-long vigil was hosted at the site and invited the people of Taos to bring what they do as offerings to the place. Songs, paintings, prayers, dances, and simple contemplative acts saw the sunset on that day.
Presentations of the project have been done at the Amigos Bravos conference “Spend it like Water” at the South Broadway Cultural Center in Albuquerque , Pecha Kucha night at the Penasco theater, and at the ISEA Housing Symposium at UNM Taos.
A documentary has since been produced (watch it at http://vimeo.com/53624955) to provide a window into the project and a free public showing took place on November 10, 2012 in the auditorium of the Harwood, followed by a provocative panel discussion with educators, community organizers, County commissioners, environmentalists, artists, and local residents of diverse backgrounds.
The pictures below and to the right illustrate the trash problem at the site, the string can phone and the ISEA artwork made from materials found in the canyon.
Water Matters Lecture Series, curated by Sawnie Morris
In New Mexico, water is scarce and climate change is further exacerbating an already difficult situation. On an almost daily basis, critical decisions about the future of water – including who will have access to how much of it and how clean (or not) it will be – are being made; yet many, if not most of us take our access to clean, free-flowing water for granted. The “Water Matters” Lecture Series was established to educate Amigos Bravos members and the public about water and water-related issues and to raise awareness about the role water plays in our lives, not just on a survival level, but aesthetically, spiritually, and recreationally. The recently concluded two year Lecture Series included lecturers with a range of exciting perspectives, including the “Rivers Run Through Us" team of women artists who enacted a theatrical poetry piece about the Santa Fe watershed; anthropologist, Dr. Sylvia Rodriguez, speaking on “Science & Acequia Activism”; storyteller Cisco Guevara, who entertained with tales of “Love & Loss on the River”; Dr. Melissa Savage who spoke on river otters in New Mexico; E.J. Levy (winner of the 2012 Flannery O’Connor Award) who read from a coming-of-age memoir on her time in the rainforest; geologist Paul Bauer, who provided a slide show on “Rocks and Rapids down the Northern Rio Grande”; artist Scott Moore of the “Beautiful Midden” project, who provided a video, as well as found and recycled art objects in relation to his art & restoration project on the Rio Pueblo de Taos, to offer only a few examples. Although we are unable to provide audio materials from the actual lectures, we are grateful to Mary-Charlotte Domandi for her interest in this project and our invited lecturers and for interviewing the majority of them on her radio talk show. Many thanks, also, to Carla Garcia and the Santa Fe Community Foundation, as well as to the Randall Davies Audubon Center for providing venues for the lectures.
Listen to the fabulous Mary-Charlotte Domandi interview Amigos Bravos "Water Matters" Lecture Series speakers, on her KSFR Santa Fe Radio Cafe show.
Click on the blue underlined names to hear available interviews.
Miguel Santistevan (unavailable for interview) - "The Challenge of New Mexico's Water Future: Agriculture, Food Security, & Climate Change." The importance of water in sanitation, energy, and food production will be come increasingly apparent as supplies become unpredictable and scarce. New Mexicans have a longstanding relationship with drought and have developed methods of resiliency. Santistevan will offer time-honored, as well as innovative possiblities for a sustainable future. A passionate speaker and a PhD candidate in Biology, Santistevan is recognized by many as representing the "future of the acequias" in northern New Mexico. July, 2014
Representative Brian Egolf - "The Gila River: Divert It or Keep it Wild? How Will New Mexico Mitigate Impacts from Climate Change & Drought? How Much Water Can New Mexico Expect to Receive From the San Juan/ Chama Diversion in the Future, Given Flow Predictions for the Colorado River Basin?" Brian Egolf represents Santa Fe in the New Mexico House of Representatives, where he is Chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee and a member of the Water and Natural Resources and Judiciary Committees. June, 2014
Keven Fedarko - Fedarko is author of The Emerald Mile: The Epic Story of the Fastest Ride in History Through the Heart of the Grand Canyon. His presentation of the most ferocious flood in the modern history of the canyon – a surge that threatened to take out the Glen Canyon Dam while serving as a hydraulic catapult for the trio of intrepid oarsmen in a tiny wooden dory – opens a window into the remarkable and hidden world at the bottom of perhaps the most iconic and beloved landscape feature in North America. The Emerald Mile won a National Book Award, was top pick of Southwest Books of the Year, and was listed one of the Ten Best Adventure Books of 2013 by Outside magazine. May, 2015
Martha Quintana - Reverend Martha Quintana is a native New Mexican who grew up in Taos in the oral tradition of her mother and six generations of mothers before her. Oral tradition spurred Quintana to reach for a spirtual philosophy that could emcompass her femininity and make sense of her longing to make the world a better place. She worked in labor relations for 25 years as a trade unionist, activist, and federal government investigator and was an early and long-term member of the board of directors of Amigos Bravos. In 2009, she became founding minister of the Rio Grande Center for Spiritual Living in Albuquerque. Quintana traced her journey in her talk, "Spirituality, Social Justice, and Water." April, 2014
Lee Lee - Visual artist, Lee Lee, spoke about her work on “Plastic Ocean: An Interactive Installation." Plastic Ocean is is being created as a response to the problems presented by single-use plastic. The work reflects the literal problem of plastic in the ocean while offering a symbolic representation of the chemical body burdens carried by wildlife and humans, alike. Lee Lee's presentation covered the ecological and health issues surrounding single use plastics, drawing connections from the ocean through inland waterways to our high desert ecologies to demonstrate how New Mexico communities are tied to the issue. Lee's presentation was preceded by a reading given by poet, Sawnie Morris, of "Elegy for a Baby Albatross," forthcoming in the journal Lana Turner, October, 2014. March 17, 2014
Nadine Padilla (unavailable for interview) - Padilla spoke about the impacts of uranium mining on water resources in the Grants Mineral Belt, in the western part of New Mexico. She discussed past mining issues and community resistance to new mining projects. Padilla is Diné and Pueblo from Bluewater Lake, NM. She works on health and environmental issues with SAGE (Sacred Alliances for Grassroots Equality) and MASE (Multicultural Alliance for a Safe Envrionment) to stop new uranium development in order to protect sacred sites, water, and the health of communiites. Padilla holds undergraduate degrees in Political Science and Sociology from Fort Lewis College and a graduate degree in Communications from Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington. February, 2014
Marilyn O'Leary - O'Leary is interim director of the Utton Transboundary Resources Center and a water attorney in the public and private sectors for twenty years. Her lecture was titled, "Whiskey's for Drinking & Water's for Fighting? Think again!" Conventional wisdom claims that water is the new oil and that communities and countries are destined to fight one another over the right to it; however, alternative approaches exist for addressing water shortage and the hardship it causes. O'Leary provided a few excellent examples of upstream/downstream collaborations, including one close to home on the Rio Jemez, as well as principles informed by international water law for effective collaborations. January 17, 2014
Marian Naranjo, Emily Blue Corn Harrington, and Beata Tsosie Peña (unavailable for interview) - These three women activists spoke about "Indigienous Perspectives on Water" through poetry and other offerings that involved audience participation. All three women are from Santa Clara Pueblo. Blue Corn Harrington is also Ojibwa from the Great Lakes region. Santa Clara Pueblo is located next to Los Alamos National Laboratory, a known polluter, for over half a century, of waters sacred to the Pueblo People. Each of these women is a dedicated environmental and social justice activist and they are leaders in the communty-based non-profit, Honor Our Pueblo Existence (H.O.P.E.). Naranjo is a mother of four and grandmother of seven, as well as a traditional potter and Supervisor/Mentor for C.C.W.'s Youth Council Initiative, which is co-sponsored by Amigos Bravos. December, 2013
Michael Coca - Solar architectural designer, acequia activist, and president of Amigos Bravos, Coca discussed “Solar Dew Ponds & Greenhouses: A Proposal For Grassroots Resilience In Response To Climate Change." Climate change is likely to disproportionately impact low income people and traditional acequia users who are dependent on natural (non-municipal) sources for water. Coca discussed the design and managment of solar dew ponds and greenhouses that draw water from a well, acequia, or stream and have the ability to sustain availability of water and greenhouse products year round. November 19, 2013
Craig Allen - Craig Allen is a research ecologist with the U.S. Geological Survey and the Station Leader of the Jemez Mountains Field Station based at Bandelier National Monument. He is a core principal investigator of the USGS Western MountaIn Initiative and was elected, in 2010, "Fellow" of the American Association for the Advancement of Science "for outstanding leadership in the synthesis of global forest responses to climate change, built from worldwide collaboration and a deep understanding of the environmental history of the southwestern United States." Allen's lecture was titled: “Fires, Floods, & Climate Change in Relation to New Mexico’s Forests." October 14, 2014
Scott Moore - Scott Moore aired a documentary film, provided a hands-on found-art show, and discussed the "Beautiful Midden" art and environmental project along the Rio Pueblo de Taos. The Beautiful Midden project, sponsored by Amigos Bravos and led by Scott Moore, is addressing the ubiquitous and persistent problem of trash along rivers and riparian areas - a major contributor to environmental degradation and water quality empairment – by undertaking an art-based environmental restoration at the end of County Road C-110, on the Rio Pueblo de Taos, a major tributary to the Rio Grande in the northern part of the state. This project is meant to serve as a model for future Beautiful Midden and spin-off projects throughout New Mexico. September 12, 2013
Melissa Savage - Ecologist and geographer, Melissa Savage spoke about "Water Dogs: Otters in New Mexico and Around the World." Savage is an in-the-field geographer, as well as emerita professor from the Department of Geology at UCLA, and adjunct professor at University of New Mexico. She was part of the collaborative effort, along with Amigos Bravos, that restored river otters to the Upper Rio Grande from 2008-2010. More recently, she has worked with researchers on conserving otters internationally. She directs the Four Corners Insititute in Santa Fe, a non-profit that assists communities in restoration of natural environments. August 19, 2013
William Brown - Retired earth scientist with the U.S. Geological Survey, and currently a consultant on global warming, climate change, and energy science, technology, policy and economics, Brown was also winner of the 2012 Paul Bartlett Peace Prize. His lecture, “Climate Change and the Water and Energy Future of New Mexico," focused on how a modern clean energy economy,with its substantial water-saving features, is within our immediate grasp and is economically superior to the use of the antiquated water-wasting technologies currently in place. He provided realistic recommendations for policies and practices to create a clean energy economy. July 15, 2013
Senator Peter Wirth - Senator Wirth's lecture was titled, "Drought, Climate Change, and the New Mexico Economy – Learning to Thrive with Less." Senator Wirth is Chair of the Senate Conservation Committee, among other legistlative roles. He has stated that "No issue is more imiportant to New Mexico's future than water. The severe drought, a pending lawsuit in the US Supreme court filed by Texas against New Mexico, projections of zero water delivery from the Rio Grande to farmers south of Elephant Butte, climate change, endangered species...The list of challenges goes on and on...One thing is certain, as Chair of the Senate Conservation Committee, I plan to elevate the water discussion and proactively work with my colleagues to look for solutions." Senator Wirth has been the recipient of the Jack Taylor "Best in Government" award from Common Cause New Mexico and is recognized by Conservation Voters New Mexico as a "Green Champion." June 18, 2013
Bobbe Besold, Valerie Martínez, Dominique Mazaud - Visual artist, Bobbe Besold, poet Valerie Martínez, and eco-artist/ceremonialist Dominique Mazaud presented "Rivers Run Through Us: Three Women Artists Walk the Santa Fe River," which included a video presentation of the team's walk the entire length (54 miles) of the river in 2012 and focused on the role of art and artists in protecting the Santa Fe watershed. The Rivers Run Through Us team organizes and enacts an ongoing community engagement project that uses art to change minds, hearts, and actions. The team combined poetry, visual art, and performance and shared their strategies for creating social cohesion and action on behalf of the river and water. May 14, 2013
Ellen Wohl - Professor of Geology at Warner College of Natural Resources at Colorado State University, Wohl spoke on "Beavers: Architects & Engineers – Our Last Best Hope for Healthy Headwater Streams in the Face of Climate Change." Her research focuses on river form and process; much of her current work examines how historical changes in mountain rivers of the western US have simplified and homogenized those rivers, resulting in a loss of biodiversity and ecosystem health. In addition to numerous technical papers, Wohl has written the non-technical books, Virtual Rivers (2001), Disconnected Rivers (2004), Of Rock and Rivers (2009), Island of Grass (2009), A World of Rivers (2011), and Wide Rivers Crossed (forthcoming). March 19, 2013
Cisco Guevara - Named one of the Top Ten River Guides in New Mexico and an internationally known storyteller, Guevara shared stories of his experiences rafting the rivers of the north, in "Love and Loss on the River." Guevara has been running rivers since he was a teenager in Los Alamos. He is instantly recognizable by his black hat, which is shaped like the basalt rocks of the Rio Grande Gorge, and is appealed to for his vast knowledge of local lore. Storyteller Joe Hayes has said: "Cisco is a man who has lived a full, engaged and adventurous life, and he tells about it in a sincere, straightforward – and very entertaining – style. Guevara is also a member of the Board of Directors of Amigos Bravos. February 18, 2013
Sylvia Rodriguez - Rodriguez is a native Taoseña, professor emerita of anthropology, and former director of the Ortiz Center for Intercultural Studies at the University of New Mexico. Prize-winning publications include, The Matachines Dance: Ritual Symbolism and Interethnic Relations in the Upper Rio Grande Valley and Acequia: Water Sharing, Sanctity, and Place. Her lecture was titled "Science and Acequia Activism" and addressed contemporary acequia activism and collaborative research, including community-based participatory action and multidisciplinary scientific investigations that aim to integrate hydrological, biological, economic, and sociocultural perspectives. January 8, 2013
Nicola Ulibarri – Ulibarri is a native New Mexican, member of the Amigios Bravos Board of Directors, and a Phd Candidate at Stanford. Her lecture addressed the "Global Water Crisis," including issues of water shortages, lack of clean drinking water, disputes over shared waterways, and declinging water habitat – and how we might move forward to address those issues in a sustainable manner. December 17, 2012
E.J. Levy - Winner of the 2012 Flannery O'Connor Award and hailed as one of the best new non-fiction writers in the country, Levy read from her newly released Amazons, a memoir that offers an intimate look at urgent global issues, including the too-often abstract question of rainforest loss. Accounts of the region have most often been by and about men, but Amazons: A Love Story, offers a fresh approach, interweaving a personal feminist narrative with an urgent ecological one. (Levy's essays have also appeared in The New York Times, Orion, and Best Amercian Essays, and received a Pushcart Prize.) November 13, 2012
John Nichols – Long-time writer and author of the Milagro Beanfield War, John Nichols filled the room with a reading from his hilarious and insightful unpublished novella, The Annual Big Arsenic Fishing Contest, a look at a bizarre friendship between three grown men who act like little boys, and the Rio Grande that they love. Although Nichols was not interviewed for the Amigos Bravos Lecture Series, he and Jack Loefler – who started off the Lecture Series in June of 2012 with a talk and slide show titled, "Thinking Like a Watershed" – were recorded together, along with authors William DeBuys and Patty Limerick. We share that recording, here, on Nichols' link.
Paul Bauer – Principal geologist and associate director at the New Mexico Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources at New Mexico Tech, Bauer is also a river rafter and author of the award-winning book The Rio Grande: A River Guide to the Geology and Landscapes of Northern New Mexico. The title of his lecture was: "Down the Northern Rio Grande: A Geological Perspective of Rocks and Rapids," which included a geo-photo-journey along the northern Rio Grande, with an emphasis on river hydrology and thoughts on the birth and adolescence of the might river, where it gets its water, and its remarkable system of springs. August 20, 2012
José Rivera - Doctor Rivera is a research scholar at the University of New Mexico Center for Regional Planning and professor of planning at the School of Architecture. He is author of Acequia Culture: Water, Land, and Community in the Southwest, which was published in Spanish by the University of Valencia, Spain, in 2009 (La Cultura de la Acequia). His most recent book is La Sociedad - Guardians of Hispanic Culture Along the Rio Grande. Rivera's lecture title was: "The History and Importance of Acequias in New Mexico." He was introduced by the President of Amigos Bravos, Michael Coca, who was also the founding President of the New Mexico Acequia Associtation. July 11, 2012
Poets Read & Write for the Rio!
Poetry has the capacity to wake us up to the realization that we are, each of us, a watershed. We are made up of watersheds within watersheds within watersheds. What happens to the earth and to our rivers and waterways, for better or worse, happens to and within each of us. Our watersheds, upon which we are dependent for life, cry out for human engagement that honors, restores, and protects their bounty - an approach we believe is most effective when applied with humility, flair, and a sense of humor.
In 2013, Amigos Bravos sponsored Poets Read for the Rio!, performed to a packed and cheering house at Lenny Foster's Living Light Gallery, in Taos. Poets Read for the Rio! was inspired by the 2012 and 2013 Amigos Bravos Write for the Rio! conducted by poet, Sawnie Morris. Thirteen Taos County poets were invited to read and perform their original works celebrating water, including Elliot Romancito of Taos Pueblo (an aspiring student of environmental science and hydrology at the University of New Mexico); Rivala Garcia of the Taos High School Spoken Word Poetry Team; Veronica Golos, whose collection of poems Vocabulary of Silence won the 2011 New Mexico Book Award and whose previous collection A Bell Buried Deep won the Nicholas Roerich Poetry Prize and was nominated for a Pushcart Prize; Robin Powlesland Shavwer, a University of New Mexico educator, author of the poetry collection Double Shot Straight and recent finalist for the Omnidawn Chapbook Contest; Judith Thompson, recently published in Taos Journal of International Poetry & Art; Jennifer Acampora, whose poems have appeared in Venus Envy and Howl; Linda Malm whose poems have appeared in Howl, Sugar Mule: Women Writing Nature; and the anthology Adobe Walls; Linda Fair, (past president of Amigos Bravos) whose poems have appeared in Horsefly, Howl, and Taos Journal of International Poetry & Art; Joan Ryan, whose poems appear in The Atlantic Review, Nimrod, Off the Coast, and Concha River Review; Gaia Mika, volunteer for the Amigos Bravos "Water Matters" Lecture Series; and Los Angeles and Taos poets, Francesca Grano and Jean Stevens.
Each of these exceptional poets wrote a selection of poems, inspired by water, to share with the community that is New Mexico. They did so as a way to honor their own relationships to water and to invite the listener to do so, as well. As Elliot Romancito expressed so beautifully in an email about this event: "I am well aware of the importance of water and the sacredness of it; I want to share my point of view, for people to hear that story."
Poet, Rivala Garciea Poet, Elliot Romancito