As major organizations prepare to stage a historic climate rally on September 21, people with a creative background may be seeking ways to help get the word out. Jessie Reilly’s participatory project Our Climate Projected is one way you can join in. Chelsea Watson recently spoke to Jessie Reilly about the potential of new forms of communication and participation on the issue of climate change:
Normally not a fan of flying, Jessie Reilly ignores in-flight safety videos. She finds it difficult to listen to flight attendants dryly tell you what will happen if your plane happens to fall from the sky and crash. It’s not pleasant to think about, and not very entertaining. However, on a recent flight Reilly was surprised to see a safety video presented in the style of a Broadway musical. She found that, despite the cheesy ridiculousness, she was not only engaged, but also more calm and at ease.
Reilly similarly uses theater and art as a platform for education. After participating in protests and other traditional forms of activism in college, she wanted to find another way to get a message across. “I recognized shouting at people on the street rarely works,” and wanted to find a way that actually engages people.”
That’s when Reilly joined the Bread and Puppet Theater company, where she traveled the world learning to use art and visuals to articulate complicated ideas. The puppet shows were a way to engage people on potentially tough issues, such as the Iraq War. Today, she’s applying her innovative approach to the difficult subject of climate change.
On September 21st, thousands of people will take to the streets of New York City for the People’s Climate March, centered around this fall’s United Nations Climate Summit. Local and national organizations are calling for a day of mass mobilization to show support for serious action on climate change.
The march is expected to be the biggest environmental protest in history, involving many environmental, social, and racial justice groups. In addition to the march, some individuals have created other innovative ways to get involved and speak up about climate change. New Yorkers Jessie Reilly and Nathan Storey have created “Our Climate Projected,” a project in which people from all over the world are invited to submit a short artistic response or reflection on climate change. The submissions will be compiled into what they describe as a “collaborative tapestry of mediums and voices” to be projected in public spaces of NYC leading up to the day of action on September 21st. I had the opportunity to speak with Jessie and hear why she thinks her project will be a powerful, engaging complement to the march.
“Our Climate Projected” is a compilation of artistic reflections on climate change and will serve as an act of public education. It is designed to allow people on both sides of the dialogue – the talkers and the listeners – to engage in the climate change conversation in a new, innovative way. Jessie believes expressing climate change reality through art and audiovisuals will allow people to absorb information in a way they otherwise could not:
Climate change is difficult for people to talk about because it’s terrifying. I think art creates a certain amount of distance that allows people to engage with something artistically and reflect in a manner that allows you to appreciate it. If it’s something artistic, it may hit you on an emotional level that is harder to ignore.
She may be on to something. Despite the fact that 97% of climate scientists agree that climate change is occurring and is human caused, only one in ten (12%) of Americans are aware of the exact extent of the scientific consensus. This tremendous gap between climate science and Americans’ beliefs reveals a flaw in communication. Even those who are aware of the science of climate change often neglect to do anything about it. This inaction was referred to as “stealth denial” in a report by the RSA, and is often explained by an individual’s emotional reaction to climate change, such as feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or resentment. In many ways, climate change is an emotional issue. Ro Randall, British psychotherapist and co-founder of Carbon Conversation goes on to suggest that people must then be reached on this deeper level in order for real change to occur.
Randall says, “Behaviour is a surface phenomenon. Beneath it lie more complex motivations and meanings and the turmoil of emotion…more imaginative and personal responses are required in working with people to achieve change in their individual and family lives .”
Art is one way to encourage the imaginative and personal responses Randall says are necessary. Perhaps in finding new forms of communication through projects like “Our Climate Projected,” Jessie and others will be able better express the severe reality of climate change today .
Jessie hopes that a project where one can simply email, share on dropbox, or mail her a DVD/CD of their submission will allow engagement on an international level. While it is not economically or environmentally sound for many people around the globe to travel to NYC for the People’s Climate March, she hopes “Our Climate Projected” will serve as an opportunity for many more to have a voice, even if they won’t be marching. Jessie has reached out to communities where she has worked previously as a puppeteer, including schools in India and Guatemala, and looks forward to seeing what they create.
Jessie says, “My hope is to get as many voices as possible in order to encourage participation in the September 21st march, or even just to get people to think more about climate change.”
If you would like to send a submission to Jessie and Nathan they request it arrive by August 25th in order to ensure inclusion. Submissions can be any medium: theater, music, dance, visual art, spoken word, etc. Ultimately, all submissions will be presented in a projected video format, so short videos, audio recordings, pdfs, jpgs, slides, or other easily convertible formats work best.
Submissions of 10 second-10 minutes can be emailed to
Or mailed to:
Our Climate Projected
70 Lefferts PlaceBrooklyn, NY 11238.