habitat for artists


Engagements with the World: American Elsewheres

Spill, StainIt's been a really tough week. The Torture Report drawn up by the Senate Intelligence Committee has knocked us about. What does it mean to be an American? The massive storm out on the West Coast has been a drop in the bucket to set aright the drought that's been killing the area.

It seems more people of color are getting killed everyday by the state and its agents, though really it's rather that we now know there's a problem there, and we're savvy to it.

I won't belabor the issue, but I won't turn away from it either. The very best take on the Senate Intelligence Committee's report is this one by Spencer Ackerman writing in the Guardian. It's heart breaking stuff. Also, we've been detaining (and probably torturing) innocent people according to the New York Times.

Justice does not run parallel to the law, but you'd think the law would touch upon justice from time to time.

An oil spill off the Sundarbans in Bangladesh is promising to devastate the wildlife, and the entire habitat there, the world's largest mangrove, and a UNESCO heritage site. It's a smaller spill that the BP Gulf spill, but it's got the goods to do disproportionately more devastating damage.  By the way, did you know that oil spills in Nigeria dwarf the Gulf Oil spill?

Finally, here's a juicy piece about how artists are dealing with and, in many cases, leading the frontier push in developing new technologies. I'll have some thoughts on the piece soon.

Yes, it's been a tough couple weeks here in America, but I hope the next few weeks ahead people own up to the proper, vital spirit of Christmas: radical modesty, attention to communities and other lives, and, yes, sacrifice and resilience.


Engagements with The World: Truthiness, Advantage and Community


Happy Sunday, everyone! This is the second weekly installment of the news and cultural bits that we at Habitat for Artists are looking into to make sense of our world. From now on, though, this post will try to track a broader view on the world that's maybe slightly less beholden to only recent moves on things important to us.

The midterm elections are a month past us, and the 114th Republican Congress' run in Washington DC is a month ahead, and the coming Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell has appointed climate change denier Senator James Inhofe, from Oklahoma, to be Chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. Now climate change---in a more positive turn, climate challenge--and the politics and community that develops around how we push back on that challenge is a fundamental concern of HFA. Now, the immediate looks a bit choppy as Senator Inhofe, whose views on environmental concerns are at least questionable, will help lead or stall any developments in American moves to stem the catastrophe that is climate change. Inhofe's rise is in some ways part and parcel of the climate challenge we need to set about getting right.  If we managed to meet Sen. Inhofe's views head on, we'll so meet the concern with big money, political polarization, and how various views fit together to construct a working political coalition favorable to sustainable environment advocacy. While we're working on that, we need to deal with truth, falsity, and the utterly despicable way in which that whole conversation now turns on Truthiness and Bullshit. Deal with that slowly today with the granddaddy of that conversation, Mark Twain, and read at your leisure his brilliant essay "On the Decay of the Art of Lying". It'd be wonderful if Senator Inhofe, instead on trying to put the kibosh on whatever incrementalist agenda President Obama's EPA sets about,  at least had the good sense to lie in style. This way, maybe he might just lie "with a good object...to lie for other's advantage.":

"Lying is universal--we all do it; we all must do it. Therefore, the wise thing is for us diligently to train ourselves to lie thoughtfully, judiciously; to lie with a good object, and not an evil one; to lie for others' advantage, and not our own; to lie healingly, charitably, humanely, not cruelly, hurtfully, maliciously; to lie gracefully and graciously, not awkwardly and clumsily; to lie firmly, frankly, squarely, with head erect, not haltingly, tortuously, with pusillanimous mien, as being ashamed of our high calling. Then shall we be rid of the rank and pestilent truth that is rotting the land; then shall we be great and good and beautiful, and worthy dwellers in a world where even benign Nature habitually lies, except when she promises execrable weather. "

On Climate Challenge, check out the exchange between Naomi Klein and Elizabeth Kolbert  in the New York Review of Books. It's ostensibly Klein's  short response to Kolbert's review on her new book This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate. But it's more than just that; it's an compact account of the different solution strategies that are available to combat climate change, and the ways they may or may not play out. Things are up in the air, and it matters who does what, when.

Consider, then the following short op-ed in Project Syndicate from a few years ago. It nicely suggests that innovation in business and out in the world is premised on uncertainty, fluid dynamism and an invitation to criticism and collaboration, all views that we members of Habitat for Artists hold:

In local Hudson Valley news, the lovely, fantastic brilliant pharmacy Molloys in Hyde Park, New York closed this past Friday only to open back up as CVS on Monday. Molloy's stocked great products at great prices, and the staff was as professional and as helpful as could be. You walked in and you thought this was a pharmacy where the people cared about health and well-being, yours and the community's. It featured a selection of products in the service of long-term care; it stocked a full-on section for geriatric practices. And if you were considering a range of options, say, for your ailing mother, then the staff would point you out right to just the thing that you, and she, needed.

It was a pharmacy with a crafts section, as well as straight up good home goods.  Now, as it transitions to just another CVS one hopes the national chain has held onto the same brilliant staff, though I doubt it. Chances are that the corporate move up the ladder will also involve downgrading the pharmacy staff's involvement with the local community.

Finally, if you think there's a hierarchical committee of privilege and idiosyncrasy that's destroying the things you care about, and you just can't ahead, just remember:

"A scientific study by Maggie Simpson, Edna Krabappel, and Kim Jong Fun has been accepted by two journals."

You can make the changes you need to make, you can address whatever crowd, whatever concern you want, because, yes, a cartoon toddler's research got accepted intoa journal.


Engagements with the News: On Art and Politics as a Response to These Times

184029546.0.0.0Here on out this site will feature a weekly round up of news pieces, and cultural flotsam you need to know so's to keep hold, however tenuously, your grip on the present moment.

First up, Times critic A.O. Scott's new Cross Cuts column from this past Thursday, Thanksgiving. It dares to ask: "Is our Art Equal to the Challenges of our Times?"

Scott asks the kind of question that Habitat for Artists embodies--questions of materiality, commerce, distributions and exchange. But I can't do justice to those questions save quoting Scott at length:

"But if art, ideally, floats free of the grim reality of work, need and sustenance, that reality is nonetheless its raw material and its context. Intentionally or not, artists in every form and style draw on and refashion the facts of life that surround them, and the resulting work takes its place among those facts. What I’m grandly and abstractly calling “works of art” are more concretely and prosaically books, songs, movies, plays, television series, environmental installations, paintings, operas and anything else that falls into the bin of consumer goods marked “Culture.” These goods are bought and sold, whether as physical objects, ephemeral real-time experiences or digital artifacts. Their making requires labor, capital and a market for distribution. The money might come from foundations, Kickstarter campaigns or retail sales or advertising revenue. The commerce between artist and public is brokered by the traditional culture industry (publishing houses, television networks, record labels and movie studios) and also by disruptive upstarts like Amazon, Netflix, Google and iTunes. But the whole system, from top to bottom, from the Metropolitan Opera House to the busker in the subway station below it, is inescapably part of the capitalist economy.

And that economy, in turn, provides an endless stream of subject matter. Much as I respect the efforts of economists and social scientists to explain the world and the intermittent efforts of politicians to change it, I trust artists and writers more. Not necessarily to be righteous or infallible, or even consistent or coherent; not to instruct or advocate, but rather, through the integrity and discipline they bring to making something new, to tell the truth."

At its best HFA asks these questions, the right questions, and the work it helps foster, materially, and through engagement, is the first pass at some answers.  Do please read the article, and check out the accompanying debate, posted here.

Second, here's the most radical look at what lax oil drilling has done to the North Dakotan landscape. It's part of the larger story of how corruptible local politics and Big Oil, cozily in bed, are likely to destroy the vast fields and local farms that have  made up the Dakotas.

Finally, the U.S and China have reached an accord to limit carbon emissions. This accord needs to go through the Republican dominated Congress. But will it change the pace of climate change? Here's  a piece in The Diplomat that deals with that question. Related to that, here's a piece from Vox that nicely explains the politics and consequences of falling oil prices.

The politics of fossil fuels runs through every aspect of our lives; it dwells with us in all the ways we inhabit the world.

Image: Karen Bleir/AFP/Getty Images




Bumbles Bounce: Odin Cathcart on Resilience

Screen Shot 2014-11-18 at 9.20.52 AM (1)Rudolph: "But you went off the side of the cliff."

Yukon Cornelius: "Didn't I ever tell you about Bumbles? Bumbles bounce."

—   Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer


This week in Portland, Oregon the temperatures have been hitting lows of 29 degrees and highs of only 35, when the normal average temperature here is 40 to 50 degrees in range. Last Thursday (13th) our schools closed due to freezing rain and snow. Spring now comes earlier by a week or two and weather shifts on a moments notice well outside modeled predictions. Climate change is creating a new normal and that normal is constant change. This new flow will force us to be more inventive, more creative than ever before in human history.

That creativity will be borne out of an emerging concept called resilience. As the environmental movement grew out of Rachel Carson’s manifesto  Silent Spring, the concepts of preservation and sustainability became the clarion call to motivate, inspire and even scare people into reversing the human affects on the environment. For the first time we began to see that we could have a direct and lasting impact on nature and that the planet was a holistic system.

“We stand now where two roads diverge. But unlike the roads in Robert Frost's familiar poem, they are not equally fair. The road we have long been traveling is deceptively easy, a smooth superhighway on which we progress with great speed, but at its end lies disaster. The other fork of the road — the one less traveled by — offers our last, our only chance to reach a destination that assures the preservation of the earth.”

Despite our best efforts for the past five decades, we have not reversed our impact on this planet. And although we have managed to preserve pockets of precious landscape and protect some endangered species, the overall result of our insatiable hunger for energy has resulted in astounding devastation. I will not quote the numbers we have all read regarding that devastation now, but they are staggering. Our ability to sustain the resources we have and preserve our natural landscape has largely failed. It is no longer enough to think in terms of sustaining, or preserving that landscape; we’re well past that.

Still, there are models emerging that we can use to build a hopeful future. They are reactive and passive, long-term and short, slow and fast. The term for this new and yet very, very old way of thinking is resilience. Resilience according to the futurist Andrew Zolli consists of four key components; building, sensing, responding, and learning. These four components of resilience form a living, changing dynamic that mimics the living dynamic of our Earth. The first, building, focuses on regenerative capacity, a slow, long-term planning model based on architecting flexibility into our societal structure. Sensing involves a keen sensitivity to emerging risks. The proverbial shout that the British are coming. Next up is the common idea that resilience tracks the reaction and response to disruption. Finally, comes learning in order to transform current practices into more resilient ones.

Resilience has greater meaning in today’s world not just because we are living under the threat of global warming but because older models of environmentalism have fallen short. Unfortunately, the impact we have already had on our environment, even if we shut everything off tomorrow, will have a lasting effect on us for decades. Year after year we set new records with global average temperatures, super storms and unusual weather patterns. It is simply too late to preserve what we once had and even in many ways to sustain what we have now. Our ability to combine the slow practices of building and learning combined with heightened sensitivity to change, and rapid response will allow us to adapt to the way the landscape has changed and will continue to change.

Many of the principles of resilience live within the unwritten construct of Habitat for Artists. Small structures are built with recycled materials and placed in communities to create interactive spaces for exchange and learning. The tiny studios are later taken down only to be recycled in a new way someplace else. The sheds have evolved into a variety of forms ranging from performance spaces to hops dryers, and all the while we learn from their presence and the artists who occupy them. Their flexibility and relative lack of rules make them an ideal model for how we can understand the principles of resilience and begin to apply them in our own lives, day by  day. It is precisely this sort of creativity that offers the greatest promise for a brighter future because it embraces the fast and slow, and lives in the present. Resilience teaches us to thrive in an ever-changing world, not just to survive.


Erik Odin Cathcart is a member of Habitat for Artists. He is an artist, writer, and a thinker committed to green construction and development, and green resilience.


Habitat and Community: Climate, Buildings & Behavior at the Garrison Institute

This is the continuation of the series of "guest" posts by a member of Habitat for Artists. As such, it's not really a guest post at all, and Odin knows that better than anyone.


In a former Capuchin monastery, turned contemplative locus for change, I listened to three days of ideas aimed at changing the human behavior that has led us to our present state of affairs—global climate change. After listening to and speaking with a wide range of leaders in the world of sustainability, an underlying theme emerged: community. Whether a futurist research scientist studying systems, a social scientist studying design models or a school principal igniting change by growing vegetables in the South Bronx, the persistent solution to diminishing the impact of climate change was seated in forming or reforming meaningful communities.

PopTech’s Andrew Zolli opened the conference with a discussion on resilience, the latest buzz word in the world of sustainability. Loosely translated, resilience is a purposeful attempt to create human systems that have much greater flexibility so they can respond more effectively to the problems that we, ourselves, have created. Zolli included a discussion on the artist Christian Nold who created Bio Mapping. Nold’s art monitors real time "emotional" states of communities as they interact with their surroundings and provides a visual map of those responses. It was no accident Zolli emphasized the intersection of art, technology, and science. As a futurist, he understands the role that art plays in civilization. As an artist myself, I thought of the work of Hans Haacke, Mel Chin, Agnes Denes, and Richard Long, to name just a few pioneers. These artists, and many more, have explored the intersection of humanity and environment and their work inevitably led to shifts in our collective thinking about how we interact and caretake our planet.

Artists are often the first to consider ideas for change based on their place in their community. In 1969 Richard Long made A Line Made by Walking to reconnect us to our impact on the planet. Today we have Walk Score®. In 1982 Agnes Denes created Wheatfield - A Confrontation in a brownfield at the southern end of Manhattan. Today we talk about creating urban greenspace. In 1972 Hans Haacke made Rhinewater Purification Plant to highlight declining ecosystems and the pollution of the Rhine river. Today the Living Building Challenge pushes development toward net positive energy and water for self-contained building systems that contribute to local ecosystems, rather than destroy them. The common theme in this art work is a focus on place. How is humanity impacting its surroundings? Are we building with an eye to advancement and technology, or are we also invested in lasting, durable, healthy and sustainable entities that have a deep investment in the communities they inhabit?

I believe the future of resilient, sustainable development is rooted in the collaboration between culture, food and community. Ongoing projects like Habitat for Artists that provide a place for artists to connect with both their local communities and visa versa, as well as other makers—farmers, carpenters, chefs, educators, and even technologists—provide a foundation where sustainability becomes a natural outcome rather than a planned enterprise. By asking “How much, how little?” Habitat for Artists sets a template for not only how we live but how we create. The increasingly collaborative interactions like the current one at Obercreek Farm are proving to be a model for more resilient, sustainable communities.

The beauty in resilient design is that it takes into account all the functions of a healthy society including dwellings, transportation, natural resources, energy, education, and culture in order to create systems that will last without adding to the current debilitation. Ultimately, these designs putting culture at their center, are the most economically viable as well, something repeatedly proven in the green building industry. Sustainable buildings not only use less energy and resources, they provide a healthier more comfortable environment to the people that occupy them, in turn making them more productive citizens. By productive, I mean thoughtful. People who understand that providing agency and beauty to the entire community, means mutual, sustainable prosperity. Habitat for Artists uses a similar lens for buildings by looking a footprint, reusability and modularity. The symposium at the Garrison Institute on Climate, Buildings and Behavior and Habitat for Artists will hopefully serve as the templates for future generations to create the integrative, beautiful, and lasting communities we and the planet should be creating.

Erik Odin Cathcart is a member of Habitat for Artists. He is an artist, writer, and a thinker committed to green construction and development, and green resilience.



HFA at Greene Art Gallery, Guilford, Connecticut

HFA is doing a longish run studio residency at the Greene Art Gallery in Guilford, Connecticut. We'll be there from June 21 to September 7th, 2014. Here's some of what's in store, with thanks to Greene Art Gallery:

"The Greene Art Gallery welcomes Simon Draper's Habitat for Artists (HFA) for a four month installation in our sculpture garden of an artist studio/garden shed where many activities are planned for your enjoyment and engagement....

painting • sculpture • growing • poetry

storytelling • tea garden • herbs

photography • cooking • brewing

music • ecology"

Here are some pics from our installation. They involve HFA collaborative captain Simon Draper, along with Phil Steinberg of Green Up Group. Come join the fun!


Phil Steinberg of Green Up Group (installed vertical gardens
and roof garden on studio/shed) and Simon Draper of HFA unload the truck and begin to build.


The vertical and roof gardens, filled with herbs, are put in place.


Simon installs the window, door and wall panels.


Ready for artists, creatives and you!

For more on this announcement and work, check out this link. And pass it onto friends!

Pictures and captions: courtesy of Greene Art Gallery.