Read the full post at Grist.
The Anacostia neighborhood of Washington, D.C., reacted less than embracingly last month to the idea of an artist submerging a “mock gas station” into its eponymous river as an artistic statement about climate change.
Mia Feuer’s “Antediluvian” proposal was supposed to clue drivers traveling the bridge over the Anacostia River that the gas in their tanks was abetting climate destabilization. The D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities ordained Feuer’s concept as a crown feature of its upcoming 5×5 Festival.
But the mostly African-American, working-class Anacostia community, which has been fighting for the government’s attention to clean the river for decades, felt that the project sent the wrong message. The project was ultimately nixed when the D.C. Department of the Environment said that it would interfere with efforts underway to mitigate river pollution. Rejecting the site was appropriate — as Feuer has accepted herself — given that D.C. has been less than embracing of Anacostia for basically all of its history.
As disappointing as this decision is for those who donated thousands of dollars to see this climate change critical Elenchus happen, Feuer, an accomplished artist well before this, may pull “Antediluvian” off at another time in another city.
Still, the controversy that arose from the project’s mere announcement illustrates what happens when the various activist tributaries of climate change, public art, environmentalism, and environmental justice converge. Each feeder carries its own baggage and that means it’s fated to get messy at the confluence — that is unless social equity is considered up front.
Let’s unpack some of this baggage, as it helps explain the Anacostia River art fiasco and why it played out the way it did.