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How does art inspire sustainability?

On the reverse side of today’s earlier post, we visit a post by Roger Valdez of Sightline Institute on how public art can inspire sustainability and conservation awareness:

One thing regional leaders can do if they want to support long-term sustainability, along with investing in creating green jobs, is buying art. And I mean lots of art, really big art. Just how big are the art projects I am thinking about? Big enough to cover the Columbia River!

And this isn’t about wrapping the river in pink satin, either. I’m talking about the Confluence Project, an ongoing project on the Columbia River designed to “encourage action to create a future that preserves and protects the area’s natural and cultural resources.”

If you’re not one to believe art can make a difference, this project will make you think again.

"Bird Blind" by Maya Lin on Sandy River
"Bird Blind" by Maya Lin on Sandy River, Oregon

At seven points along the Columbia River world renown artist Maya Lin (best known for designing the Viet Nam Veterans Memorial in Washington DC) has created interactive installations to call attention to how the river has changed since the time when Lewis and Clark first walked on is banks. All of them are an easy weekend visit for millions of Northwesterners.

The goal of the project is to draw people back into the environment and make them care about what is happening to the river and the people who depend on it.

A good example is the Bird Blind, one of the first installations that Lin completed at the mouth of the Sandy River. The Bird Blind started out as a small nature walk but has generated lots of interest in the preservation of the area’s natural beauty.

Read on for more ideas and experiences with public art shaping public opinion on conservation.



Beth Kelley is an applied & digital anthropologist with an overall interest in how people engage with and are impacted by their environments and vice versa. This has manifested itself in many ways, by looking at creativity, playful spaces, built environments, and environmental enrichment, sustainability, design research, and integrative and collaborative models of learning such as through play and hands-on learning.