October 16, 2009

An Architect's Conference Goes For The Green

The painting above, "Inscape," was one of my feature works at the Southeastern Architect’s Regional conference held in Greenville (how apt a name for today’s post, yes?) South Carolina earlier this month. The painting is of a root wrapped around a rock. Through the space we can see an open vista of clean air and green pastures. A second painting of the same art work hangs in my mother-in-law’s room in the Bishop Gadsden nursing home in Charleston. She tells me that it makes her feel peaceful and gives her hope. In her imagination, she flies through the porthole to rest in the sunny grass over the other side.
Despite the uncertainty of our economy, there were elements of hope at the architect’s conference in Greenville. I found to my surprise that there were a number of displays about using green materials in construction and efforts to cut down on waste. The company in the booth next to mine, Green Roof Outfitters, was particularly interesting. They made interlocking squares of drought resistant vegetation set in specially prepared soil. The plants looked like something between sage and succulent and were exquisitely beautiful. These units of plants fit onto rooftops and not only provide oxygen for the environment but cut down the utility bills by about 50%. If we didn’t have a severely pitched roof on our own house I would get them and put edible plants on the lower level accessible trays.
There were many other examples of architects and their suppliers going green. A number of them were using recycled materials in their building products. Reading through the abstracts of the papers that the conference attendees were listening to, I could see that there were new requirements already in place for architectural designers to incorporate renewable resources in their plans. The new buzz word I learned here was LEED, an acronym for Leadership, Environmental Energy Design. Under this program, an architect must obtain a certain number of LEED points in order to maintain his/her license. (If I understand this correctly).
Not to digress too much here, but readers may wonder why, in the first place, a visual artist would be setting up a display at a conference for architects. That in itself is an interesting story.
Due to the economic downturn, there were not enough buyers of booth spaces to fill the conference so the empty spaces were sold off to artists at about 75% off the regular price. A small band of visual artists and art galleries jumped at the opportunity. None of us knew what to expect from this. It was the first time that artists were showing alongside engineering firms, brick making and tile companies, etc. Despite the uncertainty of this venture, however, we felt that we had to brave the unknown. Art, after all, is considered a luxury in even the best of times, so the current downturn has meant difficult times for us. We were there at an architect’s conference bravely pursuing even the hint of a possibility to have our art survive.
After about two days into the conference and sensing the drift (I’m a little slow on the draw here) towards a green economy, I started emphasizing how green was my art. As luck would have it, a number of the pieces I had brought with me indeed used recycled materials. The large paintings used recycled matt board from the framing industry. My mosaics used discarded construction materials. I’m not certain that I actually convinced the three or four architects who stopped by my booth (it was a very slow conference) of the necessity of hiring artists who use recycled materials. But I did realize that it was something that I could indeed continue to develop and do my small part to decrease waste. Dumpster diving here I come!

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