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Corvallis arts center exhibits optimism in climate science

Photo courtesy of Dominique Bachelet | Brian Egan hangs artwork in the “What Will Nature Do?” exhibit at The Arts Center in Corvallis. The exhibit opened Sept. 30 and features optimistic works about nature’s resilience.

One of Dominique Bachelet’s watercolor paintings depicts a crow flying away from a fire — not leaving the blaze with fewer feathers, but simply creating safe space between itself and a natural part of ecosystem regeneration.

For Bachelet, her work connects to many of the themes behind a new exhibition at The Arts Center in Corvallis, focused on nature’s ability to adapt and withstand despite the human-caused effects of climate change.

Bachelet leads the exhibition “What Will Nature Do?” as an Oregon State University climate scientist and participating artist.

The exhibition opened Thursday and remains available for viewing until Nov. 13 at The Arts Center’s main gallery at 700 SW Madison Ave., Corvallis.

A virtual “Art for Lunch” talk is scheduled at noon Oct. 21. A special panel is slated to discuss the exhibition theme Oct. 28 at 7 p.m. by virtual conference.

“Science can give us the information to redress the problems, and the arts have the power to stimulate hope,” said Wendy Silk, exhibition participant and arts-scientist with the University of California-Davis department of land, air and water resources.

In her art practice, Bachelet typically creates watercolor images of birds and bird faces, honoring the intelligence and curiosity of a migratory species.

Bachelet, OSU microbiologist Jerri Bartholomew and The Arts Center curator Hester Coucke selected artwork for the “What Will Nature Do?” exhibit submitted during an open call to artists for “optimistic works about nature’s resilience.”

“This base of scientific optimism was meant to inspire artists to communicate climate change through artwork in ways that further inspire people to turn feelings of despair into positive action,” Coucke said in a press release.

In 2007, Bachelet left simulation modeling and research to focus more heavily on communication — disseminating the plethora of information that already exists about climate change.

Originally hailing from France, Bachelet said disproportionate responses to climate change between continents led her to question the best methods to communicate the urgency of a worsening trend.

“Every community in the U.S. should be getting ready to deal with finding food, water, lodging, some energy — to not only the people who are here, but also the migrants, the climate refugees that will no doubt come in areas like the Pacific Northwest, which has a very mild climate,” she said.

Still, perpetual negativity surrounding inevitable change drains young people of hope and evokes a dangerous “paralysis,” instead of energized action and healthy acceptance of reality, she said.

Bachelet facilitated an effective meeting of climate science and the arts during a 2007 Portland conference sponsored by the Nature Conservancy. The conference brought together climate scientists and conservationists from around the U.S., an oral narrative by storyteller Peter Donaldson about salmon issues in the Pacific Northwest, and a tasting demonstration with Southern Oregon University’s Greg Jones to illustrate the effects of climate change on wine by year, which prompted early climate-adaptive innovation in the viticulture industry, she said.

Bachelet arranged a juried art show at the conference, featuring work by professional artists and children, inspired by their thoughts about and understanding of climate change. Postcards of the artwork were distributed to every conference participant and the children's classrooms.

“Several years later, I met colleagues who did not remember who was really giving talks at the conference, but they remembered very well the artist, the comedian, the wine tasting and the art show, including the young kids who had put their art there,” Bachelet said.

One winning piece of artwork by a child showed people atop Earth, waving their hands at a flying saucer in the sky next to a little green individual and a big question mark.

The child artist explained: Humans would have to rely on extraterrestrials to solve the climate change ... because no one here knows the answer — a major “wake up call” for scientists at the conference, Bachelet said.

After 30 years researching, proposing paths forward and pressing for policy, the child’s drawing underscored a critical need for the scientific community to broadly and effectively communicate the weight and value of their climate science findings, Bachelet said.

“Art talks to emotion,” she said. “We need to give [young people] not the doom and gloom stories about, ‘it’s the end and the planet is going to hell in a handbasket.’ You can still do something about it. We can change our ways. We know what to do.”

Actionable change balances acceptance and preparation, she said. Art selected for the exhibition reflects what is possible when positive changes occur, and a future younger generations can accept and inhabit.

“The young children today don’t cry that there are no more typewriters because they have never known them,” she said. “There may not be a forest there a couple centuries from now, but there might still be conditions where our species can survive and where our grandchildren can have decent lifestyles.”

Artwork in the exhibition depicts evolution of the past, the most resilient organisms, teeming life in decomposing soil, philosophies of renewal, stream monitoring data and the various shapes and connections of life on earth.

Exhibition participants include Corvallis-based artists Bachelet, Bartholomew, Coucke, Jessica Billey, Sabra Comins, Brian Egan, Suzanne Getz, Chinh Le, Mary McDermott, Danuta Myzinska, Lauren Ohlgren, Sue Noel, Peggy Sharrow and Koa Tom; Bets Cole (Elmira), Sally Finch (Beaverton), Tyler Green (Portland), Nancy Helmsworth (Hillsboro), Kate McGee (Philomath), Jas Sage (Bend), Judith Sander (Philomath), Michael Tank (Aumsville), Michael Whitenack (Eugene), Wendy Silk (Davis, Calif.) and Aimee Manion (Pittsburgh, Penn.).