A visit to the Earthfire Institute is for many a once in a lifetime experience. I have had the honor and pleasure to make a second visit as part of the Michelle Lund CalArts/Earthfire Institute Residency. Students from the California Institute of the Arts, Susan, Jean and all the animals of Earthfire are brought together for two weeks to tell the stories of Earthfire in a powerful and creative way. This year we have Saba, a musician studying contemporary experimental sound practices; Megan, a visual artist who works with drawing, sounds and text to tell stories and Jamora, an artist who works both behind a camera’s lens and behind the blank page to produce powerful creative non-fiction.
Earthfire plays a crucial role in the complex ‘ecosystem’ of conservation organizations. Conservation, by its nature, requires an inter-disciplinary approach. A partial list of areas that must work together in order to arrive at an indefinitely sustainable conservation plan would have to include ecology, anthropology, political and economic theories. Each of these disciplines has and will continue to speak to conservation endeavors. The role of Earthfire runs simultaneously parallel to and cuts across these standard perspectives. Most disciplines are able to advise on how to address conservation issues. The Earthfire Institute does this too but also takes on the task of championing WHY wildlife must be protected by cutting right past notions of ‘economic and ecosystem functions’ straight to the heart and the soul. This deeper motivation not only informs, it sustains conservation solutions despite how circumstances may change overtime. It is this role of sustaining conservation priorities that Earthfire’s role reaches out across all other disciplines.
The power of Earthfire’s approach to sustain support for conservation at a deeply spiritual and ethical level is at times matched by its ineffable nature. This is where Art makes an important partner. This year, the students have been blessed with experiencing a pair of wolf pups; a baby fox, cougar, and a white buffalo calf among the many other residents of Earthfire. These young animals embody the vitality and fragility of life. Importantly they illustrate how animals rely on each other (their pack, their herd). This connection is apparent to anyone lucky enough to spend time with wildlife. Sadly, too many people lack the opportunity to directly connect to wildlife. The students in this year’s residency program are combining text, images and sound to help tell the animals stories. The emergent effects of combining these media start to render the ineffable apparent. Facilitating deeper connections between humans and wildlife is an important step towards making sustainable and global conservation plans.