Welcome to ARID 2015!

This 2015 issue marks another milestone in our quest to make ARID a sustainable not-for-profit publication. Thanks to the hard work of co-editor Kim Stringfellow, ARID has become part of the Emerge Program of the Pasadena Arts Council. Emerge provides the fiscal sponsorship that ARID has sorely needed, and much more. An incubator for art and design projects, Emerge offers financial management, marketing and fundraising support. Although the Emerge partnership is very new, Robert Crouch at PAC has already become a great ally. One area of crossover between the aims of PAC and ARID is our mutual interest in art-science. We want to point out that PAC has several art-science programs that may be of interest to members of our community including the AxS Festival and AxS Incubator that celebrate and nurture artistic practices that demonstrate a relationship to art, science and technology.

Climate change continues to drive many of the projects and writings featured in this year’s ARID, and we have found our contributors expressing a greater urgency around this global issue. The research represented illustrates that the scale of climate change requires practitioners from every discipline to bring their expertise and methodologies to the problem. We need everyone: artists, designers, scientists, the problem is just that big.

During the past year, the California drought and its connection to climate change has dominated the news. In this issue, Edward Morris and Susannah Sayler, co-founders of The Canary Project, provide an interim report on their developing American River Archive project following a single flow of water through California. While compellingly simple in concept, this project unveils the complexity of water use and scarcity in our current ‘age of extraction.’ Morris and Sayler have been responding to the problem of climate change for many years, and I recently had the opportunity to work alongside them during the Rising Waters Confab, an artists’ residency at the Rauschenberg Foundation on Captiva Island Florida.

Also focused on California, Scott Potlach’s fascinating Laying Claim is an investigation into the historical and contemporary practice and process of making rain. Through historical research and actual rain-making, Potlach uncovers the functional, sublime and absurd. Another look at desert sublime is presented in Arcy Douglass’ moving personal essay about land arts, and as if in direct response to Douglass’ questions about artistic practice in the desert, architect and landscape architect Katherine Jenkins’ and Parker Sutton’s Seeing through Subtraction: Four Figures in the Great Salt Lake Desert presents majestic documentation of temporary land art sculptures. A very different sublimity in the desert is illustrated in Christopher Langley and Osceola Refetoff’s Prayer Changes Things, Desert Faith in Trona, CA. How does a desert landscape impact faith in its inhabitants? Langley and Refetoff answer this question through the eyes of people living their faith in one small California desert town.

Does our new fiscal sponsorship with PAC, a California-based organization mean that ARID is becoming a California-centric publication? Absolutely not! Although we hold a strong connection to arid environments in the regions that include California, ARID is and will remain an international journal. While we respect that every arid environment is unique, we believe that as climate change increases the size and number of arid landscapes across the globe, we must share ways to live in and engage with this changing paradigm. Artists and designers are on the front lines responding to these questions and problems.

The Policies section of ARID has raised questions among our editorial team. In many ways, every project and essay we present has policy implications, and we believe that the practice of art and design in and about arid environments, or any environment, plays an important role in social and environmental justice. Therefore, every contribution we feature could be considered as Policies. However, in this issue, we have tried to reach some clarity about this broad subsection title. Jeffrey Widener’s contribution, A Fountain in the Desert: Heritage and Water Wrangling on Colorado’s Western Slope, provides graphic maps, information and other resources that directly relate to public policy in the Colorado River Basin that have implications for water use throughout the American Southwest. I compare this article with the American River Archive project in our Practices section and see the power of linking aesthetic practice to policy. Adrien Segal’s Snow Water Equivalent data sculpture project could have been placed in our Practices section as a purely aesthetic investigation, but we put it in Policies to emphasize the role that artists’ visualizations can play in public understanding of pressing environmental and social issues.

In his last State of the Union address, President Obama said “No challenge poses a greater threat to future generations than climate change.” While good science is crucial to responding to this challenge, art and design can deepen our understanding of the complex science of climate change and promote innovation through creativity. It can communicate powerful stories and help us collectively process our emotions. In the interview I conducted with Theresa Cardenas, The New Mexico Climate Change & Energy Outreach Consultant for the Union of Concerned Scientists in the Perspectives section of this issue, she states that one of the roles of an artist’s vision can be to help an individual understand climate change in the context of his or her environment in a more human way and therefore act appropriately.

Any educational initiative that claims to improve the future must address the issue of climate change. Recently we have been encouraged to find that nationally and internationally, the educational focus of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) is evolving to recognize the importance of integrating the Arts and Design, known as STEAM. ARID Pedagogies have always integrated STEAM with an emphasis on field-based educational initiatives. When we started three years ago, field-based programs exploring arid environments were few and far between. In our first issue, we highlighted work of the pioneering Land Arts of the American West (LAAW) program at the University of New Mexico created by our Editorial Board Member and now Distinguished Professor Bill Gilbert.

Three years later, we are seeing many more programs that provide opportunities for students to explore and respond to arid environments. Our two Pedagogies contributions highlight developing post-secondary field initiatives that integrate STEAM through immersive desert experiences. The first is a collaborative summer school intensive in Marfa, Texas between the UCLA Design and Environment program and the Amsterdam-based TAAK. ARID featured the work of students in this Summer School last year, and we are pleased to share the evolution of that program. In our second Pedagogies article, Nancy Floyd presents a university field-based program during which she travels with her Georgia State University students to Joshua Tree National Park with the goal of improving artistic and conceptual skills while learning about the history and culture of the land and its people.

On a personal note, this year I have had the opportunity to build a statewide collaboration to strengthen STEAM education in New Mexico with the support of Americorps/VISTA. This year our project helped to create public educational events for 516 ARTS’ statewide initiative Habitat: Exploring Climate Change through the Arts, and developed a partnership with Paseo Taos, a new outdoor new media arts festival that takes over the streets of Taos each Fall.

Also this year, Kim became a Guggenheim Fellow in Photography and launched The Mojave Project with a prestigious Cal Humanities‘ California Documentary Project (CDP) Production Grant for New Media.

These projects have demanded a large proportion of the time and energy of your ARID editorial management team, and to circle back to the long-term sustainability of the ARID Journal, while Kim and I have a strong commitment to the survival of ARID, we both want to step back from our roles to make room for fresh ideas and perspectives. We invite you as contributors, readers, and members of our community to submit editorial proposals for future ARIDs that extend our reach to artists, designers and scholars worldwide.

Andrea Polli, ARID 2015 Co-Editor

To peruse our fifth issue, click here.