Photo Credit: Boundary Waters Wilderness. Photo by Matt Frank
The Living with Wildfire exhibition closed on August 31. The first question everyone asks is how did it go? Everyone has a different idea on what makes an event successful. The grant (Donald G. Gardner Humanities Trust Fund) final reporting papers ask: Did the project meet your goals? And thankfully we can answer “Yes! Yes! Yes!”
The exhibition was a different kind of “voice” in raising public awareness regarding wildfire and the impact it has on the Ely community and the surrounding townships. Artists reflected on their personal experiences and feelings about wildfire. They expressed in their own words and mediums so many of the wildfire resiliency messages we are trying to promote: Messages of the importance of both personal and community preparedness. The positive aspects of wildfire, including how it promotes new growth. Remembering and honoring our firefighters and others working to help our communities before, during and after a wildfire. Recognizing and acknowledging that we live in a wildfire-prone area. Expressing the profound effect wildfire can have on each of us.
The exhibition also provided area artists of all ages and art mediums an opportunity to create, display and sell their work. Many artists told us that the subject matter expanded their awareness of wildfire and stretched them as artists.. The art submissions included ceramics, textiles, watercolor, acrylic, photography, poetry and a mixed medium collage.
To more fully understand the outcomes of the event, we sent a short questionnaire to the participating artists to get their reactions and feedback. One artist wrote that the Living with Wildfire exhibition helped her explore her “inner relationship with fire as (she) was one of two firefighters who deployed a fire shelter in Insula Lake during the Pagami Creek Fire” of 2011.
Another artist dedicated his painting to “the Granite Mountain Hot Shots of Prescott, AZ who along with hundreds of firefighting professionals and volunteers worked for almost 2 months to control the local Pagami Creek fire of 2011… 2 years later, 19 of this group perished in the Yarnell Arizona wildfire.” This artist is a summer resident in Ely and has a permanent residence and studio in Arizona about 50 miles from where the Yarnell Hill wildfire occurred.
In addition to the talented artists, the audience that visited the exhibition was a varied group of people from local residents, summer residents and area guests. Some were firefighters themselves. All were moved by this exhibit in various capacities. The exhibit helped to raise the awareness that wildfire can happen in this area. It showed how wildfire changes the landscape around us and how wildfire can and will impact the lives of all of us. It also helped to illustrate the various roles each of us can play to help our communities be more prepared in the event of a wildfire.
My personal philosophy on art is, if it moves you in some way, it has succeeded. I saw that in the eyes and words of the people who viewed these pieces and the artists who created these works. So, by that measure, yes, I do feel this was a success.
For the folks interested in numbers:
- Twelve artists submitted works.
- Sixty people attended our opening night gala. (The gallery owner said this was a very large turnout).
- For the run of the exhibition 450 people viewed the pieces.
- The exhibition caught the eye of our Ely/Winton Historical Society and spurred the idea for their next display: “The History of Fire in the Ely/Winton area.” They will be using some of the exhibit pieces in their display.
- Living with Wildfire Exhibition will also be featured in an upcoming video produced by Dawson Media Group. The media group received a grant to produce a 20 minute video around climate change and wildfire. The entire video was shot in Ely shortly after the July 21st windstorm.
What would I do differently?
Use more social media to advertise, both for submission requests and the event. Try different things to inspire the kids in our community to create something. Maybe take it on the road to other communities. Either way, community members and partners are already asking when there will be another Living with Wildfire event.
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