ESSEX — A public art project project aims to enlighten Essex residents about the not-too-far-off effects of climate change.
Thomas Starr, professor at Northeastern University's Art & Design Department, has spearheaded "Remembrance of Climate Futures." Starr describes the initiative as "a series of site-specific installations that address the urgent civic issue of climate change by contracting the distance between its global scale and the local effects on people’s lives and their communities." The project's first leg in Essex is expected to run for at least six months. It was funded by a private grant from Starr's department.
The project features six signs posted underneath street signs in Essex: two on Main Street, two on Eastern Avenue, one on the corner of Apple Street and one on Conomo Point Road. Each show how that particular spot will change in the years to come if climate change is not properly addressed. The information is sourced from studies commissioned by the Essex Board of Selectmen on how to adapt as sea levels rise and the globe gets hotter, specifically the Great Marsh Coalition Adaptation Plan.
One sign posted outside J.T. Farnham's restaurant at 88 Eastern Ave. says that by 2034, the nearby Ebben Creek culvert will need to be "enlarged to accommodate tidal flow from sea-level rise." Another by Clammer's Beach states the first bridge "connecting Conomo Point to the mainland" is expected to open in 2074.
"Climate change as an issue has had trouble engaging elected officials and the public itself," said Starr. "A lot of times, (the discussion) is about polar bears and melting ice caps." These signs, he explained, are an attempt to move the conversation "more local in a more tangle way."
Every sign feature a QR code at the bottom for passers-by to scan with their smart phones. The codes link to the project's website, essex.climatefutures.us/#/1, for more resources and information on the town's climate change studies.
The signs, Starr explains, are "intentionally confusing" in order to grab the viewers attention and make them "intrigued enough to learn more" about climate change through their site.
Essex is just the beginning for "Remembrance of Climate Futures." Eleven signs are set to be installed in Durham, New Hampshire, later this month. Cambridge will also have somewhere between six or 12 of its own signs by the end of the year, depending on which neighborhoods agree to participate.
Starr's artwork "focuses on visual communication that engages civic, social and political discourse," according to the Northeastern University website. His last major public installation, "Remembering Boston's Children," transformed an MBTA bus inside and out into a memorial for child victims of gun violence in Boston. The bus was in operation for nine months and managed to travel through each Boston neighborhood.
"There wasn't enough public outcry about it," he said of the project, noting how a similar feeling helped inspire "Remembrance of Climate Futures."
Starr also helped curate “Untold Possibilities at the Last Minute,” an art exhibit on view through October at Gallery 344 at Cambridge City Hall Annex. The exhibit features pieces by local artists on the fight to combat climate change.
Michael Cronin may be contacted at 978-675-2708, or firstname.lastname@example.org.