BY GLORIA STRAVELLI
METUCHEN – As Earth Day approaches, environmental issues like climate change take on greater urgency.
Members of the community can join in a community discussion about the impacts of climate change during a virtual forum taking place at 7:30 p.m. April 21, the eve of Earth Day.
The Community Conversation is being hosted jointly by the Metuchen Arts Council together with the Metuchen Human Relations Commission around the issue of climate change, one of the topics addressed by the 2021 Windows of Understanding Public Art Project.
According to the Metuchen Arts Council, the Windows of Understanding project is a joint project of the New Brunswick Community Arts Council, Mason Gross School of the Arts, the Highland Park Arts Council, and this year for the first time the Metuchen Arts Council and the Metuchen Human Relations Commission.
“The initiative unites local artists, organizations and businesses to promote compassion and awareness around social justice issues impacting local communities,” according to the arts council’s description of the program. “The belief of the project’s creators is that through visual language, artists can communicate methods of understanding in powerful ways that cut across cultural boundaries.”
Topics in the current series focus on food insecurity, public health, trauma and recovery and youth engagement.
For the topic of climate change, artists Lauren Curtis, Maja Opacic and Mickey Waring were commissioned by the arts council to create art that illuminates the mission of the Edison Greenways Group.
Walter Stochel, vice president of the Greenways Group, will participate in the discussion about the group’s mission and work to enhance the quality of life in the community.
The Community Conversation on April 21 will include visual references to the Greenway through the commissioned artwork, along with poetry and communal storytelling about the spiritual, psychological and ecological benefits of the greenway, according to the statement.
To access the virtual presentation, join the Zoom meeting at https://us02web.zoom.us/j/88384212241
The meeting ID is 883 8421 2241, and the passcode is 353897.
In addition to the Community Conversations, Metuchen programming for the Windows of Understanding Project will include an exhibit in the Metuchen Public Library Gallery of Art, Metuchen Arts Council Co-Chair Robert Diken explained.
However, due to restrictions related to COVID-19, the gallery is closed and the complete exhibit can be accessed virtually from the arts council website at www.metuchenartscouncil.com.
Diken noted an important focus for the project is to raise awareness around social justice issues impacting local communities.
“In the face of the dual pandemic of COVID-19 and racial injustice, the scope of the Windows of Understanding art project has widened its lens to incorporate the impact of these challenging circumstances,” according to the Metuchen Arts Council.
The project launched on Jan. 18, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Diken noted, as a way of paying homage to Dr. King’s legacy with a designated “Day of Understanding.”
More than 20 nonprofit and social service organizations whose missions reflect the themes were paired with artists to create the original works of art.
For the Metuchen phase of the project, artists worked with The First Presbyterian Food Pantry (food insecurity), the Metuchen First Aid Squad (public health), Women Aware (trauma and recovery), the Edison Greenways Group (climate change) and Kiddie Keep Well Camp (youth engagement).
Some of the artworks are on display in storefronts and public spaces throughout New Brunswick, Highland Park and Metuchen
More information on Windows of Understanding, including a complete list of featured organizations, participating storefronts and a full calendar of free events, is available at www.windowsofunderstanding.org. Or, visit Instagram at @windowsofunderstanding, #weseethroughhate.
While this is the fourth year of the Windows of Understanding project, it is the first year the Metuchen Arts Council is participating.
According to Diken, organizers were seeking artists to participate in the event.
“This is a different kind of event because it is more relevant to social justice issues and themes that tie to certain organizations that they want the artist to illuminate … that are more in line with the mission of the organization. It’s very unique and I thought personally as an artist it would be a challenge, so I said I would do it,” he said.
He was so impressed with the context of the show that he asked if they would consider expanding the community project to include Metuchen.
“Through that conversation I met the Windows of Understanding organizing committee and they were very happy to engage with us,” he said. “So this is the first year Metuchen is doing it. We’re doing it under the banner of the Metuchen Arts Council. We put together a committee and our committee started engaging in Windows of Understanding.”
There are 15 artists with works in the show, including some from Metuchen, working in various mediums including collage, photography, quilting, a little bit of everything, he noted.
Many of the works are displayed in businesses that support the themes, he explained, because the library gallery is not available.
Diken stressed the works submitted were all subject to vetting not only by the arts council, but by the related community group.
“The most important thing about this is it’s not like we tell the artist here’s the show, create something and we’re going to put it up,” he said. “It’s completely vetted not only by our own Windows of Understanding committee to ensure that it fits the concept, but also vetted by the Windows of Understanding [community] organization being represented so that they are not surprised at the end that there’s some art they didn’t look at, see, that they don’t feel good about. So, it’s quite a process to go through. It’s definitely a challenge for the artists to meet all these objectives and still be creative in their own way.”
For this year there are five social justice themes for Windows of Understanding originating from the racial justice issues that have arisen in the nation, he said.
“Folks in New Brunswick gathered and said we really need to gather around this as a community,” he said. “Each year they develop some social justice themes that they think are relevant to the moment and we match those themes with organizations that are good matches.
“Part of this project is that it’s not only visual arts programming, but it’s educational programming as well. So if you go on the Windows of Understanding website you’ll see all the programs related to this. The Metuchen Arts Council and Metuchen Borough Human Relations Commission hooked up and collaborated and we are bringing some of these stories alive through community conversations.
“In that discussion we will invite the public to listen in and we will have the Edison Greenways Group there to talk about what they do. And we have the artists that are related to those … who are going to be in on the call and they’ll be talking about their art, what it means, and it’s a chance for the community to understand this subject matter more deeply and be positively affected by it,” Diken said.