Art & Environment Initiative

Building capacity of organizations nationally


Also Announces the Launch of a New Public Art & Civic Engagement Program, To Which It Is Currently Accepting Applications

Press Release (PDF)

Mural Arts aims to support other communities interested in using collaborative, participatory arts-based processes to address local environmental issues. Beginning in 2018 with partners in three cities, Akron, Ohio, Detroit, Michigan, and Memphis, Tennessee, the Mural Arts Institute began sharing the Mural Arts model nationally to support cities’ own public art initiatives with the “Art & Environment Capacity Building Initiative.” This application-based program focuses on working with organizations in cities to help them create a sustaining model of their own, one that will allow artists and communities to work together and create well-beyond our involvement.

Our approach is highly collaborative: we seek to share our own knowledge, experiences, and resources while also enabling internal self-discovery for each city and exchange among the cohort as a whole.

Click to learn about the work created through this initiative in Akron , Memphis, or Detroit.

After a successful pilot of this initiative, we are excited to announce three new United States cities for the second round of the program, another two-year initiative (2020-2022). Each city will have its own unique set of conditions and assets with which to work, and we hope to be able to inform work we support elsewhere through documenting the diverse set of approaches that emerge from this initiative.

This work would not be possible without the strategy and program design support we receive in collaboration with Alexis Frasz and Helicon Collaborative.

These community-oriented teams include: 

The Austin, TX Team

In Austin, Texas the collaborative team is headed by Raasin in the Sun , The Mosaic Workshop, and the Austin Creative Alliance , among others. Raasin in the Sun was founded by former Olympian Raasin McIntosh as a placemaking and restorative initiative aimed at inspiring, uniting and uplifting communities within East Austin. The Mosaic Workshop, co-founded by artist/educator J Muzacz, and hosted at Something Cool Studios, is a creative community hub providing access and opportunities for artists to work together and thrive together in East Austin. The Austin Creative Alliance advances and advocates for artists and cultural workers in and around Austin. The focus of their collective work for the Art and Environment Initiative will take place in East Austin, a community historically red-lined and which has seen the disproportionate impact of oil tank farms, power plants, and other toxic industries in a city otherwise praised for its access to nature and clean living. The team will be working with the East Austin Environmental Initiative , which draws upon community activism and citizen involvement to address environmental concern in the area.

The Santa Fe, NM Team

In Santa Fe, New Mexico, Indigenous and Chicanx artists, activists, scholars, and community members that comprise Alas de la Agua Art Collective and Three Sisters Collective are working towards addressing the complex dynamics of colo nial history, cultura l erasure and environmental racism in Santa Fe, O ‘ gha Po ‘ Oghe, Tewa Territory . Alas De Agua Art Collective is an intersectional grass roots space providing resources and opportunities for artists of color, native artists, immigrant, undocumented, and queer artists who have historically and currently been marginalized and not afforded the same resources. They offer opportunities for said artists to provide alternative narratives, and they remove barriers and creatively go around them. Three Sisters Collective utilizes a deconlonial, Pueblo rooted, matriarch-led framework to create an extreme social shift to counteract social and environmental injustices in the community. Indigenous and communities of color in and around Santa Fe have borne the burden of environmental disregard including the storage of nuclear waste on Pueblo territory, the overgrazing of land and overharvesting of plant medicines, contamination of waterways, and heightened vulnerability of women and girls towards violence from temporary workers of environmentally extractive industries (MMIWGT2S).

The Kern County, CA Team

The Kern County, California collaborative team is headed by Dr. Rosanna Esparza, gerontologist & environmental health researcher, and public art & social practice artist, Michelle Glass, MFA. The team is joined by David Gordon, the Executive Director of the Arts Council of Kern . The team is joined by a strong partnership with environmental experts. The Center on Race, Poverty & The Environment with Executive Director Caroline Farrell, JD, provides legal, organizing, and technical assistance to grassroots groups in low-income communities and communities of color. The Central California Environmental Justice Network , directed by Nayamin Martinez, MPH, works toward eliminating harmful environmental impacts, provides technical assistance and oversees the IVAN Network ( Identifying Violations Affecting Neighborhoods ) in the Central Valley. The Central Valley Air Quality Coalition , directed by Catherine Garoupa White, MSW, PhD, ensures that all communities have the opportunity to be involved in air quality policy development, advocacy and regulatory processes improving regional health. Caught between big-oil, big-ag and big greed, the collaborative partnership of the individuals and organizations approach their work with vigor and passion. Their lives depend on it.

Download the full press release announcement (PDF)

Installation of Tide Field. Photo by Steve Weinik.

The theme of the second round of the initiative is climate change and resilience.  

Countless studies show that United States cities will experience increasingly severe impacts of climate change over the next few years. Climate change affects us all, but low-income communities and communities of color experience it disproportionately, and they have fewer resources at their disposal to cope with it.

Resilience — the ability to prepare for and cope with change — is critical for communities. Resilience isn’t simply about being able to “bounce back” after a challenge, but also about using the necessity to adapt to the challenge as an opportunity to become stronger. In this case, the need for communities to adapt to the impact of climate change allows them to build on their strengths to address a wide range of needs, improving their overall quality of life and creating a more sustainable future. Critical to this are social cohesion and trust, collaborative civic participation and leadership, equitable access to resources, strong formal and informal networks, cross-sector partnerships, and inclusive and diverse civic spaces. These are precisely the outcomes that Mural Arts has seen from its work with diverse communities throughout Philadelphia.