By Lakshmi Chandrasekaran
“Think of how it wraps completely around our planet, connecting us all as one global family – living and breathing under one shared sky,” says Wilmette artist and environmental activist Ben Whitehouse of the sky. “It only stands to reason we should take great care of it for each other,” he adds.
And Whitehouse hopes to bring people together across cultures to reflect on the beauty of the sky with his latest citizen art event – the Sky Day project.
In order to create an awareness about our rapidly changing environment, Whitehouse created an education-focused non-profit organization called Only One Sky. And the Sky Day project is a unique part of this initiative, where 150 organizations from more than 12 nations and photo buffs from across the United States will take pictures of the sky and tweet them through September 22. If you’d like to participate in the Sky Day Project, take a photo of just the sky, and tweet it with the hashtags: #SkyDayProject and #NU_CCRG. You also can go to the Only One Sky website, click on the Sky Day Project to register and obtain a group-specific handle for your tweets. Photo collages of the sky taken from different regions of Earth will appear on the website.
“The art-based initiative provides a launching point for the use and sharing of science and art-based curriculum” through the skydayproject.org website, says Whitehouse’s collaborator, climate scientist Daniel Horton of Northwestern University. In partnership with Horton and “with the input of talented artists, scientists, parents, educators, writers, child development experts and social scientists we are building Only One Sky as an interactive educational platform to offer teachers, parents and kids imaginative lesson plans, inspiring ideas, great articles, innovative projects, forums for discussion and exciting opportunities for international collaboration,” Whitehouse says. Only One Sky is just getting started and has already posted two educational pieces this week.
Growing up, conversations about climate change were a staple in the Whitehouse household. When Whitehouse was eight years old in 1970, his father Ronnie Whitehouse made a short documentary about the dangers of pollution and abuse of natural resources. And that inspired Whitehouse to build a career fusing art and science to promote care and concern for the environment.
“Art remains an underappreciated force for intelligent discourse and for inspiration. And, as Yo-Yo Ma says, art teaches ways of thinking other subjects don’t – imaginative thinking, creative collaboration, a kind of questioning – skills all needed to achieve positive outcomes regarding changing climate,” says Whitehouse. He has created art about the environment and our relationship to it for 28 years.
In 2013, with some early thoughts on the Sky Day Project, Whitehouse attended the Aspen Ideas Festival, where he was inspired by talking to cellist Yo-Yo Ma, astronaut Ed Lu and former Secretary of State Madeline Albright. “I sat on the plane coming back to Chicago and asked myself, ‘What could I do with whatever talents I’ve got ?’” says Whitehouse.
Whitehouse’s vision was to bring young people together in creative ways to tackle a changing climate and our relation to the environment. Only One Sky provides that forum.
With much of the southern United States ravaged by hurricanes Harvey and Irma and more threats from Jose and Maria, the question as to whether climate change causes more supercharged storms is probably on everyone’s minds. Paramount to changing attitudes towards climate change is creating awareness, appreciating how climate scientists make predictions about uncertain weather patterns and understanding ways to become responsible for saving our planet.
And so in the spirit of ecological citizenship, get out your cameras, channel your inner photographer, snap a beautiful picture of the sky today and join the Sky Day project!
The Sky Day project collage will be available for viewing online at skydayproject.org beginning on Sky Day, Friday, September 22nd. Chicago’s Alder Planetarium will exhibit photographs from the project from Friday through Sunday, September 24th