What is Natural Heritage?
Heritage is that which is inherited from past generations, maintained in the present and endowed to future generations. Natural heritage refers to the sum total of the elements of biodiversity, including flora and fauna, ecosystems and geological structures.
What is the Natural Heritage Project?
The Natural Heritage Project was created by artist and curator Jessica Turtle in 2016 in response to a state-managed database entitled, "Natural Heritage Inventory” (NHI). The database is an international network responsible for maintaining data on the locations and status of rare species, natural communities and natural features throughout the United States. Traditionally, the information collected and shared by the NHI program helps project planners and landowners make land use decisions that have the most benefit for society and the economy, while having the least ecological impact. When Jessica first read the list, it became clear it was a resource in which everyone should become familiar. Jessica’s vision was to lean on the list to create experience-based exhibitions that draw attention to the current condition of ecological communities and provide opportunities to act.
To utilize the arts and experience learning to inspire generations to build environmental and cultural curiosity, understanding, and respect; with special attention to the key principles of sustainability, which include: ecology, social justice, non-violence and grassroots democracy.
Everyone has an opportunity to amend habits so long as they have an understanding of how and why it matters; the Natural Heritage Project seeks to provide a creative pathway to that understanding.
HOW THE PROJECT WORKS
The Natural Heritage Project works with artists of all mediums and encourages them to become educators and translators of sustainability. The entire project depends on its successful collaboration with creatives who are hardworking, passionate and dedicated to using their skills toward making a difference.
Each artist is paired with a field expert and curator to generate a full sensory exhibition. The team also extends to community partners to offer unique opportunities to employ direct action. Examples of direct action might be: adventure trips to view protected habitats, river clean-ups, youth workshops, guided nature walks, culinary workshops, camping trips, etc.
example of featured artist experience
Much Ado About Bees was an exhibition put on by the Natural Heritage Project in 2016. It was designed to highlight the various ways humankind interacts with bees. We also wanted to focus on bumblebees, a diverse and often excluded population in conversations about the future of our pollinators.
The exhibition featured twelve original paintings of bumblebee species, their habitat, nesting habits and research on the status of their populations. The exhibit also included three paintings of honey bees, a hand-built sun hive, three hand-painted bee boxes (retrofitted with a live recording of a buzzing hive) and a learning hive on loan from the local beekeepers association. We created an entire spread of food prepared with honey products, a honey wine bar with eight local varieties and a honey sampling of twelve unique profiles from molasses-like to nearly clear. A volunteer beekeeper gave a talk about the business of beekeeping and provided a firsthand account of colony collapse disorder. We also were sure to provide a complete account of the uses and benefits of bee products in our economy throughout human history. Finally, we had various sizes of bee suits and tools to interact with, and a performance artist, dressed in an adorable bee costume, skipped her way through town, catching a ride on a fire truck as it passed. The impact was cross-generational and observable to everyone involved.
what WE LEARNED
42% of visitors had not seen or heard of sun hives.
60% of visitors did not know the difference between honey bees and bumblebees.
72% of visitors were not aware that different flowers produce unique flavor profiles in honey (fun fact: one visitor, who otherwise felt they did not like honey at all, discovered a flavor profile they did enjoy).
68% of visitors were unaware that bumblebees nest underground, in snags, downed logs or tall grasses, which means they are directly impacted by forest and land-management practices.
22% of visitors did not know bee populations are in danger.
43% of visitors had never tried honey wine (the fastest growing segment of alcohol in 2016).
We also learned that people are quite fond of the image of bees. The artist sold six paintings during the show and continues to sell prints independently.
example of A SCHOOL collaboration
Sixty students in the Inquiring Minds program researched species on their state’s NHI list, using credible sources as directed by their teachers. After careful research the students selected species of focus that mattered most to them and were grouped by their selection. Each group prepared an argument and presented to a panel of experts (featured artist, curator, executive director of host organization and volunteer) to convince the panel that their species deserved attention. The jury heard the arguments and determined whether or not the research was sufficient. If they presented a well-formed argument, they passed to the final round - art making! Don’t worry, they all worked very hard, and their species were all included.
The final product was an exhibition in their community entirely created by the students. Each group worked together on a painting and drafted 1,000 words demonstrating what they understand to be true about their species including habitat, diet, environmental risks and benefits, as well as adjustable human behaviors that would help to better secure the future of their species.
For the final exhibition we interviewed each group for the Natural Heritage Project podcast - an amazing experience! The audio files were made available for viewers during the exhibition. The students attended the reception and stood proudly beside their work to tell viewers everything they learned.
What we learned
Kids were hands down the greatest source of energy and provided everyone working on the exhibition with a revived sense of purpose and hope. We were honored to work with them and not surprised as they presented well-informed, passionate arguments with creative solutions and a strong demand for behavior change.
Take a moment and listen to what they had to say - the paddlefish was our favorite.
HOW YOU CAN PARTICIPATE
Are you interested in becoming a Natural Heritage Project artist? Maybe you have an empty space and you’d like to hear what we could do with it? Or maybe you are an awesome scientist who studies an area of our natural world, and you’d love to share your knowledge with us? Are you a teacher with an exceptional group of students? Whatever your inquiry or skill, we would love to hear from you!