Taking back the earth through the arts: Easthampton’s Earth & Fire Arts Fest tackles environmental issues


Staff Writer

Published: 04-14-2023 5:48 PM

The climate news seems relentlessly bleak: rising seas and melting glaciers; growing drought and firestorms; increasingly violent storms that destroy everything in their path and unleash terrible flooding.

Oh, and let’s not forget more longstanding environmental miseries including air pollution, oil and chemical spills, acid rain, and the spread of microplastics into every corner of the globe.

But there’s also still much to celebrate in the natural world — and as Jean Minuchin and Beth Fairservis see it, one vital way to do that is through the arts.

To mark Earth Day weekend, the two friends have joined forces to produce the Earth & Fire Arts Fest, a series of workshops and performances designed to use the arts as a lens for exploring the problems facing the planet, and for developing connections to nature that can help sustain us emotionally.

The festival, April 22-23, as well as related workshops April 19-20, will take place in the Blue Room at CitySpace, in Easthampton’s Old Town Hall. On tap are art exhibits, music, theatrical presentations and more, including an environmental parade through part of downtown.

The events are supported in part by grants from the Easthampton Cultural Council and the Mass Cultural Council.

“I think a lot of people are worried about what’s happening to our world,” said Minuchin, who heads World & Eye Arts Center in Easthampton, an organization that presents varied art programs designed to address social issues.

“Art can help us express our concerns and to think about the direction we need to go,” she said.

Article continues after...

Yesterday's Most Read Articles

Minuchin has had a varied career as an artist, performer, teacher and program director, including in a K-8 program in Florida and with Charles River Studios in Boston. Much of her theatrical work, which has taken her across the country, involves puppetry, masks, and various costumes.

Looking for a change of scenery, she moved to the Valley from Florida in 2020.

“I remember thinking, ‘This is a place where I want to live,’ ” said Minuchin, who’s now in Easthampton. “There’s a lot of creativity here, a lot of concern about the environment, about making changes in the way we live.”

During the pandemic, she met Fairservis in a Zoom session and discussed some of their mutual interests. Fairservis, a spiritual counselor with a Florence office, also directs theatrical street performances, using children, puppets, and more to address climate change and other issues.

For many of those performances, she’s collaborated with the regional chapter of the environmental group Climate Action Now.

“Jean and I realized we had a lot of the same concerns,” Fairservis said. “We thought there were some things we could work on together.”

For the Earth & Fire Arts Fest, Minuchin has brought in a number of other partners for the workshops. For instance, artist and musician Terry Janoure, the former director of the Augusta Savage Gallery at UMass Amherst, will lead a session on April 22 from 2 to 6 p.m. called “Fables for a New World.”

It’s a collective art making workshop — no experience necessary — that according to program notes will use “writing, visual images, sound, and movement … [to] build new and original fables to guide us in the days ahead.”

There’s also an April 19 workshop for making what’s described as “Boxes of Sorrows”: small containers of varying size and composition designed to address grief generated by species and habitat loss. Attendees will be given “eclectic, recycled materials” to work with.

Along somewhat similar lines, Minuchin will lead a workshop April 20 on using discarded and found materials to make puppets; the session explores ways to be creative with different materials and to think about the costs involved in our “throw away world.”

Finding the right audience

Though Minuchin and Fairservis have worked with younger children, they both say most of the events at the Earth & Fire Arts Fest are aimed more at teens and adults.

“There are a few things in the performances in particular that are not really appropriate for younger children, or that would be hard for them to understand,” Minuchin said.

Last week, the two met at Fairservis’ home in Haydenville, where both rehearsed bits of the separate performances they’ll present at the Easthampton festival. Fairservis worked on a scene from “The Paper Mache Protest: A Mother’s Call to Action,” in which she drew parallels between the fears of nuclear war in the 1970s and 1980s and the destruction caused by climate change.

“Back then, I used to think, ‘The world could be blown up in a minute — why aren’t we all out in the streets protesting?’ ” Fairservis said. “To me, climate change brings up the same issues … the world is on fire.”

Minuchin donned a couple of different costumes to demonstrate elements of her solo performance, “American Stink Bug,” a piece in which she plays an especially loathed insect that’s trying to get humanity to curb its bad habits and hopefully save the planet.

Minuchin says the piece, a mix of absurdity, whimsy and confrontation, uses puppetry, clown costumes, storytelling, video projection and audience interaction to make its point.

Other festival events include a performance by the Climate Healing Chorus, a local group led by Valley musicians Kate O’Connor and Rico Spence that sings songs about environmental justice and celebrating the earth.

Also on tap: On both April 22 and 23, environmental groups, including Climate Action Now and a regional chapter of the Sierra Club, will have tables set up from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. with information on their work and opportunities to get involved.

And younger kids will get their moment at the festival, too. On April 23 from 10 a.m. to noon, they can attend a workshop to make basic artwork to carry on the “World We Love Parade,” which begins at 1 p.m. at Old Town Hall and proceeds down Union Street to Nashawannuck Pond.

The parade, Fairservis says, is based on the planet’s four basic elements — earth, water, air and fire — and the four central points of the compass.

“We wanted to have one really family-oriented event, especially so children can take part,” she added. “They are our future.”

More information on festival events and ticket prices can be found at worldandeye.com by clicking on the link for the festival.

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at spfarrer@gazettenet.com.