A group of artists, scientists and engineers gathered recently to compare approaches for communicating about the risks of climate change. The Art-a-thon for Natural Disasters and Climate Change in the Bay, held April  29-30 in San Francisco, offered participants a chance to create collaborative artistic works that communicate natural disaster and climate risk in the region.

“The Art-a-thon exemplifies how artists and scientists think about natural infrastructure and risk, and how we can collectively think about the topics in a different way – one that better considers how people relate to such risks,” said Perrine Hamel, one of the event’s organizers and a lead scientist at the Natural Capital Project, a joint venture of the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment, The Nature Conservancy, the World Wildlife Fund and the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment.

Participants were divided into small working groups, composed of at least one professional artist and one engineer or researcher with experience related to climate change or natural disasters. Guest lecturers discussed climate science, city planning and art. The participants also engaged in activities that prompted them to share their professional and personal relationship to climate change and natural disasters, as well as to collaborate on artistic pieces that communicate risk and resiliency.

Among the works produced: a 9-foot impression of tree rings illustrating how climate change and natural disasters altered the growth of a redwood; an educational mobile on coastal resiliency; and advertisement posters that ironically depict a bright future for coastal cities affected by sea-level rise.

While the event focused on producing collaborative works of art, its organizers highlighted the importance of learning from the process, and in particular, learning from interactions between group members.

“The Art-a-thon provides a look at a participatory approach for better understanding the values and things that people care about when they think about nature and topics related to resiliency,” said Hamel.

The event was timely for the Natural Capital Project. With support from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, the team recently launched an effort to work with regional and local Bay Area decision-makers to enhance resilience to sea-level rise. That engagement includes dialogues, meetings and art. 

Selected art pieces from the event will be exhibited at ELL San Francisco on May 18. Stanford’s d.school will host a follow-up event in early June.

Event partners include, Stanford Urban Resilience Initiative, Co-Risk Labs, the Natural Capital Project, Stanford Blume Earthquake Engineering Center, the University of Colorado, Boulder, Ell-SF, the City of San Francisco and ArtsUp. ELL San Francisco is a flex-use forum for dialogue, a test site for exhibition and a workspace to investigate social engagement and the creative process.