'Future Garden' environmental art installation opens at Arboretum

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The Harrisons "Future Garden" (Installation view, 2018)
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Newton Harrison
The Institute of the Arts and Sciences will present the opening reception for Future Garden for the Central Coast of California--a site-specific environmental art installation by UCSC emeritus arts research professors Newton Harrison and his late wife Helen Mayer Harrison--on May 19, at the UC Santa Cruz Arboretum and Botanic Garden.

Working in tandem with botanists at the Arboretum--along with other artists, scientists, and students--the Harrisons have created trial gardens inside three refabricated geodesic domes, where native plant species are being exposed to the temperatures and water conditions that have been projected for the region in the near future.

The goal of the project is to determine which plants will thrive as the area warms due to climate change, and to cultivate those species to create the foundation for a more rapid regeneration of the local ecosystem while temperatures shift.

As Newton Harrison has noted, the future for a rapidly warming planet lies in finding durable plant species that together create ecosystems that can continue to live and flourish as temperatures increase. 

Sixteen plant species were chosen for the project from the major eco-regions of California’s central coast, all selected for their resilience to drought, variable rainfall, and temperature extremes. The three different domes will each have different watering regimes to test the effects of drought.

Signage at the installation notes that “this is a 50-year experiment focused on building a diverse group of plants that can be propagated and moved into our heat-shocked region…We expect some species will die off and we will replace them with new species in order to generate the most resilient ensemble possible."

”The Harrisons have collaborated as artists since the late 1960s, working with biologists, ecologists, architects, urban planners and other artists to propose sustainable solutions to ecological challenges and the crisis posed by climate change.Their projects have been shown in major exhibitions, museums, art festivals, and galleries around the world.

In 2010, they founded the Center for the Study of the Force Majeure at UC Santa Cruz to pursue strategies that mix art and science to respond creatively to global warming and climate change. The Center brings together artists and scientists to design ecosystem-adaptation projects in critical regions around the world in response to climate change. The Future Garden project was conceived before Helen’s death earlier this year.

“For nearly 50 years, the Harrisons' art works and proposals addressed the environment, ecology, and then global warming on a scale unique in contemporary art,” said Institute of the Arts and Sciences director John Weber. "Their vision posed challenges and solutions of a transformational nature, and to have one of their major pieces here on our campus is both a great gift and a challenge to our thinking and actions.”

"In the midst of fear, resignation, and the urge to give up and look away, the Harrisons have always sought to create hope and propose solutions to the ecological crises of our time. Their Future Garden here does both," he added.
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The opening reception for Future Garden will take place on May 19, from 4 to 6 p.m. at the UC Santa Cruz Arboretum and Botanic Garden. Admission is free and open to the public. Arboretum executive director Martin Quigley will speak at 5 p.m. Future Garden is sponsored by the Nion McEvoy Family Trust of the San Francisco Community Foundation, the Metabolic Studio, 30 Petals Fund, Rowland and Pat Rebele, annual donors to the Institute of the Arts and Sciences, and members of the UC Santa Cruz Arboretum and Botanic Garden.