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Bridging Divides to Grow Resilience: Interview with Leonardo Martinez-Diaz

Sunday, June 30, 2024 10:03 AM | Anonymous

Left: Leonardo Martinez-Diaz at The Crow’s Nest by Vivian Doering via BMore Art

Bridging Divides to Grow Resilience Through Expression: Leonardo Martinez-Diaz’s vision for artist’s crucial role in environmental and climate policies and politics at The Crow’s Nest, Baltimore, MD

Olivia Ann Carye Hallstein

Leonardo Martinez-Diaz’s accomplishments in politics are inspiring, as is his dedication and deep belief in the influential power of art to create lasting impacts and change. Standing between the worlds of policy and fostering creative visionaries, Leonardo is an exemplary agent for change both on the ground and in the boardroom. Opening this fall: The Crow’s Nest in the Bromo Arts District of Baltimore, Maryland, fosters cross-disciplinary collaboration to activate the power of creativity to make the difference in environmental and community resilience. Working with ecoartspace for the opening exhibition this fall (apply here), topics of social ecology will welcome a new force in the downtown district; one that will shed important light on the power of bridging disciplinary divides to build resilience to best confront the challenges this new century brings.

I want to start by thanking you, Leonardo, for taking the time to share with us at ecoartspace. It is inspiring to see such an influential expert and politician practicing what they preach. I wonder: how does your position allow you to act as a bridge in order to make a lasting impact both through policy and on the ground? Do these elements of your work cross-pollinate?

My work in government has enabled me to understand what policy and politics can do to tackle global environmental challenges — and what they can’t.  For policy to become more ambitious and match the urgency the crisis requires, we need an educated citizenry that demands change. Without that push, good policy ideas stay on shelves collecting dust, or they become laws that are never implemented effectively.

Art is a way of engaging everyone in a larger, more inclusive, and more intelligible conversation, one that can produce the informed and motivated citizens who demand better policies from government and business leaders.

It is heartwarming to hear this stated so clearly and I share this perspective as many artists do.  What role do you think artists in particular are able to play in developing new policy, especially when related to environmental and sustainability topics?

Artists and their work have a crucial role to play in environmental and climate policy and politics. Art can help people grasp the nature and scale of these vast challenges. Art can enable us to come to terms emotionally with them and to channel anger and frustration in productive ways. Also, art can help build support around particular policy approaches or proposals, and it can enable us to envision new worlds, to visualize alternate realities that exist beyond the narrow confines of what is politically  possible at any one time.

You will soon open The Crow’s Nest in Baltimore, Maryland, which will foster cross-disciplinary projects between artists, scientists, policy makers, planners, activists, etc.  In a recent interview you described your aspiration for the space to create “a diverse creative community whose members can inspire one another, collaborate, experiment, and cross-pollinate ideas.” What is your vision for the kinds of projects and ideas that cross-disciplinary collaboration uniquely achieves?

I don’t have any preconceived notions of what those working at the Crow's Nest will produce or of what will come out of this experiment in creativity.  What I hope is that the creative output will push boundaries and challenge and inspire us. The goal of the Crow’s Nest is to provide a space where creators feel free to explore and experiment and share ideas, producing original work that helps us view the world in a different way. 

Your open mindedness to creativity is very freeing. What inspired you to advocate for this creative and diverse vision?

After many years of working in government and nonprofits, I am convinced that we also need culture and the arts to help our country tackle the twin challenges of climate change and environmental injustice. Charts and graphs and political discourse are not enough to educate and convince people in our polarized society.  We also need to engage people’s imagination, their fears, hopes, dreams, and aspirations. The arts are a powerful way to do that.

Does the Baltimore location and the Bromo district’s residents present especially fertile ground for this kind of inspiration and boundary pushing?

Baltimore was a natural choice, because it is close to the center of policy and politics, but it also has a vibrant arts community and world-class cultural institutions, like the Peabody Conservatory, the Maryland Institute College of Art, and the Baltimore Museum of Art. The city also supports the arts and its arts districts. Baltimore remains a place where experimentation and risk-taking is still possible.      

Considering potential risks, how does the changing climate and related environmental risks contribute to your considerations investing in this location? And specifically, in the resilience of the Baltimore creative community?

 Baltimore is actually a lower-risk location than other metropolitical areas, including New York, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles. The top threats here are heat waves, high winds, and tornados.  Heat waves are what concerns me most, as they can kill more people than any other peril, and they hit the elderly and low-income communities hardest. Heat islands overlap with poor and historically-marginalized communities, which often have little green space, which lowers temperatures. I hope the art produced or exhibited at the Crow’s Nest will engage not only the global dimension of environmental challenges, but also with local aspects and their solutions.  

Lastly, you are planning an exciting upcoming exhibition called "the ecology of freedom" in collaboration with ecoartspace on Murray Bookchin’s free nature ideas. What are your hopes for this exhibition to support and activate this goal of nature's and human's self-determination to the goals of environmental and community resilience?

My hope is that the exhibit will allow artists and those who experience the art to explore some of Murray Bookchin’s revolutionary ideas. I hope the artworks will make some of these concepts, such as free nature and hierarchy, come alive for the viewer and enable them to relate these ideas to the struggles, challenges and solutions they see daily in their communities.

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