Mary Jo Aagerstoun
- Mary Jo Aagerstoun
- Jackie Brookner and Angela Ciotti (photo caption 1)
- Stormwater capture and cleaning sculpture by Michael Singer (photo caption 2)
- WELCOM HOME WILDLIFE Torry Island EcoArt Project (photo caption 3)
Mary Jo Aagerstoun is an “accidental environmentalist.” When she moved with her family to West Palm Beach in 2004 between the two big hurricanes of that year, Frances and Jeanne, she was a newly minted Art History PhD with expertise in activist art. Art History is a profession not well known for involvement in environmental issues. Indeed, it was the 2004 hurricane experience that first inspired Mary Jo to consider how art could enhance environmental advocacy. Along with exposure for the first time to hurricane fury, upon relocating to Florida Mary Jo was confronted with aggressive reminders that hurricanes are not the only afflictions visited upon Florida: toxic algae blooms in our rivers, coral reefs dissolving off the coast, salt water intrusion, industrial agricultural runoffs that pollute the Everglades, serious lack of canopy trees in urbanized areas and much more. This total immersion steered Mary Jo toward what is now her primary obsession–making a difference for South Florida’s environment through art that engages community. To this end, in 2007, she founded EcoArt South Florida, http://www.ecoartsofla.org, a nonprofit that brings together art, science and community engagement. Mary Jo’s increasing interest (and self education) in environmental issues led her also to several volunteer advisory experiences, including most recently as a consortium member of 7/50, an unprecedented 5O year planning effort engaging all 7 counties in SouthEast Florida, and funded by the US Department of Housing and Community Development, and with her own city, West Palm Beach. She is currently a member of the relatively new City of West Palm Beach Sustainability Advisory Committee where she serves as the chair of the subcommittee on natural resources and water conservation, and is a past member of the city’s Art in Public Places Board and the Comprehensive Plan update committee.
1. Several years after moving to Florida, Mary Jo Aagerstoun learned there was an EcoArt project in a park in the city where she lived! EcoArtists Jackie Brookner and Angelo Ciotti had received a commission from the City of West Palm Beach to work as integral members of a design build team on a major park renovation in the city’s largest green space, Dreher Park. The primary impetus was to provide more stormwater drainage lake areas to mitigate flooding in adjacent residential neighborhoods. Ciotti’s design concepts kept all the earth dug for the new lakes, creating earthworks of various sizes reminiscent of ancient “shell mounds” left by ancient peoples across South Florida’s watery landscape. Brookner designed a water cleaning BioSculpture planted with water cleaning plants and mosses that was installed in the main lake, a small observation/fishing dock and a garden consisting of plantings and hardscape that referenced the Seminole people. By the time Mary Jo learned of the project in 2007 it was in serious disarray. Many large trees had fallen on the garden during the hurricanes of 2004 and 2005, and the typical Seminole chiki at its center had burned. In the lake, torpedo grass was smothering the hydric plants installed as part of the art. The pump bringing lake water up and over Brookner’s sculpture had been damaged in the storms and not repaired, so all the plants and mosses on the surface of the sculpture had died. Mary Jo Aagerstoun, working with Lucy Keshavarz who had been the art consultant on the project, formed Friends of Elders’ Cove in 2007 to restore the work which was completed in 2012. The repair took longer than the original creation of the work!
2. This stormwater capture and cleaning sculpture by Michael Singer is located at one corner of the Coconut Creek Seminole Casino’s parking garage. This project completed in 2011 was facilitated by Mary Jo Aagerstoun at the inception of EcoArt South Florida in 2007. The planning director of the City of Coconut Creek in Broward County had heard Mary Jo speak and several days later called to ask if she could recommend an EcoArtist to do a highly visible EcoArt project for the Seminole Tribe at their new casino. The casino itself is on tribal land, but the parking garage was on city of Coconut Creek Land, and because of this, the Tribe, which usually did not have to comply with County code requirements, did have to do so. Coconut Creek had a new ordinance that required all new construction to be certified at the lowest level of LEED certification (LEED is the US Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design requirements). One of these requirements was a “no smoking” environment inside the buildings. The Tribe wished to allow their patrons to smoke, so the City of Coconut Creek offered them a way to allow smoking by integrating an EcoArt project that either created energy or handled stormwater or both, into one of the Casino buildings. The fact that it took 5 years for the project to be completed had nothing to do with the artist’s pace and everything to do with quite a bit of resistance from the Tribe. EcoArt South Florida is proud that this Singer project was the first to be started, virtually at the beginning of the organization’s existence.
3. The Welcome Home Wildlife Torry Island EcoArt Project was the first intervention in Belle Glade, Florida, one of the locations chosen by EcoArt South Florida as a potential “EcoArt Node.” EASF’s goal is to have EcoArt Nodes in at least the beginning stages in one community in each of South Florida’s five watersheds by 2015. See http://ecoartsofla.org/get-involved/apprenticeships/ for an outline of the various elements of EASF’s comprehensive community EcoArt education program, the means by which an EcoArt Node comes into being. The Summer 2012 project in Belle Glade, Florida was headed by Jesse Etelson, one of the artists who graduated from EASF’s pilot apprenticeship in Stuart, Florida in 2010. The experienced EcoArtist who mentored Jesse and several other Martin County artists in 2010 was Betsy Damon. The Belle Glade project Jesse ran included 17 youth interns, residents of Belle Glade. Over $100K in probono contributions of both goods and services were acquired along with about $15K in cash from the immediate community and from professional scientific organizations working in the area. The project is described here: http://ecoartsofla.org/2012/07/22/welcome-home-wildlife-torry-island-belle-glade-florida-ecoart-project-nears-completion/