The blog of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Jan 27, 2016

Wild culture in the Everglades

Posted by Bill Maxwell

Above: Artists Christina Pettersson and Jose Elias scout locations for the event. Photos via AIRIE.

The Everglades is more than a special place and more than a beautiful place. It is an essential and necessary place, the primary source of potable water for some 6 million people living in South Florida.

Scientists know this and a handful of politicians acknowledge it. And, certainly, artists know that the Everglades, which includes the national park, is indispensable to human survival and must be protected. Artists also know that people protect what they care about. They want people to care about the Everglades so that they will become part of the effort to reverse the mismanagement of water to this vital ecosystem.

The challenge is getting people to become regular visitors to the park, to experience firsthand its fragile beauty. In 2000, when Congress authorized the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, Dade County native and artist Donna Marxer realized that artists needed to be part of the effort and serve as ambassadors. She created Artists in Residence in Everglades (AIRIE) that lets artists live and work in the park for one month. In return, artists participate in outreach programs that encourage South Floridians to see the park for themselves.

Currently, AIRIE is “rewilding” South Florida, Miami in particular, with “Wild Billboards” and by inviting residents and tourists to participate in Wild Culture Sundays in the Park. Supported by the Knight Arts Challenge, the program invites the public to learn about the Everglades by watching performances and viewing installations and mini-billboards by AIRIE fellows.

The first program kicks off Jan. 31 at Long Pine Key with Miami-based musician Jose Elias and multi-disciplinary artist Christina Pettersson.

Elias will perform music from Everglades Songbook Suite at 3pm. “My goal is to compose a musical soundscape that showcases the many aspects of the diverse ecosystem that is the Everglades,” he said. “By creating music that incorporates field recordings of wildlife and nature, I will be able to tell a story of resiliency and survival. I’m using the universal language of music to highlight a new chapter of the Everglades that focuses on its restoration and a healthy future.

“These performances will not only entertain but educate audiences about certain aspects and historical moments that led to the creation of the park. Our presentations will share stories of the wildlife and landscape that have been affected by the agriculture and real estate development that encroach upon the watershed.”

Pettersson will showcase The Furies of the Swamp at 4 p.m., a performance highlighting the dark history of the Florida plume hunters. Women will act as the plumed birds taking revenge on the hunters. It promises to be an unforgettable experience.

Christina Pettersson, from The Furies of the Swamp.

AIRIE Executive Director Deborah Mitchell, who is an artist, takes a no-nonsense approach to the importance of the Sundays in the Park program.

“As the director of a residency in a National Park faced with critical environmental issues, I want artists who may apply and guests attending the event to think more deeply about why we should all care about the fundamental concept of water quality and quantity in Florida,” she said.  “With Sundays in the Park, AIRIE shares music and performance art which connect and inspire us to restore, conserve and protect this wilderness”.

The purpose of Wild Culture Sundays in the Park is to help visitors become aware of the essence of the Everglades, a World Heritage Site that is endangered as a result of human conduct.

Bill Maxwell is a journalist for the Tampa Bay Times and a former Writer in Residence in the Everglades.

Sundays in the Park: Connect and Inspire in Celebration of the Park Centennial is free and open to the public with park admission, but tickets are strongly suggested. Free Trolley service from Losner Park in Homestead departs at 2pm, returns by 5:30 p.m. find out more at

Ana Mendez, from The Body is Present series, 2013.

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