ASU emeritus professor exhibits paintings to encourage climate-change awareness

Mark Reader, creator of 'A Carbon Reduction Art Installation,' participated in ASU's first Earth Day in 1970


January 17, 2020

Fifty years ago, Mark Reader joined protests at ASU and in the Valley demanding clean air and water as part of the original Earth Day. Today, the emeritus professor of political science continues advocating on behalf of the environment — although these days, he’s taking a slightly different approach.

Reader, a talented painter, is promoting a healthier world through his art, something he has recently returned to creating after many years. He said art can make an impression on people just like the public awareness that helped bring about the first Earth Day in 1970. ASU Professor Emeritus of Political Science Mark Reader art exhibition through May 15, 2020, at University Center, Phoenix Mark Reader, "Human Scale" (Sacred Valley of the Inca, Peru), 2013. Watercolor, 20 1/2 x 28 3/4 in. Loan: Private Collection. Paintings and mixed-media artworks by ASU Emeritus Professor of political science Mark Reader are on view through May 15 in an environmental-themed exhibition at the University Center at the Downtown Phoenix campus. Download Full Image

Reader’s exhibition of paintings and mixed-media artworks, “Notice Nurture Nature … and Each Other: A Carbon Reduction Art Installation,” is on view through May 15 in the University Center lobby at the ASU’s Downtown Phoenix campus. The presentations of desert wildflowers, edible produce and depictions of people living in sync with their surroundings commemorate that first Earth Day, he said.

Listening to Reader talk about the show is to hear echoes of the themes of decades ago as the world deals with climate change today:

“The art show teaches us, if we wish it, how to relate to nature and to each other in a less destructive place. It teaches us to notice the natural world around us, and to use the arts to create a noninvasive, nonabusive culture, based on the sustainability of nonviolence and human restraint,” Reader said.

“That’s what I’m trying to encourage in the show, is for people to think about living in harmony with the world, and to begin to exercise the skills they’ve never been given in terms of living in a less violent way." 

ASU Professor Emeritus of Political Science

Mark Reader

Five decades go, air pollution created hazy, smoggy skies over U.S. cities, and waste material was dumped into lakes and rivers, fouling waterways. At the time, few laws existed to protect the natural landscape and the plant and animal life that lived there.

Reader was at ASU then, having begun teaching political theory in 1967 after moving from Pennsylvania, attracted by the desert’s beauty. But even Arizona was beginning to experience the harmful effects of automobile exhaust and smokestack emissions. Some days you couldn’t see Camelback Mountain, he said.

Many students, professors and others were involved in ASU’s celebration of that first Earth Day, with demonstrations, experiments and learning activities, he recalled.

Some of the first efforts at establishing Arizona as a solar power producer began then, he said, building a foundation for today’s response to climate change.

ASU Professor Emeritus of Political Science Mark Reader, art exhibition through May 15, 2020, University Center, Downtown Phoenix, environmental-based art

Mark Reader, “Spatial Relations,” mixed media, 2015. 13 x 9 in.

In 1970, the idea of looking at the whole planet in perspective was new, Reader said. Today, fossil fuels and chemicals are central to the global economy, and governments aren’t as responsive to effecting change as they once were.

Now in his mid-80s, Reader said he’s offering an artistic perspective to encourage thinking about inventing a new world where we are no longer consumers of resources but conservers of them.

“We can’t have a global consumer economy with more and more people polluting,” he said. “We have to change our cultural habits.”

Reader has contributed many of his paintings, each with an environmental theme, to charities and educational institutions in Arizona and Washington state, including at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Phoenix and ASU’s Emeritus College art collection at both the Tempe and Downtown Phoenix campuses, as well as the permanent art collections of the University of Washington at Tacoma.

He dedicated his show at the University Center to teenage environmental activist Greta Thunberg, whom Time magazine named its 2019 Person of the Year, and the global student-led climate strike movement.

“Human survival depends on enough people doing the right thing at the right time to avoid disaster. I don’t believe in a politics of blame or punishment. I believe in a politics of inclusion,” Reader said. “We have to say, 'OK, we’ve made mistakes. What do we have to do to get out of this?'”

He said he invites both “the powerful and well as the powerless” to join in creating those solutions.

“I think the arts do that. They are very invitational,” Reader said. “I invite you, through my art, to pause to think about what you can do, no matter who you are, to limit the damage that you do. We all do damage. When we start blaming each other, something common in our politics now, we don’t get anywhere. It’s not functional.”

A public reception for Mark Reader’s exhibition on the Downtown Phoenix campus, “Notice Nurture Nature … and Each Other: A Carbon Reduction Art Installation,” will be 3 to 5 p.m. Friday, Jan. 24, in the lobby of the University Center, 411 N. Central Ave., Phoenix.

Mark J. Scarp

Media Relations Officer, Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions

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Dancing Earth brings technology and tradition to ASU Gammage


January 17, 2020

Tradition meets the future in an upcoming show in ASU Gammage’s “Beyond” series.

Dancing Earth presents “Between Underground and Skyworld,” a multimedia dance and theater performance inspired by the relationship between indigenous practices and the future of the environment.  Photo taken by James A. for Dancing Earth in 2019. Download Full Image

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Rulan Tangen, artistic founding director of Dancing Earth, said she was inspired by emerging technology and how intertribal traditions influence the future of our ecosystem.

“To really understand and care about the life force that is in every living being is certainly omnipresent in indigenous philosophies to reimagine that connection,” she said.

“Between Underground and Skyworld” transforms the ordinary into the extraordinary. With costumes from thrift stores and upcycled set designs, the show brings the Earth to the theater.

“It’s not about extravagance, it’s about looking at what you know is already there and how we can create something from that,” Tangen said. “And I think that is a beautiful way of life.”

Onstage, the performers become “eco-superheroes,” a term Tangen used to define the dancers’ abilities and transformation into their characters.

“I’m hoping this will ignite a lot of inspiration about people reimagining the future,” Tangen said.

Dancing Earth will be lighting up the ASU Gammage stage Jan. 25. “Between Underground and Skyworld” begins at 7 p.m., but events begin much earlier — and not on the stage.

A participatory festival celebrating the opening groundwork and people of the land will commence at 4 p.m. The festival will feature an eco fashion show, Native art market booths, Native American food trucks, performance art and more.

Bryan McKinley Jones Brayboy, senior adviser to the president and director of the Center for Indian Education, is helping to bring new ideas to the preshow festivities. 

“This isn't just what's happening on the stage — it's about what happens when you park your car and you get out of it and you begin to walk toward ASU Gammage,” Brayboy said.

Tangen said it is an indigenous principle to ask permission to use the land before hosting any event, and the opening groundwork will do just that.

“People will be walking into an immersive experience that has committed people talking about their vision for the future,” Tangen said.

Amongst the art for the opening groundwork will be an original structure from architect Wanda Dalla Costa, joint professor for the School of Design and Del E. Webb School of Construction.

The structure will stand more than 15 feet tall and will honor the local indigenous culture in Arizona. Dalla Costa said it is aiming to support Tangen’s idea of indigenous-centric futurity.

The details of the structure and its hidden meanings add richness to the structure, Dalla Costa said. Some of the symbols on the structure include 22 markers connoting the 22 tribes in Arizona and solar LED lights to represent the style and ideals of the future. 

“We are aiming for new expressions of indigeneity in our design work,” Dalla Costa said.

Overall, the piece will be a place for reflection and conversation. With benches surrounding the structure, Dalla Costa said she hopes it will be a space to connect with indigenous history and to share that history with nonindigenous people.

“When people think of indigeneity, they probably think of something more traditional, but we want to make it a very future-oriented piece,” Dalla Costa said. “Bringing in this technology sends the message that we are commingling our lifeways and our belief system with contemporary technology.”

Marketing assistant, ASU Gammage