The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is one of America’s preeminent environmental organizations, known for its aggressive litigation and scientific expertise. Not, in other words, a likely exhibitor at Expo Chicago, the art fair where it occupied a booth alongside galleries such as David Zwirner
and local doyenne Rhona Hoffman
But Elizabeth Corr, director of art partnerships at NRDC, said Expo Chicago has, for the fair’s past six editions, been the perfect place for the organization to spotlight its work, most recently with an art project by the Chicago-based collective
. The work features actual recordings of the sounds and frequencies of melting and moving glaciers in a booth fitted with shards of mirror that evoked the shattering of the Larsen C ice shelf in Antarctica, which just a few months before Expo Chicago was held, broke off into the Weddell Sea.
“One of the really hard things about climate change is that people struggle to imagine it, and imagine what it looks like,” said Corr. “Artists and art have the incredible ability to break down that barrier...That allows the public to interact in a very active way, to ask questions, to have emotive responses, to feel. And once they’re feeling, they’ll be more inclined to take action on behalf of the environment.”
NRDC’s booth at Expo Chicago is one example of the nonprofit sector’s growing engagement with the art community, as nonprofit organizations seek to harness the alignment between their causes and the liberal-leaning artists, dealers, and art audiences to raise awareness among new demographics and bring in much-needed funds.
“We’re constantly trying to reach a more diverse audience, a younger audience, to get them engaged with our work. The art world is perfect for that,” Corr said. “Historically, there’s such a strong link between art and political movements, and the environmental movement is no different.”
Now in her seventh year working with artists, Corr also oversees an artist-in-residence program in which artists access NRDC’s scientists and legal experts for input and inspiration.
The links between the art community and nonprofits have been solidifying as more people, including artists, seek political involvement following the election of United States President Donald Trump.
That’s made it easy for Sexy Beast—a nonprofit organization started by Night Gallery
’s Davida Nemeroff and
to fundraise for Planned Parenthood Los Angeles (PPLA)—to lure artists and other creative types in Los Angeles to join forces with them.
“People are really revved up and looking for avenues to contribute,” said Kristen Stegemoeller, who along with Sonny Ruscha Granade and Tera Uhlinger now steer Sexy Beast after Nemeroff and Marple handed the reins to Granade in November of 2016.
“So many of these artists and designers we’re working with [are] very liberal and politically engaged personally, but there are limited outlets to use their talent and skills to directly benefit causes they personally care about,” said Stegemoeller. “We’re trying to thread the needle for them.”
That includes projects such as t-shirts designed by artist
and designer/creative director Virgil Abloh (available for a $100 donation to PPLA) and a forthcoming signature necklace by jewelry designer and Sexy Beast host committee member Gabriela Artigas. The diverse range of guests and hosts at October’s biannual gala includes prominent members of the L.A. arts community, including gallerist David Kordansky
and directors from Gagosian
, Hauser & Wirth
, Karma International
, Kohn Gallery
, Nicodim Gallery
, and Tappan
. (Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Inc., the national organization, has a director of arts and entertainment engagement, but PPFA declined to make her available for an interview.)