We Are Here To Plant A Tree emerges from the tradition of social sculpture modeled by artist Joseph Beuys. The Minister of Information (m.o.i.) aka Don Wilkison designed the project to elevate the seemingly simple act of planting a tree, and to create both an increased institutional commitment to arts patronage and more support for environmental and social justice. The objectives of the project are to foster an understanding of these plantings as a form of art, to openly negotiate the terms of each installation in a variety of more or less resistant settings, and to develop a public commitment for the long-term maintenance of the trees and the ideas they represent.

The work will address a frequent criticism of Kansas City’s arts ecology – that it is somewhat limited in diversity. It will also challenge the entrenched boundaries, traditional methodologies, and limited resources that fresh institutional thinking often struggles to overcome. We Are Here To Plant A Tree aims to reinvent the often cumbersome process of installing large-scale public sculptures, while retaining the positive contributions of consensus agreement.

Engaging the larger public is a core aspect of the project, however inviting community leaders and decision makers into an active art project is just as important. Wilkison and his sustainability assistant will work closely with policy makers to develop more sustainable behavioral models of institutional thinking. The planting program will cross geographic, cultural, and economic boundaries, from the urban core out into suburbia. It will also deliberately address mentorship of new and historically underserved audiences for the arts, environmental activism, and social justice.

Wilkison says: “On one level, it is hard to imagine that people can say “no” to, or fear, a tree. Yet they do. Just as they frequently say “no” to, and fear art. Sometimes they even say “no” to, and fear justice. The goal with this project is to overcome such fears with a simple action that serves as metaphor for larger behavioral changes.”

About the artist:

The Minister of Information aka m.o.i. @ Warrior Ant Press, examines cultural, political, social, and artistic practices in a consumer society. m.o.i. works include public performance pieces, sculpture, green graffiti, installations, and multiples. The work revolves around disrupting traditional expectations of art viewing and making, while remaining firmly grounded in universal, contemporary issues.

The artist has worked with a number of community-based education groups whose goals–beyond education–are to model positive behavior for the larger community. Projects have engaged underserved urban youth and others in active watershed science, urban restoration projects, and large scale Missouri and Mississippi River cleanups that connect communities with ecological sustainability issues. Additionally, the artist has served on community panels designed to reach consensus-based decisions on multi-million dollar infrastructure projects, and has helped to direct part of these assets into more sustainable solutions. He has also served as a collaborator, technical consultant, and assistant for various public environmental art installations.

Recent personal work, such as Clean Coal (2011), Free Radiation Check (2011), and Policy Bat (2010) have involved public engagement around serious, sensitive, and at times, contentious issues – such as global climate change and environmental disasters – but used humor as a means to encourage conversation.

portrait by Clayton Skidmore

m.o.i. is the artistic pseudonym of Don Wilkison, an environmental scientist. Wilkison’s research has focused on examining and quantifying the effects of human activities on the environment. These studies center on interdisciplinary ecological assessments via the integrated use of biological, chemical, habitat, and toxicity assessments, and frequently invoke the use novel and emerging tools. Wilkison has been the primary author of 12 peer-reviewed scientific studies and has given more than 100 presentations about his research to diverse audiences, ranging from the general public to the scientific community. Numerous print, radio (including NPR’s Morning Edition), and television articles have been generated in response to his research.

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