A public garden & cultural center

Steinman, Lacy and Kobayashi

Susan Leibovitz Steinman , Suzanne Lacy , Yutaka Kobayashi

Remediate/Re-vision: Public Artists Engaging the Environment
Glyndor Gallery | August 1 – November 28, 2010

Mountain top removal                    View from bridge along the Blue Line Trail

For six years Susan Leibovitz Steinman, Suzanne Lacy and Yutaka Kobayashi returned many times to Elkhorn City, KY, an Appalachian town of 1,000 people. Experienced community activists and committed eco-artists, they were struck by the beauty of the river and mountains in contrast with the environmental and ecological devastation resulting from the mining and lumber industries. The tight-knit community of Elkhorn City was interested in seeking change and attracting people and a new clean economy to the town. Through workshops and meetings the team focused on the community’s natural, cultural and historic assets. Drawing on the townspeople’s experience of the land and aspirations, the team identified a series of projects that are linked by a walking path.

Beneath Land and Water – A Project for Elkhorn City
 is an umbrella title for a series of projects. The Blue Line Trail is a circular walking path that links existing cultural and historical attractions like the Rail Road Museum and Main Street to a revitalized riverfront. Following painted blue lines walkers pass vista points to appreciate the river and the landscape, and discover a series of collaborative community murals celebrating local river and town histories. Most prominent is the 30’ x 50’ River Heritage Quilt Mural. The Riverfront Native Habitat Park includes sculptural, seating, interpretive signs and over 30 varieties of native plants; and functions to filter storm water runoff from roads polluted by coal trucks. A tourist brochure and website to stimulate green and art tourism are important elements of the project as well.

Susan Liebovitz Steinman on Beneath Land + Water: A Project for Elkhorn City
For a complex six-year collaboration by three established artists, Beneath Land + Water is a uniquely holistic paradigm of like goals, communal strategies and interwoven aesthetics. Art-wise, the project is best described as a real time performance of engaged conversations based on Joseph Beuys’ ecological social sculpture, Alan Kaprow’s “Art as Life,” and Arlene Raven’s “Art in the Public Interest.” Ecologically, it models reclamation strategies for an endangered waterfront, and harnesses the power of art to stimulate green tourism in an economically-strapped region with endangered habitats.

Internationally known for in situ social-issue tableaux, Suzanne directs large groups of stakeholders as performers. Yutaka, a respected Japanese nature/eco sculptor, had worked with Suzanne in 2000. I assisted Suzanne on her innovative 1988 City Sites project, meeting artists Mierle Laderman Ukeles and Helen and Newton Harrison in the process. This inspired me to combine conceptual art, ecology principles, and social justice in large-scale community based eco-landscape projects. I also assisted Suzanne on her groundbreaking text, Mapping the Terrain.

In 1999, Suzanne was invited to Kentucky by the American Festival Project and Appalshop to develop a future performance. Drawn to the Elkhorn City Heritage Council’s dream of developing a green tourist economy to replace disappearing coal jobs, protect its riverfront, and revive a declining town, she invited Yutaka and me to collaborate. Together we designed, critiqued, redesigned, organized, constructed. Suzanne led big-picture transparent planning meetings at the local café, encouraging open participation—inviting the Mayor, county staff and other decision-makers. I collaborated with local art and science teachers to conduct student eco-art net workshops, painting tiles and propagating native seeds. I designed town-wide public murals and the habitat reclamation park. Suzanne brought Otis College of Art & Design students to help. Yutaka created eco-interventions, cut out asphalt, planted and built sculptural benches. All painted blue lines and hauled soil. The Blue Line Trail emerged, encircling the town, connecting “nature to culture,” uniting disparate parts into cohesive gestalt, reviving derelict buildings with blue paint and murals, protecting and cleaning its riverfront. A sophisticated tourist brochure was created: visit the historic riverfront town with contemporary eco-art.

Our project attracted the Governor’s Earth Day Award; National Park Service support for a protected riparian trail connecting riverfront towns; and new grants. The town grew in green ways: festivals, local theater, farmers’ market, testing water quality. We left a civic eco-art plan for future projects by Kentucky artists. As a model, it’s a great success. It is up to Elkhorn City to sustain the work, increase the momentum.


The Arts at Wave Hill are supported by the Lily Auchincloss Foundation, Inc.; Michael J. Shannon; Milton and Sally Avery Arts Foundation; the National Endowment for the Arts; New York City Department of Cultural Affairs; New York Community Trust Edward and Sally Van Lier Fund; New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and the New York State Legislature; The Pollock-Krasner Foundation; The Shelley & Donald Rubin Foundation; and by the Cathy and Stephen Weinroth Commissioning Fund for the Arts.