Saturday, January 03, 2009

Pointy-headed artists meet the hardhats

Creativity is embedded in everyday objects. Our clothes, cars, cellphones and homes all have some sense of design (although you wouldn't know that by my wardrobe). We like our stuff functional and we want it to look good.

What if we brought that same sense of creativity to Wyoming's energy industry? Let's take those wind turbines sprouting up all over the state. They're always white. There may be a great functional reason for that. White is cheaper. White scares away birds. White structures absorb less heat.

What if artists were brought into the process at the beginning? Artists, especially those who make public outdoor art, could offer advice on color, design and materials. They could work with engineers on the shape and size of the blades. Artists, in turn, could learn about metallurgy and BTUs and construction techniques.

I know, I know. We don't want any of those pointy-headed artists messing around in our factory. Next thing you know, they'd be painting all of our machinery a nice cornfield yellow or Wyoming sky blue.

But we're all trying to make a living here. And we're in a new era, where creativity could hold the key to the U.S. making it to its 300th birthday later this century.

An e-mail from Laramie artist Julianne Couch prompted this post. She's looking for visual artists in Wyoming who might be working with wind farms or other forms of energy production in their art. She writes that those "other forms" could mean anything from coal mines to nuke plants. She wants to talk to those people for her new book project, "Earth, Wind & Sky: A Power Trip." Contact Julianne at

I've seen the work of artists who've documented the depredations of energy exploration in their photos and paintings. I'm all for that. We all know that each picture tells a story. But I'm also concerned that artists can sometimes paint themselves out of the larger picture. The quest for non-renewable energy sources is ruining our state and killing our planet. That's true. But what if the pointy-headed artists and the energy workers in hardhats were thrown together and told to come up with a solution to, say, the air pollution problem in the Pinedale Anticline? The template of roads criss-crossing Wyoming's fragile ecosystem? The clouds of CO2 that escape our many power plants and add to global warming? We might come up with some solutions. We all might learn something about each other. There's also the possibility of fisticuffs (the artists would lose).

But it does come down to this: we need solutions or we're goners. The Obama Transition Team has put out a call to all states asking for ideas on getting the citizenry back to work. The OTT also asked this question: "How would you put your artists to work?"

I've offered one answer. There must be other good ideas out there....


Anonymous said...

Hi Mike - Love the post. I found out from the wind farm folks why the wind towers and turbines are white. Turns out that makes them less visually disruptive as they whirl away on the tops of ridges on so on. In some places the blades come complete with manufacturer logos, basically advertising 50 meters off the surface of the ground. That's not what we want!
- Julianne

Michael Shay said...

Julianne: Wouldn't some sort of camouflage paint job that matches the environment be better than white? Sure, white would be great in the Arctic, but UW's brown-and-harvest-gold colors would be a better match to Wyoming. And manufacturers' logos on the towers. I'm going to try to get close enough to see one. That's a kick.

mpage225 said...

I am thinking Orange and Blue with a Gator logo....