“Art” in the service of evil.

Is art supposed to be about truth, or only about ways of manipulating our emotions?  This question has been discussed for thousands of years and has no simple answer.

The “Northern Spark” event in Minneapolis, Minnesota this coming Friday and Saturday–June 4 th and 5th is “a free, all-night festival of public art and performances ….”  The mayors of Minneapolis and St. Paul have issued a joint proclamation saying:

“WHEREAS, more than 60 public art projects will turn= Minneapolis and Saint Paul into all night cities of light; an d WHEREAS, Northern Spark expands the boundaries of contemporary a rt by transforming the urban environment into a city-wide art gallery; ….”

Northern Spark is sponsored by Covanta, the evil garbage incinerator company, and the HERC garbage burner itself, listed separately, and the Minnesota State Arts Board, a state agency dispensing tax revenues.  Plus the cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, the Uptake (shame) and others.

“Presentation of Waste Not at Northern Spark is made possible in part by a grant provided by the Minnesota State Arts Board, through an appropriation by the Minnesota State Legislature from the Minnesota arts and cultural heritage fund with money from the vote of the people of Minnesota on November 4, 2008.”  (Board members here.)

At the core of this event is “greenwashing” the HERC garbage incinerator in downtown Minneapolis.  The owner, Hennepin County, and the operator, Covanta, are trying to expand garbage burning at the HERC.  Community-based organizations–those not bought off–are, of course, opposed, and want the burner shut down.  The HERC is listed as a “partner ” as well,  giving the burner people three bites out of this corrupted apple.

In a May 13, 2011 press release, Hennepin County boasts:

“The Hennepin County Energy Recovery Center (HERC) in downtown Minneapolis will become a giant projected light display as part of the Northern Spark Art Festival. … Artist Christopher Baker will use video projectors to cast light and images reflecting his project “Waste Not”  giving spectators a glimpse into the otherwise hidden energy production processes at HERC and creating awareness about energy consumption and waste generation.”

See, at this link, a video filled with lies and misrepresentations, many spouted directly by Carl Michaud, Director of Hennepin County Environmental Services.  As just one example, the video repeatedly refers to the smokestack emissions of the incinerator as “air.”  Of course, it isn’t air, it’s many hundreds of thousands of pounds per year of health-damaging pollutants.  Need we say there is not one word about the ongoing community struggle to prevent the expansion of, and ultimately close, this burner?

The “artist” behind this is Christopher Baker. The title, “Waste Not” is a perverted misappropriation of a term usually associated with recycling programs and suchlike.

“Christopher Baker is an artist whose work engages the rich collection of social, technological and ideological networks present in the urban landscape. He creates artifacts and situations that reveal and generate relationships within and between these networks. Baker recently completed his Master of Fine Arts in Experimental and Media Arts at the University of Minnesota. He is now the senior artist in residence at the Kitchen Budapest, an experimental media arts lab in Hungary. In his previous life as a scientist, Christopher worked to develop brain computer interfaces at the University of Minnesota and UCLA.”

Baker has not responded to our efforts to find out what if anything he actually knows about the garbage burner.  We don’t have any reason to think he made the propaganda video referenced above.  But the themes of his own “Waste Not” project sound very similar.  “Director” Steve Dietz didn’t respond either.  (Requests were passed through Elle Krause-Lyons, a press type who would not give us direct contact info.)

Some people wrote to the Arts Board objecting to its funding of incinerator propaganda.  For instance, Jan Greenfield of Neighbors Against the Burner, wrote, on March 4, 2011:

“Art is being used to “pretty up” a very toxic operation; using art to “greenwash” is an immoral act & a disservice to the public interest.  Please do not use your resources to support this so-called “art” — in reality P.R. spin for HERC — at the upcoming Northern Sparks Festival.”

The Arts Board didn’t respond to Greenfield.  Executive Director Sue Gens told us the Board funds projects based on “artistic merit” without regard to “point of view.”  The Arts Board will probably have to provide copies of the grant paperwork and it may be interesting.

What’s the truth about the HERC garbage burner?

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency recently reported to Rep. Frank Hornstein that the HERC belched out 1.3 million pounds a year of health damaging “criteria” air pollutants in 2009.  The is about 20 percent of all the smokestack air emissions in Minneapolis.  In 2005–toxics are only reported every three years–the HERC belched out 112 thousand pounds of “toxic” air pollutants, including 87 thousand pounds of hydrochloric acid.  These pollutants go into the air of neighborhoods already suffering from more than their share of pollutants and resulting health problems.  Neighbors Against the BurnerMore on the HERCIncinerators: Myths vs. Facts.

But our real point here is not that garbage incineration is bad.  That’s easy to show.

One can have a lot of fun setting up, or attending, an event like Northern Spark. Does it matter that the core of it is a big, flagrant, toxic lie?

Apparently that doesn’t matter to the Arts Board, or Mayor Rybak, or Mayor Coleman, or many, many others.  Did anyone check this out and have the integrity NOT to participate?  If so, we’d like to hear from them.

Blogger Erik Hare just did a post on “different kinds of lies that surround us.” It’s worth a look.

How much does it matter that we are swimming in a sea of lies so pervasive that the very concept of truth sometimes seems elusive? That so many of our “artists” seem to get their truth directly from the clients’ checkbook?

The elected officials most responsible for the overall HERC scam are the Commissioners of Hennepin County:  (And the most guilty of these, it seems to me, is Peter McLaughlin:  A fanatic, even a crank, on the subject of incineration, and inclined to bully those who disagree.


Alan Muller

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