What’s Driving Nonprofits into the Art World’s Arms

Installation view of the NRDC’s booth at Expo Chicago. Photo by Justin Barbin. Courtesy of Expo Chicago.

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 Luftwerk. 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.”

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