Application to the Conference is now closed! Thank you to all those who applied.

The public is invited to attend our Saturday night event, an art showing of conference participants and concert featuring Morgan O'Kane: Saturday, March 14, 7:30-10PM  @ The Commons, 388 Atlantic Ave. in Brooklyn.

About the Conference

We have passed our deadline for receiving new applicants to Holding Ground. For participants: please read about the event, here!

The Holding Ground conference will bring together artists of all mediums who are interested in using their creativity to explore the potential of an ecologically conscious society, in a world beyond unsustainable energy practices.


The conference will take place in NYC, on March 14-15, 2015. Our emphasis throughout the conference will be on using art as a means to explore place. 


Saturday's events will take place at The Commons, Brooklyn. The weekend will kick off Saturday morning with a “dérive” walk, in which participants will have a unique experience of place by paying attention to details in the landscape that are otherwise often overlooked. On Saturday afternoon, participants will take part in a series of discussion sessions facilitated by working artists and artist-activists. All participants will have a voice in explaining their dream or current project, being encouraged to focus on ways they might share passions, talents, and experiences with others in the group. On Saturday night, we will gather for an art showing and concert. During the concert, we plan to announce a new environmental art award, sponsored by New York Loves Mountains.


On Sunday, participants will gather at the Textile Arts Center in Manhattan, where we will merge talents and passions to create a collaborative public artwork, guided by Toronto-based visual artist Tania Love.


 We hope that this event will recharge and inspire participants to become “seeds” of alternative consciousness. Yet we are also humbly committed to helping create new connections that persist and sustain well beyond the weekend’s events – to form networks of roots for holding ground.



Amber Myers, Tania Love, Sarah Moon, and Laura Sheinkopf 


For more information, please email holdinggroundconference@gmail.com


Conference Schedule


The Commons, 388 Atlantic Ave, btwn Hoyt and Bond



8:30-9:00 – Coffee and Breakfast

9:00-9:45 – Welcome and Dérive walk orientation

10:00-10:45 – Dérive walk

11:00-12:00 – Sharing the experience, Introductions

12:00-12:45 – Lunch



1:00-5:30 - Breakout sessions



7:30-10:00 - Art share and Concert, open to the public!



Textile Arts Center, 26 W. 8th St. (btwn MacDougal and 5th Ave.) 


10:00-1:00 - Collaborative Art Project

Session Descriptions

Arts and the Anthropocene (with Andrew Munn)

Anthropocene is the name of a new geologic epoch brought about by human-changes to Earth’s systems - from the permeation of human influence at the microscopic level of genetics - in bioengineering - to the macro changes in atmospheric composition that set in motion climate change. In a sense, the Anthropocene is the material manifestation of deeply embedded cultural mythologies, such as human domination over nature and Utilitarianism. At the same time, it collapses traditional dichotomies, such as those drawn between natural and human-made. As a geologic epoch, it forces us to imagine the long aftermath of individual and collective present-day actions and decisions. In this way, discussing the Anthropocene brings up speculative questions that highlight our relationship to deep time, and the perhaps undesirable immortality of our actions.

This workshop will lay out aspects of the Anthropocene: the material evidence of its existence; the discussion of meaningful dates for its advent; its ideological underpinnings; its relationship to environmental justice struggles and history of imperialism. We will ask participants to reflect on their artistic practice’s relationship to the phenomenon. How are our practices related to the Anthropocene in their physical materiality and content? How can our artistic practice contribute to narratives for navigating the Anthropocene?


You Don't Have to be Michael Moore to Make Your Point: Using Subtly and Subtext to Deliver Your Message (with Jon Matthews)

Subtlety and subtext are powerful ways to deliver your message. In 2014, my documentary “Surviving Cliffside,” premiered at the South by Southwest Film Festival and screened at a dozen festivals, worldwide.The film is set in Cliffside, a neighborhood in West Virginia. Cliffside was once a summer camp for the chemical manufacturer, Union Carbide. In the 60s, when Carbide’s Charleston plant was thriving, Cliffside was an idyllic resort. It had a pool, a lake, and a roller rink. It was a great place for workers to bring their families. In the late 70s, Carbide cut its jobs. And the Cliffside Summer Camp became rental property. Today, the neighborhood is a hotbed for crime and drugs. Cliffside is an example of how environmentally consequential industry can come to a region, provide a short term benefit, then leave the region with long term problems for the residents to handle on their own. In “Surviving Cliffside,” I don’t make this point the Michael Moore way. I don’t use infographics or talking heads. Instead, I focus in on one family in the community. A family that is jobless and has turned to crime and drugs, in order to survive. The family is an example of the long term problems that Carbide has left. In my session, I will show a portion of my film. Show some examples from other artists. Then facilitate a discussion on how we, as artists, can use subtly and subtext to deliver our message.


Storytelling for the Natural World (with Monica Hunken)

It is easy to lose our connection to nature in a city so monopolized by concrete and metal.  However, we must revive that necessary bond if we are to engage the human species to join in a battle for climate justice and a sustainable world.  The international tradition and love of storytelling is key for re-building this connection.  In this workshop, we will explore various physical theater techniques, improvisation and sound and movement to investigate memories of our individual stories of rare and precious moments in natural places.  We will share these stories and learn from one another the power of passing on unique knowledge and beauty. 


Breaking it Apart, Putting it Together (with Phil Irish)

Collage is a process that lends itself to questioning - breaking apart received images, and bringing together elements that have been kept separate. I will begin the session by discussing my visit to Alberta’s oil sands, and how that imagery is working metaphorically into my project Trashing Mountains. Video and projected images place participants within the resulting architecturally-scaled collage. Participants will then be invited into a collaborative collage process. Collage has been used, since the surrealists, as a method to disrupt assumptions and habits of thought. Collaborative collage is full of discursive possibilities, cutting up expectations and relishing surprising new  perspectives. This collage process explicitly acknowledges the rifts and seams, and pulls  these images back into a complex relationship. The collage we make would be displayed for the duration of the day, including during the public concert, expanding the conversations. The session would end with a short time of reflection. What have we discovered? How do  we relate to both the brokenness and synthesis of collage? What can we take with us to new contexts?


Homescapes Painting Workshop (with Nicole Pouliot)

This hands-on painting workshop is open to anyone with an imagination! My homescape paintings are a series of whimsical pieces that I create in part to celebrate the beauty of the sky and the "magic" of colorful sunsets, as well as to honor the land and structures where we live our lives. To begin the session, I will share some of my own homescape paintings with you and the step-by-step process that I use to create them. The homescape process is very formulaic, yet there is an element of chance-- both factors make it fun!  Then I will take us through the process as a group, and participants will leave with a completed painting.

Balancing arts and activism (with Sarah Moon)

There are many questions to ask ourselves as artists who are inspired to use their creativity to support either an aspect of, or the environmental sustainability movement as a whole. Is there such a thing as a hybrid artist/activist or is one role always subservient to the other? If the artist identity is ascendent, where do we draw the line in terms of promoting a message that supports an activist movement? Do we work with activists to develop a joint vision or avoid movements altogether and simply follow our inner guide? What can artists show activists that they might not otherwise see, indirectly contributing to a movement's long-term success? In this session, we'll discuss these questions as well as those raised by others toward a candid discussion on the ways that arts and activism can and do mix, both with challenges and great success.


Collaborative Art Project Description (with Tania Love)

We’ll create a series of collaborative works, reflective of root imagery, combining the use of plant based inks and dyes, woven paper and stitching to be mounted in the Textile Arts Center display window.  The process will include an introduction and demonstration of making plant based inks followed by hands on engagement by participants using the inks and paper. Through the use of these materials and processes, we hope to stir further dialogue and curiosity about our environment and the way we overlook or engage with the every day around us.


Facilitator and Conference Organizer Bios



Andrew Munn is a place based community organizer and singer in the operatic and classical style. For five years, he lived and worked in West Virginia's coalfields working in communities affected by mountaintop removal coal mining, on projects ranging from non­violent direct action and mass mobilizations to mine site monitoring and “permit jamming.” In 2012, he started working with composer Nate May on Dust in the Bottomland, a solo chamber opera that inhabits the world of southern West Virginia. These days, he is in graduate school at Bard College Conservatory under the direction of Dawn Upshaw and studying voice with Sanford Sylvan at the Julliard School. He lives in a small farm house and aspires to garden and sing.


Jon Matthews grew up in Alum Creek, West Virginia. He practiced civil rights law for seven

years and was legal director of the ACLU of Connecticut, before deciding to follow

his dream of becoming a filmmaker. In 2009, Jon was accepted—with a full scholarship—into NYU’s graduate film program. At NYU, Jon studied under Todd Solondz, Ira Sachs, James Franco, and Spike Lee. In 2012, Jon worked as Spike Lee’s assistant at NYU and was awarded a

film production grant from Mr. Lee. Jon’s thesis film, “Surviving Cliffside,” premiered at the 2014 South by Southwest Film Festival and screened in a dozen festivals around the world. Jon’s next film, a narrative feature called “Black Dog, Red Dog,” was co­directed and produced by James Franco and stars Mr. Franco, Olivia Wilde, and Whoopi Goldberg. It will premier in festivals in 2015. Jon currently lives in Los Angeles, where he writes and directs TV, films, and

commercials. He also teaches part time at Columbia College Hollywood.


Monica Hunken is a solo performer who creates docu-adventure shows including: Reading the Water; Blondie of Arabia; The Wild Finish; and Hunker Down. Her plays have toured internationally to Romania, Australia, Greece, The Czech Republic, The Netherlands, England, Wales and Norway, and have been nominated for a NY Innovative Theater Award for Best Solo Performance. She won the First Place Audience Choice Award in the Apostrof Festival, in Prague.  Monica earned her BFA in Drama from the Experimental Theatre Wing, and her MA in Educational Theatre, both at NYU. She had additional training in Amsterdam, at the Grotowski Center in Poland, and finished her Masters at Trinity College in Dublin.  She has taught in Thailand, Greece, India, Australia, and in the states at Harvard, Shakespeare Santa Monica and The Free University, among other locations.  Monica is also a dedicated activist, working with Occupy The Pipeline, Rev. Billy and The Church of Stop Shopping, NYBikeDance bicycle dance troupe, and as a trainer with Beautiful Trouble.


Phil Irish is an visual artist and educator living in small town Ontario. His art-making has

become a way of exploring the world, opening imagination, and sparking deep exchange 

with others. He has pushed his oil painting practice to encompass elements of collage, 

sculpture and installation. Irish, a visual artist who teaches art studio at Redeemer University 

College, has exhibited extensively across Canada, including public galleries, artist-run-

centres, and commercial galleries. His new work is informed by a residency, last spring, at 

The Banff Centre and Alberta’s oil sands.


Nicole Pouliot is an artist and professional arts educator living and working in New York City. While she also creates sculpture, Nicole is primarily a painter and works in oils, acrylic, gauche and watercolors. She is currently working on a series of oil paintings inspired by her desert travels and the landscape in the Death Valley region. Concurrently, Nicole has been creating a series of intensified color watercolor paintings called homescapes that play with a whimsical scale of landscape to skyscape.


Conference Organizers


Tania Love is a Toronto based visual artist who takes the cues for her work from the natural and cultural environment.  Her curiosity in traditional methods and the desire to work with reduced waste and VOCs has led her to explore a breadth of materials including plant based inks and dyes, milk paint, reclaimed wire, tea bags, paper and textiles. Recipient of numerous grants, international residencies and exhibitions, her work has been seen in public and commercial galleries, pop-up vitrines, in a greenhouse growing vegetables and most recently was included in "Water and Earth," a curated exhibition bringing attention to "the fragility and uniqueness of the plant on which we live" at MCLA Gallery 51 in North Adams, MA. She places emphasis on tactile, hand crafted processes to invite quiet, slower rhythms and connection to natural cycles. 


Amber Gayle Myers is a native West Virginian now living in New York City. She is an environmental health activist with a professional background in non-profit administration and grant writing. She has been working with New York Loves Mountains since 2010 after coordinating Wild & Wonderful: A celebration of West Virginia in Brooklyn, a benefit for the families and communities affected by the Upper Big Branch mining disaster. She has a master's degree in Sustainable Environmental Systems from Pratt Institute’s Programs for Sustainable Planning & Development and currently works at West Harlem Environmental Justice (WE ACT), a grass-roots organization tackling environmental justice issues impacting low-income and communities of color in Northern Manhattan. She is interested in using the arts as a common way to educate, engage and mobilize traditionally non-activists communities to participate in addressing environmental justice issues that impact their own quality of life and the community at large. 


Sarah Moon is a communications professional committed to using writing and theatre for social awareness, engagement and change. She is co-founder of Holding Ground’s sponsoring organization New York Loves Mountains which has worked since 2008 to raise awareness about mountaintop removal coal-mining. Her play, Tauris, an adaptation of Euripides' Iphegenia at Tauris, on environmental themes, premiered in the 2013 Planet Connections Festivity in NYC, and received the Planet Connections Award for Best Book of a New Musical or Play with Music. In 2004, she received an MFA in Playwriting from Brandeis University where her play Losing the Game won the Harold and Mimi Steinberg Award for Best Original Play. Sarah is currently working toward her PhD in English Composition and Rhetoric at the University of Connecticut. She is Assistant Director of First-Year Writing at UConn and teaches playwriting at the Mark Twain House and Museum in Hartford, CT.


Laura Sheinkopf has been an active member of New York Loves Mountains since 2008. She has a background in Geography, and an interest in cultivating personal and collective responsibility for environmental welfare through creative engagement with our surroundings. Laura researched, organized, taught, served, created, and lived in Brooklyn, NY for several years. Her passions for environmental justice, community empowerment and creative activism have drawn her deeply into the movements to protect our land and water from MTR and fracking. A co-founder of the Safe Water Movement (SWiM), Laura has worked in collaboration with several advocacy and artists’ organizations committed to raising awareness and shifting policy around hydraulic fracturing in New York State, including CDOG (Chenango Delaware Otsego Gas Drilling Opposition Group) and the JustSeeds Artists Cooperative. For the past two years, Laura has been teaching 4th and 5th graders at an independent school in New Haven, Connecticut. While working to tap into the potential of her students and the broader school community, Laura is testing out ways to facilitate skill-sharing, mentoring, and network-building -- practices she is excited to bring to Holding Ground!


We believe in ART as a medium to explore PLACE. With the Holding Ground conference, we aim to provide resources and inspiration for artists to tell stories of people and the land - in Appalachia, and in other marginalized environmental justice communities. Our intention is to facilitate in-person mentoring, consulting and brainstorming among like-minded creators, over a weekend in NYC. During the conference, we will set up a supportive, open structure for communication that allows connections to be cultivated both in the present, and over time.



WORK SONG, part 2: A Vision

If we will have the wisdom to survive,

to stand like slow growing trees

on a ruined place, renewing, enriching it,

if we will make our season welcome here,

asking not too much of earth or heaven,

then a long time after we are dead

the lives our lives prepare will live

here, their houses strongly placed

along the valley sides, fields and gardens

rich in the windrows. The river will run

clear, as we will never know it,

and over it, birdsong like a canopy.

On the levels of the hills will be

green meadows, stock bells in noon shade.

On the steeps where greed and ignorance cut down

the old forest, an old forest will stand,

its rich leaf-fall drifting on its roots.

The veins of forgotten springs will have opened.

Families will be singing in the fields.

In their voices they will hear a music

risen out of the ground. They will take

nothing from the ground they will not return,

whatever the grief at parting. Memory,

native to this valley, will spread over it

like a grove, and memory will grow

into legend, legend into song, song

into sacrament. The abundance of this place,

the songs of its people and its birds,

will be health and wisdom and indwelling

light. This is no paradisal dream.

Its hardship is its possibility.


"For Being A Liberal?" by Francisco Goya
"For Being A Liberal?" by Francisco Goya

"Art should be well-subsidized, yes. But the purchase of a completed painting or a sculpture, the commissioning of a mural--orperhaps the publication of a poem or a novel or the production of a play--all these forms of recognition are the rewards of mature work. They are not to be confused with the setting up of something not unlike a nursery school in which the artist may be spared any conflict, any need to strive quite intently toward command of his medium and his images; in which he may be spared even the need to reject many seeming benefits or wishes. For it is through such conflicts that his values become sharpened; perhaps it is only through such conflicts that he comes to know himself at all. 


It is only within the context of real life that an artist (or anyone) is forced to make such choices. And it is only against a background of hard reality that choices count, that they affect a life, and carry with them that degree of belief and dedication and, I think I can say, spiritual energy, that is a primary force of art. I do no not know whether that degree of intensity can exist within the university; it is one of the problems which an artist must consider if he is to live there or work there.


While I concede that almost every situation has its potential for an artist, that someone  will find matter for imagery almost anywhere, I am generally mistrustful of contrived situations, that is, situations peculiarly set up to favor the blossoming of art. I feel that they may vitiate the sense of independence which is present to some degree in all art. One wonders how the Fauves would have fared without the Bourgeoisie, how Cezanne would have progressed if he had been cordially embraced by the Academy. I am plagued by an exasperating notion: What if Goya, for instance, had been stepped into a respectable and cozy teaching job in some small--but advanced!--New England college, and had thus been spared the agonies of the Spanish Insurrection? The unavoidable conclusion is that we would never had had "Los Caprichos" or "Los Desastres de la Guerra." The world would not have been called upon to mourn for the tortured woman of the drawing inscribed "Because She Was a Liberal!" Nor would it have been stirred by Goya's pained cry, "Everywhere It Is The Same!" Neither would it have been shocked by his cruel depictions of human bestiality, nor warned--so graphically, so unforgettably--that fanaticism is man's most abominable trait. 


That it is not unimaginable that art arises from something stronger than stimulation or even inspiration--that it may take fire from something closer to provocation , that it may not just turn to life, but that it may at certain times be compelled by life. Art almost always has its ingredient of impudence, its flouting of established authority, so that it may substitute its own authority, and its own enlightenment."


--The Shape of Content by Ben Shahn

from Good Food Jobs' Words of Wisdom: http://goodfoodjobs.com/words-of-wisdom
from Good Food Jobs' Words of Wisdom: http://goodfoodjobs.com/words-of-wisdom