Art for the People and the Planet: Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service

To honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., DNDA with United Way hosted a day of service at Pigeon Point Park—a green space embedded in the Delridge NeighborhoodsVolunteers signed up for a day of forest restoration*, but little did they know that the EcoArts program in partnership with the Nature Consortium had crafted up a truly novel volunteering experience. 

With 142 volunteers, our community collectively planted 105 native plants, removed 19,248 square feet of invasive Himalayan blackberries, decorated 20 planter boxes, and danced and moved in nature– all of which was accompanied by roaming musicians, whose tunes echoed throughout the forest. Based on the success of this day, the EcoArts team is excited to bring more restorative movement and multimedia art projects into natural spaces in the future. 

*Check out our blog post about forest restoration during MLK Day here! 

Benson Smith on the clarinet (left) and Amy Smith on the saxophone (right) jamming out.

Restorative Movement for Restoration 

Speaking from experience, restoration work can be grueling on the body. For hours on end, service workers must hunch over, battling scores of formidable invasives with tools and sheer forceAt this point in time, we can’t leave this type of work up to machines; people, unlike machines, can maneuver landscapes with care because of their acute familiarity with ecological relationships

Because of this, it is important to incorporate breaks into restoration work. On MLK Day, myself—DNDA’s EcoArts Program Coordinator and lifelong dancer—and fellow Washington Service Corps member Chloe May led restorative movement breaks for volunteers to stretch out and warm up their bodies 

Besides giving the body a much-needed break, movement is also a tool for fostering connectivity between the inner self, other people, and the environment. When one is movinin nature versus in isolated built environments, this sense of connectivity becomes even more heightened. 

For example, after a series of quick movements to get the blood flowing, led an active stretching and breathing exercise. While inverted, I twisted my upper body toward the sky. In that moment, I noticed the passing of clouds overhead, floating along a pale blue expanse. I felt like I could breathe in the entirety of the universe. No walls, no limitations—just myself and nature and other people existing in the moment, breathing.  

Decorating Planter Boxes: A Park Beautification Project 

At lunch break, volunteers made their way to three different snack stations complete with an array of supplies to decorate planter boxes. The idea: to install dozens of plant boxes decorated by community members on the park’s tool shedEquipped with latex wood paint, hammers and nails, malleable wires, ceramic tiles, and found plant materialswe hoped volunteers would be inspired by the abundance of materials at their fingertips.  

Multiple decorated planter boxes amid materials.

Furthermore, each station was named after and had information on local social justice influencers, including indigenous rights activist Bernie Whitebear, African American socioeconomic rights activist Eddie Rye, Jr., and youth climate activist Jamie Margolin

Through this, we wanted to highlight that real and far-reaching change can happen right here in our communities—and that anyone has the capacity to make this change.  

Young artists working away at the Margolin Station—named after climate activist Jamie Margolin. An informational placard can be seen to the left in the image, which gives further details about how Margolin has manifested change in her community.

Although this EcoArts activity was only scheduled for 30 minutes, we invited participants to continue working until the end of the event if they were so inclined. After all, art inspired by and within nature is just another way of engaging with the environment. By the time 2pm rolled around, volunteers had decorated 20 boxes with natural scenes, vibrant colors, and messages of positivity.  

Volunteers of all ages at the Whitebear Station, proudly showing off their creations.

Although 20 boxes is a significant number, we still have many more to bring to life until we can fill up an entire side of the tool shed. We hope to have more people from different backgrounds decorate these boxes, and eventually fill them with soil and camas bulbs. 

Perhaps one year from now, if you visit Pigeon Point Park, you will see the product of what was started on January 20th, 2020 – dozens of boxes, all with messages of love and peace, holding life in the form of purple flowers just waiting to bloom. 

Volunteers painting words to live by: Love and Peace.

Thank you to our dedicated volunteers, and everyone involved in making this year’s DNDA MLK Day of Service an immeasurable success. In addition, the EcoArts team would like to thank DNDA Teaching Artist Molly Duttry, and the three AmeriCorps members who serve at different sitesincluding Chloe May, Owen Vickrey, and Matt Svilar

All in all, it was a day of healing the earth through restoration, music, dance, and visual arts. We look forward to the next opportunity to give to our communities in such a way. 

WSC/AmeriCorps Member Matt Svilar assisting youth in decorating a planter box.

written by Madison Rose Bristol, DNDA’s EcoArts Program Coordinator