Arts and the Anthropocene: Crisis and Resilience in North Carolina Waterways (2020-2021)


There is scientific consensus that human impacts on the environment are bringing about monumental changes in Earth’s ecological systems. The Anthropocene has been framed by scholars and activists as the current geological period during which human activity has had a fundamental influence on the climate and environment. These transformations have ecological and social implications, particularly for communities living in proximity to water.

Along the interconnected webs of waterways, coastline and barrier islands, communities in North Carolina are grappling with how to plan for and respond to monumental changes in ecological systems that are causing storm surge, sea level rise, flooding and contamination – all of which are making life in coastal communities precarious. Different modes of storytelling can animate scientific facts while narrating how we can alter, or learn to live with, these changes in our environment.

Project Description

The project team will explore how visual, theatrical and sonic arts can play a role in educating various publics, provoking action and developing resilient futures in the Anthropocene. Team members will explore how scientists and artists have sought to address social and ecological crises and entanglements, and construct art interventions aimed at illuminating the symptoms of the Anthropocene in North Carolina.

The team will start by inviting scientists and local advocacy organizations to discuss issues related to the Anthropocene, including how climate change is impacting North Carolina’s ecology and human communities. Grounding these visits in readings about climate change, the Anthropocene, environmental humanities and justice, team members will begin imagining how arts-based interventions might best illuminate or reimagine various ecological and social relationships of urgency here in North Carolina.

Team members will then develop art proposals and form small groups to create artworks motivated by their research. These will be shared as part of a larger exhibition, Arts and the Anthropocene, which will be displayed in the gallery space at the Nicholas School of the Environment.

This project will also seek to connect team members on Duke’s main campus with the Marine Lab.

Anticipated Outputs

Artwork to be included in exhibition at Duke; artwork for end-of-year public exhibition; public website


Fall 2020 – Spring 2021

  • Fall 2020: Begin weekly seminar (sessions will include discussions with representatives from local advocacy organizations, scientists and practicing artists); complete research trip to Marine Lab in Beaufort, NC; develop website; participate in preliminary exhibition
  • Spring 2021: Participate in retreat in early spring; continue regular meetings; complete research trip to Marine Lab; work on creating artwork; prepare and share final exhibits


Image: Jonathan Henderson

Alternate means of escape.

Team Leaders

  • Jonathan Henderson, Trinity - Music-PHD
  • Raquel Salvatella De Prada, Arts & Sciences-Art, Art History, and Visual Studies

/graduate Team Members

  • Mingyong Cheng, MFA/Experimental and Doc Arts
  • Ke Ding, Master of Environmental Management, Environmental Economics/Policy
  • Kathleen Mason, Master of Environmental Management, Water Resources Management
  • Jessica Orzulak, Art and Art History-PHD
  • Hillary Smith, Marine Sci & Conservation-PHD

/undergraduate Team Members

  • Chaya Brennan Agarwal
  • Madison Griffin
  • Joyce Gu, Environmental Engineering(BSE)
  • Kendall Jefferys, Environmental Sci/Policy (AB), English (AB2)
  • Katherine Kelley
  • Sarah Kelso
  • Ayesham Khan
  • Elizabeth Kramer, Interdepartmental Major
  • Alison Rosenbaum
  • Jessica Wang, Environmental Sciences (BS)
  • Milagros de Souza, Program II (AB)

/yfaculty/staff Team Members

  • Elizabeth Albright, Nicholas School of the Environment-Environmental Sciences and Policy
  • Mark Olson, Arts & Sciences-Art, Art History, and Visual Studies

/zcommunity Team Members

  • William Warasila, MFA in Experimental and Documentary Arts at Duke University