Jesse Etelson: 2013 AHN Awardee

ďI believe artís role is to assist in the reconnection of humans to the earth, each other and the infinite possibilities of the cosmos. Today we must return to a natural harmony with the planet or face extinction. With arts collaboration, science and education can engage community to create alternative/intuitive solutions for healing environmental and social illness.Ē Ė Jesse Etelson

Arts & Healing Network is delighted to present one of the 2013 AHN Awards to environmental artist, activist and educator Jesse Etelson. We are deeply inspired by his process of making art in collaboration with nature that enriches the environment for humans and animals alike. We really appreciate how Jesse is continuing and expanding upon the eco art lineage of past AHN Awardees like Lynne Hull and Betsy Damon. We applaud his immense talent and creative spirit!

To learn more about Jesse Etelson, please visit his web site. Be sure to check out his videos page where you can see the process of creating some of his Wildlife Habitat Sculptures.



Below is an interview with Arts & Healing Network Director Mary Daniel Hobson with Jesse Etelson from November 2013.

Mary Daniel Hobson: Can you tell me a little bit about your background and what inspired you to make art about environmental concerns?


Jesse Etelson: I was raised by naturalists in a cooperative community nestled on Floridaís Indian River Lagoon, one of the most bio-diverse estuaries in the world. I studied painting and sculpture at the Savannah College of Art and Design and pursued a love for teaching as a Montessori art educator. In 2009, a few days after stumbling on Suzi Gablikís book, The Re-Enchantment of Art, I received the miracle opportunity to join an EcoArt South Florida apprenticeship mentored by Betsy Damon. Through working with Betsy, scientists and community leaders, I learned that the lagoon I grew

up on was actually growing toxic and dying from pollution. I felt a deep calling to protect and heal threatened animals, people and environments of my home and around the world. With EcoArt, a passion for teaching, community and environmental restoration, I wanted to fulfill my destiny as an artist who makes a positive impact.


Mary Daniel: Could you share what your creative working process is like? How do you come up with your ideas and implement them?


Jesse: The process starts with an environmental or social issue of a given location -- though often interdependence highlights the issues as simultaneously environmental and social, local and global. I have a strong attraction to habitat restoration and in most cases start the collaboration process with issues, locations and organizations that support this kind or remediation. Through stakeholder collaborator meetings and research, I learn about the history, geography, environmental science and community spirit of the location. Creativity and collaboration is vital in the proposal, funding, design, permitting, implementation and maintenance of a project that will eventually be embraced by the community it serves.


Mary Daniel: Please share the story of one of your Wildlife Habitat pieces. What was its impact?  


Jesse: In the EcoArt Apprenticeship, I worked with Audubon scientists to create experimental ceramic nesting habitats for owls and woodpeckers. As we observed the habitats it became clear that native bees were far more interested in ceramics as habitat than birds. I researched and learned that for thousands of years humans used ceramics for bee husbandry. With the widespread disappearance of native bees and colony collapse around the world, creating ceramic bee habitats offers much needed refuge. The impact was the clear message that animals are active collaborators in the EcoArt process and not just the recipients of a new home.  


Mary Daniel: Please talk a little bit about the environmental education you do with youth. How did you get started? Do you collaborate with organizations to do this? What positive impact have you witnessed?


Jesse: I engage learners to tackle real life issues through personal development, creative problem solving and social/environmental consciousness. I started in Montessori implementing art programs that integrated world curriculum, peace education, conscious discipline and environmental stewardships. I am currently collaborating with several at-risk youth outreach, education and science organizations to facilitate EcoArt workshops serving urban youth. There is much responsibility and reward in serving communities that donít have access to nature. Itís wonderful to witness the change in my students throughout the program. They become aware of the animals as curious personalities in need of help by getting over fears, gaining respect and offering love to their new animal friends.


Mary Daniel: Can you talk about your creative mentors? In particular how have environmental artists Betsey Damon and Lynne Hull impacted you and vision?


Jesse: I feel so blessed to have studied under and currently collaborate with pioneers of the Ecological Art field. Betsy Damon opened my mind to healing qualities of water and the vast connectedness of all things. Her spiritual nature instills a sacredness of this work, and I am inspired to dream big by the large-scale projects she facilitates. Lynne Hullís work resonated with my compassion for animals, and I was able learn her process through a paid internship opportunity she generously extended to me. I was particularly influenced by her workshop techniques and unwavering support of animal rights. Art historian and activist, Mary Jo Aagerstoun has also been a great creative mentor by keeping me focused on being the artist and maintaining high standards for the aesthetics, concept and execution of EcoArt. I aim to continue connecting and leaning from other sages of the healing arts legacy as their wisdom and friendship is invaluable to my journey.


Mary Daniel: Do you believe artmaking can of be a catalyst for healing and positive change and if so, how?


Jesse: Yes, I believe artmaking is a catalyst for healing and positive innovation. In primitive times, the shamanistic healer artist was responsible for the survival and well being of the community. Artist engineers laid out the groundwork for the industrial revolution in the Renaissance hundreds of years before that technology existed. I believe artís role is to assist in the reconnection of humans to the earth, each other and the infinite possibilities of the cosmos. Today we must return to a natural harmony with the planet or face extinction. With arts collaboration, science and education can engage community to create alternative/intuitive solutions for healing environmental and social illness.


Mary Daniel: What excites you most about your work right now?


Jesse: I am excited to be working in a cutting edge field that is dedicated to the health of the planet. Healing artists are innovating science, art, education, health and infrastructure systems to function more efficiently, atheistically and consciously. Iím excited to share, teach and learn more about the healing potential of nature. I really enjoy observing the animals, plants and communities interact with my projects, and I am excited to continue developing my EcoArt practice to serve them better. I recently received news that a state college was using my project as a testing site for their environmental science program. I am currently in the design phase of alternative energy and sustainable agriculture projects that could save the Indian River Lagoon species and communities from toxic water intrusion. I am organizing performance art demonstrations through the River Justice League, a community action group of artists, citizens, scientists and politicians. The last demonstration was attended by over 5000 activists and garnered national media attention, which is pretty darn exciting.

Mary Daniel: What advice do you have for other artists who would like to use their creativity to help heal the environment?


Jesse: Please donít give up, even when it seems impossible to continue. Donít lose hope, even when some people may not get or acknowledge this important work you are doing. Focus on what makes you feel good, and find the joy in what you are doing. Yes, we are responding to life and death issues but that doesnít mean we need to be angry or sad all the time. Raise your energy vibration to the frequency of inner peace and unconditional love. Dream big and allow the creative power of the universe to work through you. When you feel the wave coming make the most of it but be looking for the next wave. Make friends with healing artists, scientists, other smart and resourceful people who can do things you canít. Collaborations and relationships are your greatest assets.

Mary Daniel: Is there anything else you would like to share?


Jesse: Big gratitude and hugs to the Arts & Healing Network for this distinguished award, generous gift and thoughtful recognition. I am honored and inspired by your acknowledgment of my practice and the opportunity to share my process, thoughts and feelings on your well regarded website. I commend the AHN team for all your hard work and contributions to the artists, the movement and the planet. Thanks to you we are united, working towards health as one heart, mind and spirit. I would like to dedicate this award to my mother and grandmother, two amazingly accomplished and supportive women who never accepted anything less from me than greatness, integrity and compassion for all creatures.  


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