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Cruel Season: Artists on Drought & Fire at Museum of Ventura County

This eco-art exhibit at the Museum of Ventura County, entitled Cruel Season: Artists Reflecting on Drought and Fire, (Sep 13 - Nov 23, 2014) tasked artists to prepare our community for what could be a horrendous fire season. This is "occasional" art in the service of civic engagement.

(I created a website for the exhibit:

I have three poems, one with a photograph, and an essay in the exhibit and read

poems in the gallery the night of September 18, the official opening date. (Scroll down for some of my works in the show.)

My Fire Bug poem places the blame for our coastal foothill fires on human cruelty. Another poem, Friendly Fire, seeks to capture the arsonist's mentality and then celebrates the courage of fire fighters.

Fire Bug Fire Bug

Fire Bug Fire Bug

Slink away home

Our woods set afire

Its children are gone.

Lizard and fox

And bat in her cave

Scurry to hide from

Your ire and your rage.

Fire Bug Fire Bug

Give us a break

Our hills are the cradles

For coyote and snake.

Your sad little spark

Ignites into flame

Till all we have left

are sorrow and blame.

The hills are alive

With a groan and a squeal.

Your cruel work completed

Takes ages to heal.

My image/text work MUD is a page from the journal Art/Life, an example of "concrete" or shape poety. It reveals the aftermath of drought and fire--massive debris flows once rains arrive. The gallery displayed this text on the wall, with the photo too.

Each separate paragraph of my essay was pasted througout the gallery. Here is the complete text of it.

The Ventura Hillsides, With Drought and Fire

by Robert Chianese

The rolling hills behind the city of Ventura create a dramatic backdrop. They are part of the city’s living landscape and shape its urban plan. We notice them every day.

They’re in trouble.

Our foothills are under the stress of droughts—a long-term regular one and a short-term severe one afflicting a whole swatch of the western US. A rainy season this winter now seems unlikely, so they may remain un-replenished for a fourth year. They would need years of normal rain to catch up.

May 2014 was the hottest month ever recorded and now this June too ( Southern California summers have heated up 1.32 F degrees per decade just since 1970 ( This evidences local weather change.

It’s no secret: the global climate itself is changing—it’s getting hotter everywhere. Our burning of fossil fuels is a likely cause—droughts, hotter temperatures, excessive rains, more violent storms.

Drought effects are well known: dried up plant life, animals without plant or animal food, sun-blocking dust on plants that further diminishes them near and far, and, when rains come to our hills, erosion and debris flows. Then of course, the fires.

Our best defense against these natural disasters is wise use of water. Simply put, we must conserve all the water we can— for everyday use, for sustainable agriculture, for municipal waste systems; and for fire fighting, for resupplying ground waters, for healthy rivers and streams—though we can’t water the hillsides.

Some advocate desalination of ocean water. This can exacerbate the problem since it tends to foster even more water-dependent growth and development in a naturally arid region.

“Doing with less,” much less water that is, may be a tough prescription for most of us. But it may lead us finally to learn to live wisely on the actual land we love.

The drought is here, the fires may come. These works of art and poems present them both as reminders of where we live and what we face.

Art can motivate; people must act.


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