radical art/work: meet urban regenerative design artist Brian J. Soliwoda
Today is not only everyone's favorite pink-glitter-encrusted Hallmark holiday. It's also Ash Wednesday, a holy day in the church calendar marked by asceticism, quiet reflection, and the reminder that we are all made of dust, and to dust we shall return.
We're talking cotton-candy-hued LURVE mashed-up with the somber reminder that we all just woke up one step closer to death.
(The existentialist in me loves this shit.)
Lent is so rich and reflective; it's always been my favorite liturgical season. This time of year shepherds us through 40 days of preparation for Easter, that ultimate harbinger of spring.
Speaking of spring, and dust, and seasons: meet Brian.
Brian J. Soliwoda is a perfect artist-activist to feature today, of all days: not just because he's got one of the biggest hearts around, but because the work he does is so intricately, lovingly tied to the land. Brian's labor of love is a tender, playful reminder that the compost we will all eventually become has the potential to simultaneously delight, enrich, and inspire us all.
Take it away, Brian.
Brian J. Soliwoda (Co-creator, Salt Tree Art)
What's your medium?
Mostly living and organic materials (i.e. plants, dirt, bee’s wax)
What's your latest project?
The Salt Tree Project. This will be a multi-acre art installation that unites land, art and community to create an unprecedented visionary environment. As an art installation, an edible landscape, and a community space, the Salt Tree Project aspires to be a center for innovation and collaborative exploration of ecology and the arts. It's a large-scale project to create a multi-acre community space in New York’s Hudson Valley that fuses an edible botanical garden with collaborative explorations of the arts.
Who's your target audience?
Everyone. The project looks to break down barriers between disparate disciplines to find areas of synergy.
Three key words that shape your art/work:
Who or what introduced you to this medium?
The greatest credit goes to my project co-creator and husband, Michael Hollis. His work in urban farming, permaculture, and sustainability has shown me just how powerful art can be in reshaping communities.
Where do you live and how does your hometown/region affect your art work?
We are lucky to live in New York City, specifically Sunnyside Queens and have both been here for over 17 years. The city has given and continues to give us so much in its love of urban farming and artistic innovation.
Public or private school education?
Do you have any kind of spiritual practice? What does it look like?
I like to listen as much as I can, particularly when I feel frustrated. It gives me a chance to assess where people are coming from when they speak, rather than just what they are saying. I also try to have at least 1 minute of dedicated stillness everyday, and then follow that up with some reflection on what I’m thankful for…the list is always long and always leaves me feeling joyful.
Three books that changed your life:
The Never Ending Story
Harold and the Purple Crayon
Three artists you admire:
Gail Soliwoda (my aunt)
Three causes you're passionate about:
Empowering Artists as Entrepreneurs
Three teachers who taught you something important:
Mr. Alexander (5th Grade) taught me that being fun has a lot of power.
Mrs. Walton (11th grade) taught me that artists are involved in just about everything.
Mr. Rydell (Sophomore year) taught me that every sound a person makes has an intention.
Virginia Woolf famously said a woman writer needs a room of her own. What do you need to create your art? Any non-negotiables?
People. A lot of regenerative design deals with problem solving…looking at the environment and assessing how art can better the situation. When people are a part of the creative solution, they can succeed, because the art has a community to thrive in.
One thing that pisses you off:
Lack of empathy
Shittiest job you've ever had:
Had a terrible boss when I was a bartender…I walked out.
What advice would you give your 15-year-old self?
Beauty is a choice, little Brian…chose it, own it.
Secret pop culture crush:
No secret, Kermit the Frog.
Biggest challenge of your art/work?
There is a lot of writing and research in the art world. Grant funding, project descriptions, co-operative outreach…all of it has been a challenge to my delightfully dyslexic self. But it has forced me to work some mental muscles and face this part of me head-on.
In five years, what does your art/work look like?
The Salt Tree Project will be up and operational by then! This installation will be serving as a place for innovation and creativity with public programming, curriculum-based artist residency programs, horticultural guilds and much more. I am grateful to help guild this center of regenerative design into creation.
Website and social media links where we can follow you and learn more about your art/work?
I know I said this already, but Brian continues to be one of the most humble, kind-hearted people I know. He's not quick to share all the amazing things he's done.
Here's his bio for more:
Brian is an active visual and performing artist. Recent work has been with New York City’s Metropolitan Transit Authority, the Muse Circus (a Brooklyn-based circus performer school), Hour Children (a Queens-based program designed to break the cycle of incarceration), and the Blue Hill Troupe (a premier performance-based charity group).
He is the creator of Victorian Variety, an artistic incubation project that offers emerging artists a safe space to workshop new material, and he has served as a teaching artist in Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York with students from ages seven and up with experience in curriculum development and implementation for a number of artistic disciplines.
Brian has also been serving as a creative lead for the Salt Tree Project, a concept project to develop a community space in New York’s Hudson Valley applying artistic techniques to a farm-based landscape.
Since 2002, Brian has worked in arts and event production for a range of private, corporate, and non-profit clients. His events have included multinational brand awareness campaigns, national-level fundraising operations, and nationally/internationally broadcast media events.
Brian holds a B.A. in Theatre Production from the University of Delaware. He is a member of the Screen Actors Guild (SAG/AFTRA), Actors Equity Association (AEA), and Puppeteers of America.
Doesn't all that green just make you so ready for spring? Bring it, already.
Thanks for reading. Feel free to dig into the radical art/work archives here. Then follow Salt Tree Art, and send your extra pennies their way. I can't wait to watch them GROW.
See you next week. So stoked about the 3 or 4 folks I've got comin' at you in the next month.
Prepare to be inspired.
Rachel Meyer is a Boston-based writer and yoga teacher. Her work has appeared in The
Washington Post, On Being, Yoga Journal, Tricycle, Yoga International, HuffPost, and more. You can find her at www.rachelmeyeryoga.com or @rachelmeyeryoga.