Be supportive and praise your children for their efforts. Be part of the process as these children rise to the challenge of working towards making a difference in the direction humanity will go into for generations to come. Our youth seem to understand the magnitude of the issues we all face, whether it is asking for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions (which includes carbon and methane) or in defense of at-risk communities that are impacted by the extreme temperatures, floods, droughts and changes in the climate patterns that affect their livelihoods. Be open to their thoughts and ideas about how they can make a difference.
As part of my series about what we must do to inspire the next generation about sustainability and the environment, I had the pleasure of interviewing Arica Hilton.
Arica Hilton is a Chicago-based visual artist, gallerist, curator, poet and global advocate, and most recently, artist-in-residence for the Immersive Van Gogh Chicago Exhibition. In addition, she is the director of Hilton | Asmus Contemporary, a gallery platform that she leverages to support artists and environmentalists who seek change for a better world.
Arica is a Mediterranean born artist who has devoted herself to capturing the beauty of water. Her work’s message is expressed through using recycled bits of micro-plastic, infusing fairytale colors, and highlighting the very real human impact on water and its consequences for the planet. These elements are highlighted in her most recent art exhibit, TIDES: A Prelude, at the historical Brushwood Center in Riverside, IL.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?
At six-years old, I moved to the United States with my family, not knowing a word of English. My sense of displacement had a lasting impact, prompting a search to uncover where I belonged in the world. I determined early on that my most illuminating pathway would be the road less taken — a pursuit that continues today. I always knew I wanted to be an artist and writer — but I also wanted to be an architect. I wanted to build homes that were a sanctuary, a place of peace, tranquility and inspiration. Being an artist gives me the opportunity to take a blank canvas and design my life the way I wish to live it.
Was there an “aha moment” or a specific trigger that made you decide you wanted to become a scientist or environmental leader? Can you share that story with us?
I realized early on, that I whatever I did in my life, had to have some kind of meaning and impact. Perhaps I read too many books about heroes. As a child, I was given the responsibility of helping my mother raise my brother and sister. That may have been where I learned to be empathetic to the needs of others. I think that experience translated to everything else around me, making sure that the environment I lived in was beautiful and healthy. It was vital for my own survival.
Is there a lesson you can take out of your own story that can exemplify what can inspire a young person to become an environmental leader?
I have always loved projects. I am goal oriented. I have to see the end before I can even begin the first step. I think for young people, if they can learn anything from my own story is that no matter what situation I was in, what roadblocks I encountered, I didn’t allow it to stop me from my goal. I think I have a gene that does not allow for negative thinking. If I decide to do something, I research the possibilities and take that first step. But I know that no matter what happens at the end, I can be proud that I tried with my whole heart. I tried.
I was enraptured by the I beauty of our earth my entire life. Most of my poetry is about beauty, love, joy, the moon, the sun, the stars, the earth, the oceans. And if I wrote something that was about disappointment and failure, eventually I would turn it into a life lesson and move on.
What I want to impart to anyone, regardless of their age, from five to 105 years old, anything is possible. It is never too early or too late to do whatever it is that means something to you.
Can you tell our readers about the initiatives that you or your company are taking to address climate change or sustainability? Can you give an example for each?
So much happening in our world was not being addressed, so I decided to use my art and my gallery as an instrument for change. Respect for water and our environment has always been an integral part of my life and work
I decided to create a series of multimedia works, infusing recycled plastics into my oil and acrylic paintings as a commentary on the effects of our throw-away plastic society, without thought to where it will end up. Most people don’t realize that single-use plastics, such as straws, water bottles and take out containers do not completely decompose for hundreds of years. Discarded plastics after one use end up in landfills, ponds, lakes, rivers, our soil. Imagine the billions of pounds of plastic that has become part of our earth that farmers have to navigate through in third world countries such as Kenya or Nigeria where their soil has absorbed the toxins and they have to spend most of their time removing plastic bags from the soil when they plow.
In addition, seventy percent of the oxygen that we breathe comes from tiny marine microorganisms called phytoplankton, which are not only a food source for the fish that we eat, but also the source of the air that we breathe. Even the phytoplankton is ingesting microplastics. Like plants on the mainland, these little phytoplankton get their energy from carbon dioxide through photosynthesis.
Much of the fish we consume, the sea salt or our drinking water is rife with microplastics. Our lack of education about the effects of plastics in our bodies of water is now beginning to backfire on our own bodies, our air, our health. Much of the carcinogens that are released from the slow disintegration of toxins such as lead, mercury, cadmium, and bisphenol A (BPA) end coming back to us through the cycle of life. Our oceans have become the repository for the toxic chemicals that are being released into the oceanic food chain.
My gallery represents a number of renowned nature photographers such as David Yarrow, Paul Nicklen and Cristina Mittermeier.
Paul Nicklen and Cristina Mittermeier started Sea Legacy, a photography and storytelling platform whose mission is to create healthy and abundant oceans and tackling climate change. They work with a council of experts identifying areas of concern and threats to our oceans by leading expeditions with their expanded team of the world’s top photographers, conservationists, scientists, storytellers and strategists. They also invest in community-centered solutions and rally global support for projects. Paul and Cristina have created a massive media following fueling global campaigns that work towards lasting and sustainable change. Paul Nicklen’s Instagram following alone is nearly seven million and Cristina has over 1.5 million followers. That’s just the tip of the iceberg!
In March of 2020, the rock group Pearl Jam used one of Paul’s images “Ice Waterfall”, for the cover of their latest album called GIGATON. A gigaton is a unit of mass measurement equivalent to a billion tons. In climatology, it is used to estimate the amount of ice that is melting at the poles. Paul is revered by a number of celebrities who have jumped on board with bringing the environmental message to the billions through the arts.
Yet the work of our gallery does not stop with raising awareness or searching for solutions about our oceans and climate change alone. We work with David Yarrow, one of the most high-profile artists in the world. In the last few years, David has raised millions of dollars through the sales of his works for animal conservation, healthcare, the Australian bush fires and most recently, millions of dollars for frontline healthcare workers during the pandemic. David’s collector base is worldwide. With the sale of nearly every iconic image he creates, he gives back, and has truly helped us to earn our place as a business that is engaged in using art as an instrument of change.
Can you share 3 lifestyle tweaks that the general public can do to be more sustainable or help address the climate change challenge?
- When ordering carry out, if a restaurant is using plastic containers, ask them kindly to consider changing to biodegradable or compostable containers. The same goes for straws.
- Try your best to carry your own sustainable water bottle/container when going out. If you have to drink from store-bought bottled water, then do so consciously and discard it in a recycling bin or take it home with you to recycle. Which brings me to the third lifestyle tweak.
- The issue with recycling is that only about 8%-9% of plastic in the United States is ever recycled. That leaves billions of pounds that end up in landfills and eventually end up in our oceans. Most people think that if they put their plastic into a recycling bin it will be recycled. Not true. Unless the container is clean and not contaminated, there is a small likelihood it will be. However, the plastic dilemma is magnified by first world countries, like the United States, China, Canada, Germany and others where the governments export plastic trash to third world countries who do not even have the technology to recycle so they end up with plastic waste. We can mentally distance and feel good about ourselves when we think we are being diligent by separating our trash and recycling the plastics that we use. But we don’t really know the entire story of where the journey leads. Eventually, the third world countries are unable to take the billions of pounds of plastic, or they throw them in landfills that may release toxic fumes and endanger the health of their own citizens. But in the end, the plastic ends up in the largest landfills in the world, such as the North Pacific Garbage Patch and many other gyres of plastic that have become the bane of our oceans’ existence.
Ok, thank you for all that. Here is the main question of our interview: The youth led climate strikes of September 2019 showed an impressive degree of activism and initiative by young people on behalf of climate change. This was great, and there is still plenty that needs to be done. In your opinion what are 5 things parents should do to inspire the next generation to become engaged in sustainability and the environmental movement? Please give a story or an example for each.
The youth are our future. We are seeing more and more young people mobilizing worldwide and demanding actions by political leaders on our environment and climate change, which will determine the direction of life for generations to come. It is heartening (yet unfortunate) that the next generation has to act on the carelessness of previous generations. These young activists have had to learn about what their lives will be. They need their parents or an inspirational adult now more than ever.
- First and foremost, parents have to be a positive example. (That goes for everything in life.)
- They should take their children into nature and teach them to value of each tree, plant, flower, river, pond, stream. They can garden together (or plants seeds in a pot if they don’t have a garden) and teach their children about the interconnection between plants, photosynthesis, carbon dioxide and the oxygen that we breathe. If the parent doesn’t know, this is a great opportunity for them to learn together with their children and bond. Often, the children can teach the parents! Be open and humble to allowing your child to teach you.
- Be supportive and praise your children for their efforts. Be part of the process as these children rise to the challenge of working towards making a difference in the direction humanity will go into for generations to come. Our youth seem to understand the magnitude of the issues we all face, whether it is asking for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions (which includes carbon and methane) or in defense of at-risk communities that are impacted by the extreme temperatures, floods, droughts and changes in the climate patterns that affect their livelihoods. Be open to their thoughts and ideas about how they can make a difference.
- As the parents and children learn together, they can bring about transformational change, not only in their own lives but the lives of others. They can do cleanup projects together to teach love and respect for our environment. Teach them about the value of our oceans during a trip to pick up plastic on a beach. This would be a good time to explain the impact and damage plastic has on marine life and the health of the ocean.
- Let your children know that you are with them, beside them, on every step of their journey. Let them know that they are not alone in their efforts, this minute or in the future. Let your child know that you have their back. This will empower them to be better human beings.
How would you articulate how a business can become more profitable by being more sustainable and more environmentally conscious? Can you share a story or example?
There are a number of ways a business can achieve financial success and still maintain the integrity of their mission.
First and foremost, a business has to look at the long view. If a business has the financial resources, they can invest in various methods of sustainable operations that would lead to lower costs and higher yields. But if a business does not have the luxury of initial capital, they can start with smaller changes in their processes that can save on costs. After a certain period of time, they can then invest in advanced technologies that can make their business more efficient and profitable.
Another way is to include their customers into their processes by promoting and branding themselves as a sustainable business and allowing their client base to participate in their sustainable endeavors. We have done this in my gallery where we shine a light on not only the artists we represent, but on our clients who support the work the artists are doing.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Over the years, I have had the pleasure of working with a number of great artists who were successful in their own right. The first artist who inspired me was a Japanese artist named Hiro Yamagata. I recall meeting him when I was 25 years old at an art opening where the colors of his vivid works moved me. At the dinner afterwards, I was coincidentally seated next to Hiro. He did not speak English and I did not speak Japanese. But somehow, we were able to communicate. At the time, Hiro was on the precipice of his career. He eventually became the best-selling artist of the 1980’s and 90’s. Hiro’s works eventually became a billion-dollar industry. His limited-edition prints were sold on the primary market in galleries like my own. But the secondary market (the reselling of his works) spawned a network of thousands of people buying and selling his prints globally.
At the time, Japan was the strongest market in the art world. They led the purchases of some of the most historical sales in art, such as Van Gogh’s Sunflowers for $53 million, and in 1990, the spectacular sale of Van Gogh’s Portrait of Dr. Gachet for $82.5 million. That was the beginning, and a few years later, the end of an era. In the meantime, Hiro Yamagata became one of the biggest celebrities in the art world. He created laser and hologram installations for NASA, the Guggenheim Museum in Balbao, and had exhibitions in some of the highest profile galleries. He became a filmmaker and eventually, a mainstay as the cool artist in Hollywood. Hiro eventually became one of the richest artists in the world.
We still remain friends to this day and talk about when we were kids first starting in the art world. We had no idea what our futures would unfold. But we knew that were on the verge of something beautiful. Hiro’s creativity and fearlessness always held a special place in my heart. He was my hero.
You are a person of great influence and doing some great things for the world! If you could inspire a movement that would bring the greatest amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Thank you for asking this question! I have always wanted to start a movement called “conscious capitalism.” I think people do not realize the importance of money and being successful at something you believe in. And then taking that success and applying to not only your own life, needs, wants, but turning around to reinvest your time, energy and money to make our earth and humanity better — for you being born and being part of this world.
Do you have a favorite life lesson quote? Can you tell us how that was relevant to you in your own life?
I have always believed in free will. That we can choose our life the way we choose to.
My favorite quote is “We all choose what we wish to be. No one impels or compels us. The same wind which blows a ship on the rocks can just easily blow it into safe harbor. In short, it is not the wind, it is the set of the sail.”
What is the best way for people to follow you on social media?
This was so inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!