Prof. Alice Zinnes – "Fracking"
Project Case Study: “Fracking”
Foundation Department Proffessor
Fine Art Painter
When Alice Zinnes, fine arts painter and Foundation Department professor at Pratt Institute, learned that hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” was coming to her home in Pennsylvania near the New York border, she knew little about it, but thought, “This is bad for wherever it goes.” Zinnes, a lifelong environmental activist, got involved with neighbor Josh Fox’s award-winning anti-fracking film Gasland, and the more she learned about fracking, the more determined she was to stop it.
Fracking is a highly destructive natural gas drilling process that uses millions of gallons of chemically treated water to extract natural gas from rock, contaminating the water supply in the process. The natural gas industry claims that the water produced by fracking is safe to drink; however, contaminated water from fracking drill sites is so potently toxic that it can be set on fire as it runs out of a household faucet, and there is a strong correlation between fracking sites and fatal health conditions such as leukemia. Other claims by the industry include that it will boost the economy and act as a transition towards renewable fuel sources, but Zinnes warns that these claims are “complete lies and misrepresentations.”
However, “We have enough technologies right now to actually get off the grid,” stresses Zinnes. Fracking is “so clearly contaminating that all we need is an educated public and it will disappear.”
Zinnes herself has played an important role in educating the New York area. During March of 2011, she organized an awareness-raising show at Exit Art, a non-profit activist art gallery. In addition to commissioned artwork, the show featured a tremendous public contribution in the form of postcards, solicited from all over the world, that featured anti-fracking messages and images. The centerpiece of the show’s run was a panel discussion organized by Zinnes.
“The energy in this audience was palpable,” she says. “You could just feel their brains spinning about how they’re going to do something with their own art form.”
The Exit Art show and other awareness-raising efforts like it are a testament to the power of art and grassroots organization. While fracking at first glance might seem like something too large for ordinary citizens to stop, the successes of the national anti-fracking movement prove otherwise. Currently, there is a moratorium on drilling of the Marcellus Shale in New York due to the volume of protests voiced by citizens, and similar small legal battles have been won across the country. Zinnes emphasizes the power of small efforts mushrooming into much larger movements: though she started her activism feeling alone, her connections with like-minded citizens have led her to realize that her efforts as an individual, no matter how small they seem at first, will always contribute to something much larger and more powerful.
Currently, Zinnes is working with colleague Yechiam Gal on a film titled I Want to Scream. The film will be a multi-channel, publicly-distributed project intended to educate as many people as possible about the catastrophic effects of fracking. Zinnes hopes that, once educated, those people will use their own creative energy to fight back.
“When you believe in something, you end up doing something that is really, really powerful,” she says. “Anything that you care about–got for it. Push it, believe in it, and you’ll make an impact.”