Cool Globes: A Public Art Exhibit With A Cause -- And Perfect For A Pandemic
Fourteen years ago, Wendy Abrams was worried about what she saw as the greatest looming danger of our lifetime.
This was 2006, just before the Al Gore movie “An Inconvenient Truth” alerted huge swaths of the American population to the growing concern that human activity was fueling climate change that could drastically affect life in the not-too-distant future.
“Given what I saw as an alarming concern on the horizon, there was not enough public concern that I thought was proportionate to what we were going to be facing,” Abrams said.
Her idea to draw attention to climate change was sparked by something she’d seen a few years earlier near her Chicago home: “Cows on Parade.”
The wildly popular public art display was quirky and fun, featuring life-sized cows painted by artists and positioned in various areas of downtown Chicago.
What if Abrams could do the same thing with globes, she wondered?
In 2007, Cool Globes debuted in Chicago. It was a collection of 120 5-foot diameter globes scattered throughout the city, each one painted by a different artist, each one depicting a possible solution to climate change.
“You can't really walk by it on a sidewalk without stopping to notice,” Abrams said. “And the symbolism of that is that climate change is such a big problem, you have to stop and confront this. But at the same time, because each globe presents a solution, the other part of that symbolism was that ‘and the solutions are right here before us.’”
Charlotte is the 23rd city around the world to get a glimpse of the mammoth art display. Cool Globes opened last week, with 35 globes placed primarily along North Tryon Street between Trade and 11th streets. A cluster is just outside Discovery Place, one of the presenting sponsors of the exhibit. Trane Technologies and the City of Charlotte also partnered to bring the display to the Queen City. The exhibit is expected to remain until at least October.
Seven local artists were chosen to paint some of the globes, each given a $2,000 stipend and asked to present a solution to climate change.
One globe, by Norma Gely, depicts an abstract concept of how humans are connected to nature.
“It talked about the interconnectivity between humans and nature and how it's maybe not really a coincidence that our fingerprint mirrors the rings in a tree,” said Megan Scarsella, Cool Globes executive director. “And that if we find connection to nature, that will help aid us in our ways, in our quest to fight climate change.”
Both Abrams and Scarsella said the support from Charlotte artists, companies and the city has been inspiring – particularly as the display was unveiled in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
“Charlotte has been, if not the best, one of the best cities we've been to from the level of enthusiasm,” Abrams said.
And the globes might actually be the perfect exhibit for these coronavirus times: It’s all outdoors, it’s easy to stroll to and view while practicing social distancing.
Fourteen years after it first began, Abrams didn’t expect to still be touring the globes to different cities, and didn’t expect that climate change would still be such a pressing issue.
But she’s still encouraged. When the original Cool Globes display opened in 2006, Abrams’ 12-year-old daughter, Emily, designed one of the globes. Five years later, Emily published “Don’t Cook the Planet,” a book about the intersection of food and sustainability. She went on to major in environmental science in college.
“A little thing that she did when she was young, I think, really planted the seed in her and empowered her,” Abrams said.
And that’s what she hopes Cool Globes can do for everyone.
This article originally appeared in WFAE's weekly arts and entertainment newsletter, Tapestry. Subscribe here.