Commons Water Artist Profile: Melanie Ariens

We asked Melanie a few questions about her relationship with Great Lakes Commons and our mission to establish the Great Lakes as a living commons. Here is what she told us:

Why is water important in your work?
I was raised as a camper and paddler, often spending vacations at our family cabin in the northwoods. Water issues have been especially important to me since college, when I was a Wingspread Fellow for the Honors Program at UWM. Through this program I attended conferences that were about the Great Lakes, including a meeting of the International Joint Commission. This made me very aware of the Great Lakes system as a whole and of how deeply dependent we are on this resource. 

How was it you became involved?
I have been involved in environmental activism, focusing on pesticide reform for the past 14 years. Nature and the environment have always been important themes in my artwork, and for the past four years I have focused on the Great Lakes and freshwater issues. The work is my way of merging art and environmental activism, creating a unique and unexpected ways of engaging viewers to generate concern and spur stewardship. 

What has evolved in or from your work?
Working with Milwaukee Water Commons to use art as a tool for community engagement has been a fantastic experience. The arts are such a powerful way to capture hearts. I love how enthusiastic workshop participants are when they get their hands on art materials! I also enjoy the collaborative aspect of having a basic idea, turning it over to the community and seeing what happens. This was especially powerful at the We Are Water event I helped organize. I just laid the groundwork for the artistic collaboration and art installation and what happened, happened… it was a very fluid process and it was beautiful. 

Anything else you’d like to tell us?
I’m looking forward to having more artists bring their unique talents and vision to water issues. We offer a different and rich voice to the water conversation.

Melanie Ariens is an environmental advocate and volunteer community coordinator with diverse interests, skills and a willingness to learn just about anything to achieve a set goal. She received her degree in painting, drawing and printmaking from UWM in 1992 and worked there as the print shop assistant. She was formerly represented by La Galleria Del Conte (now closed) and participated in many group and juried shows. 

For the past 13 years she has served as the Co-Founder and Co-Director of Healthy Communities Project --working to promote the reduction and elimination of the use of landscape pesticides. She has also served on the Environmental Advisory Commission for the Village of Whitefish Bay, and on the Green and Healthy Schools Committee for School District of Whitefish Bay.

Melanie’s artwork gets people to think about environmental issues in a different way in order to spur stewardship.

In addition to jewelry making and studio arts, she enjoys knitting, basket weaving, sewing, and hand-making just about anything she may need, even if it is just for the fun of it. Her interests include sustainable living, gardening, healthy cooking, camping, hiking, canoeing, biking, kite flying, playing the ukulele, and doing pretty much anything outside as long as it doesn’t kill her!