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Can art inspire environmental action?

That’s the hope behind ‘Shared Habitat Earth,’ a project involving 40 artists and four exhibits in Boston and Newburyport.

James C. Varnum, “Blaze,” watercolor and ink.James C. Varnum

HOPKINTON — Brookline artist Barbara Eskin was walking through the woods last year when the words “shared habitat earth” came to her. She was inspired to organize a nonprofit by that name to exhibit art that might motivate viewers to take environmental action.

An ambitious series of four exhibitions this spring features work by 40 artists. I visited two, at Hopkinton Center for the Arts and Coolidge Corner Library. Paula Estey Gallery’s PEG Center in Newburyport has another, and a fourth opens May 25 at the Menino Arts Center in Hyde Park. There are also educational offerings; on May 14, “The Anthropologist,” a 2016 film about climate change and Indigenous communities, will be at the Screening Room in Newburyport, followed by a PEG Center reception with filmmaker Seth Kramer.


The theme of climate change is terrifically broad, and the shows I saw have a catch-all quality; there isn’t much curatorial narrative or thematic shape. But they feature a solid roster of area artists, and the art is often arresting.

Richard Alan Cohen blends images he found searching Google Earth for climatic change with photos from walks he took in the woods. “World View 6,” a golden circle, holds a dry-as-bone mountainous topography. Dead leaves telescope the scale from an aerial view to one more immediate and jarring. James C. Varnum maps areas burned by wildfires in his jittery red watercolor-and-ink piece, “Blaze.”

Richard Alan Cohen, “World View 6,” photograph archival pigment.Richard Alan Cohen

In B.J. Comerford’s oil painting “Runaway,” an owl steps forward, gazing with the intensity of Uncle Sam enlisting recruits. Rebecca McGee Tuck picks up colorful debris washed up along Massachusetts shorelines to use in sculptures such as the ironically titled “Happy Birthday Ocean,” a giant, trashy jellyfish made of balloons and fishing nets. These are all in Hopkinton; the Coolidge Corner Library show is small, but there quilt-maker Agusta Agustsson’s aqueous, sickeningly green “Plastic Sea Red Straws” is a standout.


These works depict pollution and devastation. They are alarms, yet they are oddly beautiful. Because they compel close looking, Shared Habitat Earth fulfills its mission.

B.J. Comerford, “Runaway,” oil painting.B.J. Comerford


At Hopkinton Center for the Arts, 98 Hayden Rowe St., Hopkinton, through May 20

Paula Estey Gallery, 3 Harris St., Newburyport, through May 28

Coolidge Corner Library, 31 Pleasant St., Brookline, through June 30

Menino Arts Center, 26 Central Ave., Hyde Park, May 25-June 30


Cate McQuaid can be reached at catemcquaid@gmail.com. Follow her on Instagram @cate.mcquaid.