Lincoln Academy art teacher Jonathan Mess sporting the LA colors at a Las Vegas Convention, where he was hired by the green cleaning products company Seventh Generation to make sustainable art during a cleaning convention.
Vermont-based company Seventh Generation and their parent company Unilever Professional selected Lincoln Academy Visual Art teacher Jonathan Mess to “showcase the movement to ‘Generate Change’ through an Artivist activation” at ISSA 2019, the Worldwide Cleaning Industry Association convention in Las Vegas, November 19-21. This event drew about 17,000 cleaning industry professionals from around the world, and a single visual artist.
Seventh Generation is a green cleaning products company based in Burlington, Vermont founded on principles of sustainability and equity. Their goal at the 2019 ISSA conference was to encourage large offices, schools, hospitals, hotels, and more to adopt greener products for the sake of both the environment and their employees.
During the event, Mess created his artwork live in a show booth situated among the many professional product displays. He used sustainably-produced paper and ceramic materials to create transformational “clay prints” with underlying environmental messages.
Mess was contacted in early November by Lewiston-based Rinck Advertising–who he had worked with in 2004 to create a large-scale found material installation at the Bates Mill for the Governor’s Conference on the Creative Economy–to submit a proposal for their nationwide artist search. President Laura Rinck remembered that Mess had “exceeded their expectations and created a spectacle” with that project.
Because Mess’s artwork is based on an ongoing commitment to environmentalism and sustainability, she thought he would be a great fit for Seventh Generation. “They also loved that I am a high school art teacher and regularly make–and clean up–big messes in the art room. Many of their clients contract custodial services to schools,” said Mess.
While his working style is messy (think Jackson Pollock action painting with clay), it’s also “clean” thanks to “conscious choices in sustainable materials, recycling, and reclaiming everything I can; making that part of the conversation about art and my teaching at Lincoln Academy.”
LA students in Mr. Mess’s ceramics and sculpture classes will attest that he believes in and teaches them the hard work of reclaiming clay and seeing all kinds of “trash” materials as valuable for creating new artwork. With the start of the 2019-20 school year, Mess began advising LA’s Climate Action Club, where students have ongoing conversations about how to take actions that can actually cause real, meaningful change.
“This trip is one of the biggest opportunities I’ve had to make an impact as an artist. The live aspect meant that I was constantly engaging and educating the audience while making art in the middle of a convention center. This was not that different from my day job as a teacher. Not to mention that the final products of the installation were essentially protest signs.”
Mess says, “I couldn’t resist both the artistic challenge and the opportunity to reach a large, nontraditional audience by partnering with a green B-Corporation like Seventh Generation. In many ways making environmental art is often preaching to the choir, but [here] I was able to engage an entirely new audience. I never thought I would be behind a corporation, but it’s the way to make true change. You and I can recycle all the cardboard and plastic bottles we want. But it’s the corporations that need to change their decision making on how they do or don’t pollute and whether they choose to be leaders against climate change. It’s the only way we’re going to turn this world around.”
Mess returns to his LA classes refreshed and inspired by the opportunity to create art for a larger audience. “Making live art at the convention was a wild ride. It was exhausting. I got some funny questions and had some very interesting, productive interactions. It’s one thing to show art at a gallery to people who show up choosing to see art. But when they’re not expecting it or are not used to engaging with art in that context, it can produce some powerful and thought-provoking reactions.”