Walton Arts Center Exhibition Features A Decade of Her Work
“I want my art to be more than a painting/photograph to be appreciated – I want it to be used as a tool for social change and environmental policy,” says Philadelphia-based artist Diane Burko. “I want to bring attention to the urgent issues of climate change.”
Burko may be getting her wish. From now to September 30, 2017, the Walton Arts Center in Fayetteville, Arkansas is presenting her solo exhibition: Glacial Shifts/ Changing Perspectives: Bearing Witness to Climate Change. The exhibition features highlights from a decade of Burko’s painting and photography on how climate change impacts the world’s glaciers.
The exhibition has drawn high praise for Burko’s artistic prowess. Her work “sent shivers down my spine first because of its beauty, and then, like thunder, because of its reality,” wrote Fran Alexander in the Northwest Arkansas Democrat Gazette. “The irony in all of that cold is that Burko has brought us glaciers so we can see and feel heat….[T]here is nothing permanent about [these landscapes].”
Burko understands that people are initially drawn to exhibitions of her art by its beauty. But once there, they respond to its visual power, creating opportunities for deeper conversation. “Viewers might be more likely to listen if the artist is walking through the exhibit saying ‘the reason I did this is that I went there and saw this fascinating glacier and let me tell you more’,” she observes. “It’s my way to help educate.”
Education motivates, and is an essential component of, Burko’s art, so the Walton exhibition highlights contemporaneous educational events on climate change – at the public library, the nearby Crystal Bridges art museum, and Arkansas University, among other venues. A hard cover exhibition catalog, which includes reproductions of 40 of her pieces, also extends Burko’s reach beyond the gallery walls.
The exhibition is a fitting capstone to an artistic journey that began with Burko’s trip to Alaska in 1999, followed by expeditions to Iceland (2002 and 2015), the Ny-Ålesund international research center in Svalbard, Norway (2013), Antarctica (2013 and 2015), Greenland (2014), Patagonia, Argentina (2015), and New Zealand’s southern alps (2017). In each location, Burko worked alongside climate scientists – sometimes even hanging out of helicopters to get a better view of glacial landscapes as a reference for her art. “To persuade or educate, art has to be grounded in science and fact,” she recognizes. “I want to introduce those facts visually because pictures can speak louder than words.”
Burko’s painting and photography has been featured in over 100 exhibitions in museums, universities and commercial art galleries throughout the country. Now Burko is eager to take on a new challenge: a multimedia artistic collaboration to chronicle the impacts of climate change on the 9 coral reef systems in America’s National Parks. “The irony of ironies is that I don’t even swim, so it’s kind of crazy,” she notes. But undeterred, she adds: “Check our new site for a preview of what’s to come.”