I have long been fascinated by the powerful connection between art and the environment — both define us as a people. Standing in a riverbed deep within the walls of a canyon or at the helm of a boat contemplating the vastness of our oceans, I try to imagine how an artist chooses color and finds form, and I am humbled. The outer world of nature and the interpretive world of art both insist that we transcend our narrow self-interest and see beyond what is right in front of us. Artists seek universal truths and help us form a community that responds to these truths and not to rhetoric or partisanship. The natural world reminds us how we are all connected, not by geography, but by river tributaries and wind patterns and fault lines. We depend on each other and also depend on the stewardship of the natural world. For it provides our lifeblood: clean air and water.
Susan Swartz and I met over a shared commitment to use whatever resources are available to us to protect our air and waterways. She deploys her paintbrush and I deploy the law. She finances social documentaries to raise awareness and I do public speaking. Susan, Louie Psihoyos and I worked together for the first time on a film called Mercury Rising that Susan and her husband produced. At the time, Susan had mercury poisoning at the highest levels. We were litigating international coal polluters and calling for class action suits against companies and countries because of the growing data connecting mercury in our sea levels and mercury poisoning, asthma and autism and the air we breathe. Susan’s numbers were in the triple digits. When she was at her most sick, she could not even pick up a paintbrush, her hand frozen like a lobster claw. Still she continued to dream in color and imagine a world as it was intended — beautiful, mysterious, chaotic in color and design. When she could not paint, she focused on her recovery and even harder on how to protect other humans and the environment from further similar harm. She called upon doctors, scientists and environmentalists and made us connect the dots between environmental illnesses and increasing levels of fossil fuel contaminants entering our air, water and food supply.
We have partnered ever since. Once Susan was able to paint again, there was a new ferocity to her work. A restlessness, a fervor, a wildly imagined world that invites all of our sensibilities to save what is God-given. Early this year, she participated in ArtForWater (the Waterkeeper Alliance’s celebratory auction for the 40th Anniversary of the Clean Water Act) and her support for our work litigating polluters internationally and in America has been steadfast and unequivocal. I am proud to call Susan a friend of Waterkeeper, and even more grateful to have her as a friend of my family.
– Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., President, Waterkeeper Alliance