Green Living Magazine writes: “There’s something about Franke”

“Franke James is using her creativity to tackle climate change—armed with a paintbrush and a vivid imagination—and having dazzling results.”
Photo of Franke James by Kourosh Keshiri for Green Living Magazine

Franke James, artist, author and co-founder of The James Gang, is profiled in the Fall 2009 issue of Green Living Magazine. The issue urges Canadians “to take a stand” and challenges them to become greener citizens.

“Canadians want to do more for the environment than the proverbial ‘changing of lightbulbs,’ ” says Lindsay Borthwick, editor of Green Living magazine. “The goal of this issue was to show them how. From voting to volunteering, leading by example to making climate change art, we’ve showcased the numerous ways to help individuals, families and communities work toward significant environmental change.” Green Living Magazine cover, Autumn 2009

Green Living journalist Astrid Van Den Broek interviewed Franke for the profile and wrote, “James’ voice comes through so strongly in her eclectic, captivating online visual essays that sometimes I feel like I’ve been reading her diary entries, instead of public documents. But that’s exactly why they stand out. While so much environmental messaging is filled with admirable but often abstract concepts or clichéd language that fails to connect with its audience, James manages to avoid both. Instead, she offers her atypical journey toward a greener life in these can’t-click-away illustration-meets-photography-meets-storytelling essays.”

The Social Leper illustration by Franke James

Franke comments, “I was delighted when Green Living said they wanted to do an article on my environmental visual essays. However I was totally amazed at Astrid’s thoroughness in interviewing me — even interviewing people I know from across the country. And going back to where I attended grade school! I joked that it reminded me of the Sesame Street segment “This is YOUR Life!” I’m not usually the one being interviewed (if you know my work, I often interview friends, family, pundits, and strangers for my essays). But I’m very grateful they decided to write the article, and honored to be part of their “Take a Stand” issue — because taking action on climate change is the #1 challenge we face. Failure to reduce CO2 emissions today imperils the future well-being of our children and future generations. Society as a whole has not gotten that message, yet.”

Alex Mayer, Director of the Michigan Tech Center for Water and Society, who helped Franke calculate the stormwater runoff for Paradise Unpaved, was interviewed for the article. Dr. Mayer comments, “I’d never seen anything like these essays applied to environmental advocacy and it affected me intellectually and emotionally.”

Astrid goes on to write, “Mayer’s experience is echoed by Stan Kozak, curriculum specialist for Learning for a Sustainable Future, who recently witnessed James’ tour de force at a workshop on climate change education. “We’d spent two days looking at the science and it was not looking good. Then, bango, Franke James comes along and says ‘do the hardest thing first’ and then shows that she has done it and is still living to prove it—and she is artistically thriving and maybe even seeing some financial benefits as well,” says Kozak. “I think Franke should be the ‘closer’ at more conferences just to keep people’s spirits up—and let them know there is hope if people take personal responsibility.

“There’s something about Franke” is a lively and entertaining read about Franke’s role as an artist, environmental author and activist. It shares her passion, creativity and counter-intuitive advice to ‘do the hardest thing first’ with a growing audience.

But the story is still being written as Franke continues to share her message of environmental art and activism. Ryan Dean, a coordinator at Bates College (and a recent graduate) commented on her Bates College keynote to this year’s incoming students:

“What can I say? Attending your talk really put things into perspective for me. I can honestly say that your visit to Bates really made all of the lofty possibilities a tangible reality. I am so impressed because you not only recognize that you must take up this social responsibility yourself, but you are actually compelling enough to get others to do the same. Students here came away from your talk both with a greener conscience AND ways in which they could create activist art themselves. It’s brilliant.

I find your combination of activism and art completely inspiring and it has sparked an energy in me that has only grown in the days since! My head is buzzing with the number of new ideas that I am determined to see come to fruition. Thanks for everything.”

Taking Action on 350

Excerpt from Franke James keynote “Who are you going to be?

Artist and author Franke James speaks at Bates College Sept 5 2009 Make a Difference illustration by Franke James;Artist and author Franke James speaks at Bates College Sept 5, 2009

So, thinking that one of the best ways to inspire the Bates students is to show other students making a difference… I started by showing photographs from the 2007 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Bali. The first photo shows students asking for hard caps on emissions. They did a great job of finding a symbol (hard hats) to tell their story, visually. (My thanks to environmental activist and speaker David Noble for the Bali photos.)

Hard Caps photo credit: Robert van Waarden; Act Now Photo credit: Avaaz; both images courtesy David Noble;

The “Act Now” photo shows people creating an image of the world, with half of it submerged in water due to rising sea levels from climate change.

Photo credit: Maia Green; courtesy David Noble from Bali 2007;

Students at the 2007 conference were frustrated that they did not have a voice at the negotiating table. And they found a memorable way to communicate that message to the cameras.

Photo credit: Maia Green; courtesy David Noble from Bali 2007;

credit: logo with Franke's call to action;
credit: screen grab of projects from website;

During my talk, I also pointed students to for ideas on what they can do and how they can organize an action for October 24th. The Great Barrier Reef, Chinese Universities, the Swiss Alps — these are just three of the many actions planned for October 24th, in over 100 countries.

Photo credit: istockphoto/blublaf;

Photo credit: istockphoto/wrangel;

Photo credit: istockphoto/;

Brainstorming 350 actions

So, do you remember at the beginning when I said I’d been inspired at the dinner the night before my talk? During dinner we brainstormed ideas for worldwide actions on October 24th, which included using performance art techniques.

Bates College French professor, Kirk Read told me about Frozen Grand Central, an improvisational acting piece that took place in New York City. It is a brilliant example of live street theater at one of the busiest stations in the world, Grand Central. Over two hundred people suddenly stopped — frozen — caught in the middle of various ordinary activities (picking up papers, eating a banana, looking at a map, kissing) as if in suspended animation. The on-lookers didn’t know what to make of it. Why were the people not moving? What was wrong? You can watch the YouTube video below to see their stunned reactions. After 5 minutes, all 200 actors snapped out of it, as though nothing had happened.

So how does this relate to climate change?

Getting the world’s attention on climate change is tough. You need a strong hook. Frozen Grand Central offers that hook in a fun, easy way. I can see the opportunity to use this dramatic “Frozen” act for a Flash mob 350 demonstration on October 24th. And so I wove it into my talk at Bates the next day… Now I don’t know if anyone will use the idea — but if you do — please let me know!

Freeze to Protest Inaction on Climate Change

Stage a Freeze Flash Mob: Gather a team of 350 people. Have all of them wear t-shirts, buttons, or hand-made labels, with the 350 message. Gather in a busy (and safe) public area. Take video as your team freezes for 350 seconds (about 5 minutes). Watch the stunned reactions of passersby… When they snap out of it explain the meaning of it: To protest the glacial pace of action on climate change. Of course, don’t forget to upload the video to YouTube and send it to the news media, with a press release.

Freeze 350 illustration by Franke James; Text: Politicians are moving at a glacial pace on climate change while CO2 emissions keep rising. What can you do? Stage a FREEZE Flash Mob to protest their inaction! Here's how... 1. Text your friends to meet in a safe public place 2. Have everyone freeze in mid-motion for 350 seconds  3. Don't forget to record it all on video (strangers milling about may wonder what's up -- which is good because afterwards you can tell them about 350 ) 4. Upload your FREEZE video to YouTube.  More info:

Curious what Bates is doing for October 24th?

credit: Bates College bobcat logo and logo pointing down to show that we want CO2 emissions to go down;

Bates Buzz on 350
Bates is buzzing with activity… The group (which includes on campus and local people) has multiple arts and sports projects planned for October 24th. While I was on campus, I met with Julie Rosenbach, Environmental Coordinator at Bates and Emily Grady, a Senior student. Emily is developing an environmental leadership program and is involved in organizing 350 students to cycle in support of

Ryan Dean, a 2009 Bates graduate working with the group, shared with me his Bird’s Eye View project. Ryan is hoping the idea will spread internationally, from rooftop to rooftop.

photos by Ryan Dean

“The Bird’s Eye View is a network of recycled art installations, constructed on rooftops, in collaboration and support of 350, an international grass-roots organization for the reduction of carbon emissions. Images of the installations will be taken to be spread by use of the media to the general public, raising awareness about global warming. The images send a message of green peace, global solidarity, and a broadened human perspective.” Ryan E. Dean

I think of the Bird’s Eye project like horizontal billboards on rooftops — but shouting their message to air traffic, satellites flying overhead — and of course, the all-seeing eye, the news media. With Google Maps, and a little Photoshop artistry, we can imagine what Ryan has in mind…

Google Maps concept illustration by Franke James for Ryan Dean;

credit: logo with Franke's call to action;

stop CO2 illustration by Franke James;

Excerpt from: Who are you going to be? © 2009 Franke James, MFA


My thanks to Bates College and Holly Gurney, Associate Dean of Students, for the opportunity to address the incoming class on September 5th!

Writing, illustrations and photographs © Franke James except as noted:
Frozen Grand Central video by
350 Angel: Photo by John Quigley / Spectral Q;
Hand-written “Who are you going to be?” illustration by Franke James.
Press photo of Franke James for billboard art show, by Ken Villeneuve.
James Lovelock © Sandy Lovelock.

My thanks to environmental activist and speaker David Noble for the Bali photographs:
Media Scrum and Hard Caps © Robert vanWaarden
Act Now © Avaaz
Silent Youths © Maia Green
The Great Barrier Reef, Chinese student, Swiss Alps, cookie cutter: All (blublaf, wrangel, tradigi, juniorbeep)
Bird’s Eye 350 concept illustration by Franke James. Google Map © Google Inc.
Bates Bobcat logo © Bates College: used with permission.


Ryan Dean’s 350 project: The Bird’s Eye View How to Register an Action for October 24th: The 9-step Organizing Plan


Lloyd’s of London 2009 Climate Change and Security report

Cool-Planet Goal Shared by Large Polluters, Insurers
by Jim Efstathiou Jr., Bloomberg News, July 10, 2009

Co-operators Becomes 1st Insurance Company to Join Ceres
“The insurance sector, the largest industry in the world, has been hit hard by climate change impacts, and is a critical part of the climate change solution,” said Ceres president Mindy Lubber.