The National Audubon Society estimates that there are more than 800 birds in North America, though it has only collected and analyzed data on just over 590 of these animals. Of these catalogued avian species, 314 birds are classified as threatened; much of this threat is attributable to human-caused climate change. These numbers are behind the National Audubon Society’s collaboration with gallerist Avi Gitler for the Audubon Mural Project, which encourages street artists and muralists to create works that feature the climate-threatened birds.
As Audubon Society Vice President of Content Mark Jannot tells GOOD, the mural project grew out of the Audubon Birds and Climate Change Report, published in 2014, which detailed how climate change is impacting North American birds. It has grown from a few dozen murals to hundreds, painted on security gates and building exteriors around Manhattan, with a vast array of street artists and muralists enlisted from New York City and beyond.
Jonnot and Gitler came to work together on the Audubon Mural Project when the two were introduced by Jonnot’s neighbor, artist Tom Sanford. Gitler told Sanford he had decided to ask artists to paint about 10 roll-down security gates in his Harlem neighborhood. He already knew that John James Audubon, the famed ornithologist and naturalist, had spent the last years of his life in this very same uptown area, so Sanford suggested Gitler talk to Jonnot about a possible collaboration with the National Audubon Society.
Sanford also suggested that Gitler ask street artists and muralists to paint only climate-threatened birds. But it was Jannot who upped the ante by hitting on the idea of painting all 314 threatened birds. Jannot admits the monumental task was undertaken with “gleeful abandon,” but that they were determined to find a way to run it as a cost-neutral enterprise.
Ultimately, there won’t be 314 murals, Jonnot explains. Instead, the team is committed to 254 murals that will include all 314 species of threatened birds. Currently, there are approximately 24 murals representing about 36 birds. As for the variety of street artists and muralists, Jonnot said they range between various locales and styles.
“Because we’ve been able to find recesses in sides of buildings where we can mount paintings that have been painted in studios, we’ve been able to work with studio artists who aren’t as comfortable painting in real-time on the street, as well as street artists and major wall-mural painters,” Jonnot explains. “It’s a pretty big range. We’ve had a lot of interest from artists all over the country when they heard about it. We tell them we can’t fly them in but to let us know when they’re coming through town.”