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Gatekeepers 
Opens with The Museum of Infinite Outcomes May 19, 2023

This project is supported in part by The Tennessee Arts Commission and The Museum of Infinite Outcomes.

The Gate is slated to stand 6 feet by 5 feet and will be grown into an archway that acts as a transitional space to a generous and magical kingdom. I call this archway The Gate. Those who choose to protect our wildlands and wildlife, on land and water, act as guardians. I call them Gatekeepers. The Gate is being grown out of mycelium, the same substrate that fruits mushrooms. The crown of the gate will be made of foraged materials from the grounds of the Museum of Infinite Outcomes and will include a woven arch made from kudzu and reishi mushroom. Grown into the sides of each pillar are relief images of keystone species who aid in healthy ecosystems. Visitors will be able to explore these relief images and use their phone to activate sounds and information as augmented reality (AR) brings the gate to life through the use of Instagram. This project has been developed to inspire children of all ages to become the next Gatekeepers. The project's intent is to highlight the need for continued stewardship of the natural world. The most important factor in this project is engagement. Inviting the community of Knoxville, Tennessee to come together and weave the crown of the gate will bring the project to completion. Social engagement in production is a key component to completion because the project aligns with the tenets of my practice as an artist of solutions.  This means that we are actively participating in healing the planet. The World Health Organization said community engagement is an approach to addressing health-related issues, promoting well-being, and taking action on the social determinants of health. It involves building relationships based on trust and working together to develop more effective health programs to empower communities as key actors for health. Together, we are the solution.

The Gatekeepers project is a youth empowerment program designed to address the need for continued stewardship of the natural world. Funding for this project secures the completion of the project and allows for community engagement programs. Workshops address that with greater biodiversity we are protecting the world around us. The creation of sustainability programs are needed across our entire nation. A finding published October 30, 2020 by National Geographic, reports that the United States is the largest producer of plastic waste in the world. That is 42% of plastic waste is produced by our country compared to India who comes in at 26% and China who is listed at 21%. To understand that Americans are producing approximately 42 million metric tons of stuff (2016) that does not include the fact that the U.S. also ranks as high as third among coastal nations for contributing litter, illegally dumped trash and other mismanaged waste to its shorelines. And for the past 30 years we have been shipping half of our recyclable plastic overseas, primarily to China and other developing nations lacking infrastructure to manage it. The need to educate youth on climate solutions is key to turning a new leaf to a healthier world. Inside of choice lives empowerment and educating the next generation on those choices is the next step in sustainability. The Gatekeepers project has been designed as a youth empowerment program to educate youth on these facts and to provide insights prompting us to turn our gaze to the natural world for solutions. The Gatekeepers is an archway that will stand six feet high at the keystone and the entrance is designed to be four feet wide. The left and right sides of the columns of the archway are being grown out of mycelium. Embedded into the mycelium are seashells from various places in the world and is meant to bring awareness for the need of Marine conservation. The gate columns will have keystone species grown to the outsides of the columns that may be engaged through an AR component designed by Dana Potter who has partnered on the project to digitally bring the gate to life. Using mobile phones or digital devices provided by the museum, visitors will be able to point their phone to one of the keystone species which will allow for voice activation as well as digital explanations on the importance of keystone species that contribute to the health of the ecosystem it inhabits. The archway of the structure has been designed as a community engagement project. We will be inviting the community of Knoxville, Tennessee to join us days before the opening to weave the crown of the archway from Kudzu. During this weaving workshop led by the Museum and the artist Maria Medina-Schechter we will be learning about the statistics that have brought us here but more importantly the artist will be introducing sustainable solutions to the community during the first workshop.  Sharing knowledge is empowering a community by putting the future into their hands and filling those hands with solutions from the natural world.  The project is a scientific adventure towards solutions to some of the world's most urgent issues like our climate crises and global warming. First we must first understand what mycelium is and how it has been a living ally since the beginning of time. It’s only now that we are finally grasping its importance in our lives. It is our opportunity to create a new narrative by understanding mycelium as a medium but first we must understand its role in the natural world. Many of us compare the Internet to the mycorrhizal network, however, there are some big differences. A Mycorrhizal network is an underground network found in forests and other plant communities, created by the hyphae of mycorrhizal fungi joining with plant roots. Mycelium is the living material underground that first begins as strings of what are called hyphae. This network connects individual plants together and transfers water, carbon, nitrogen, and other nutrients and minerals between participants. First we have trees and fungi and we often wonder as citizen scientists do the trees connect the fungi together or is it the fungi that connect the trees. The analogy of the internet is not as powerful an idea as a network that is alive and transporting food and energy throughout a forest, the primary role of mycelium. The mycelium substrate being used to grow the Gatekeepers project is unseeded so it will not fruit mushrooms the way it would in nature. The material comes from a company called Evocative who has been a change agent towards climate solutions. Evocative has created an unseeded substrate of mycelium that is now used in packaging materials, clothing, alternatives to plant based foods, and has even been used in this year’s New York fashion week as an alternative to leather. As an artist I use the material as an alternative to resin, concrete and other toxic materials. Mycelium cleans the air as it dries, it is stronger than concrete, fire and mold resistant. It has been used in a variety of innovative soil remediation efforts using mycelium and biochar. Bioremediation means using mycelium as a method to clean up contamination in the environment. However, for our purposes we are using mycelium to initiate our goal of inspiring others to become the next gatekeepers. The need for continued stewardship of the natural world has been proven. The goal of the project is to inspire youth in becoming more deeply engaged with the natural world. And as a result to become the next generation of Gatekeepers. The timeline of development for the Gatekeepers project is being executed in three phases. The first phase was to complete the base of the left and right sides of the columns which was completed on October 1, 2022. The columns currently stand at 2 feet 10 inches each. The second phase is in progress and includes growing an additional 3 feet for each column. There will be 15 relief sculptures of keystone species as well as grown relief keystone bugs and symbols to the sides of the gate columns. To date there are 106 bricks grown to completion, two keystone sculptures, 14 relief symbols have been grown to the sides of each column. In total to date there have been a total of 2,400 hours of growth time put into the project. At 5.5ft the columns will be complete and moved from Indianapolis to the museum for completion on Saturday, May 6th 2023. For the following two weeks the arch of the gate will be developed as a community engagement workshop along with the first series of workshops taking place during the weeks of May 8th and May 15th.  Success of those workshops will be determined through evaluating attendance and pre-post surveys. The exhibiting artist will be hosting botanical painting workshops and classes on working with mycelium as a medium. The project will open to the public May 19th, 2023.

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Growing the Gate Phase II

The video walks you through the process I have developed to grow my bricks and keystone species into each tower. The final state is a community engagement project where members of the community are invited to weave the crown of the gate from kudzu and other foraged materials from the museum grounds.

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Phase I

The Gatekeepers project initiated in 2021. From the layout and design to the start of growing the mycelium into the base of the towers to date, there has been 1,152 hours of growth put into the project.  The mycelium is made from agricultural waste and is hemp based and unseeded. The substrate comes from grow.bio.

Right Tower

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Project Detail

It's impossible to include all keystone species, but here I can start with some familiar images to inspire 'protection' of bees, plants, bugs, birds, and those species that are quickly fading. 

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Project Detail

A beehive funnel that also holds botanical materials helps to bring color to the project in a natural way. The beehives, keystone species, and a variety of foraged mushrooms are all slated to be finished in gold leaf. 

Right Column