Lucy Keshavarz on Natural Solutions

The artist is enhancing the area’s native landscapes and solving environmental issues with her community-driven eco-art projects

Photo by Catherine Zimmerman

She may not have realized it at the time, but Palm Beach Gardens resident Lucy Keshavarz was offered her first paying ecological art gig at age 12. “I was making fossil impressions out of clay in my junior high school art class, and the librarian saw them and said, ‘I’m hosting a luncheon and would love to give these to my guests,’” Keshavarz recalls. “She said she’d be happy to pay me a dollar apiece for 24 of them. For a 12-year-old, that was a big deal.” The project would later become the basis for the artist’s Native Impressions series, which she now creates using Florida native plants.

Mask, Native Impressions series

The lifelong Florida resident took her earliest passions—science, environmental elements, and art—and ran with them. In 1999, she founded the Art and Culture Group to bridge the gap between the arts and the needs of local communities. More recently, she began focusing on incorporating those elements into several eco-art projects spanning Martin and Palm Beach counties.

The purpose of these projects, says Keshavarz, is threefold: to bring more native foliage and wildlife to local communities, to give people a public space where they can enjoy nature, and to solve one or more issues related to the current landscape.

“When you’re working in the public realm, it needs to be about the public and about using your talent to solve problems,” Keshavarz says of her projects, which she completes over several years with the help of landscape architects, engineers, developers, city officials,
scientists, and community members.

Babbling Brook, Lucy Keshavarz. Photo by Durga Garcia
Babbling Brook, Lucy Keshavarz. Photo by Durga Garcia

One of her more recently completed projects, Babbling Brook, transformed a dry detention area in West Palm Beach’s Westgate community by using recycled materials to pump water from a retention lake into a waterfall and brook both to improve water quality and to attract migrating birds. Since its completion in 2013, the project has received Urban Oasis Designation from Audubon Florida and a Distinguished Engineering Project Achievement Award from the Engineers’ Council.

“It’s an artist-led process, but it’s not about me and my work in the studio,” Keshavarz says of the interwoven aspects of each eco-project, compared to her other public art pieces. “It’s art, it’s science, it’s problem-solving, and it’s community. It’s very integrated.”

Keshavarz working on Babbling Brook in 2013, Photo by Durga Garcia
Keshavarz working on Babbling Brook in 2013. Photo by Durga Garcia

Keshavarz is letting the community members of Old Palm City lead her current eco-art project, Ripple…as a Drop of Water Becomes a River, which began in 2014. The project spans four restoration areas along the St. Lucie River and will reconnect Old Palm City to its natural roots, create an urban oasis for native plants and wildlife, and treat runoff and improve water quality for the surrounding area.

“Hold the water and clean the water— that’s the whole purpose of stormwater treatment areas,” says Keshavarz. “But how can we do that in such a way that’s beautiful and meaningful to the community?”

Waterfall element of Babbling Brook in West Palm Beach. Photo by Durga Garcia
Waterfall element of Babbling Brook in West Palm Beach. Photo by Durga Garcia

After securing grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Martin County Office of Community Development, the Arts Council of Martin County, community members, and the design team began collaborating on an artistic vision for the 20-acre space.

New Life, mosaic with aluminum coated ring sculpture in West Palm Beach. Photo by Lucy Keshavarz
New Life, mosaic with aluminum coated ring sculpture in West Palm Beach. Photo by Lucy Keshavarz

Ripple is a dream for an artist like me because it deals with community engagement, cleaning water, and restoring native plant ecosystems, as well as an end product that continues to educate and easily connect people to the natural environment,” Keshavarz says of the project, which is expected to be completed in the fall. In the meantime, community members are encouraged to participate in self-guided or scheduled “sensory” tours of the stormwater treatment area. Keshavarz also plans to lead a workshop for locals to create their own Native Impressions, which will be incorporated into the space’s final design elements. 

“I’m not asking [community members], ‘Would you like a tree here?’” she says. “I’m asking them, ‘What’s meaningful to you? How do you want this place to feel?’ And when you ask those questions, there’s no right or wrong answer. It puts everyone on a neutral level, and there’s a pure exchange of ideas. For art in public places, that’s what you want.”

If you’d like to learn more about the Ripple project or schedule a tour, click here.

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