By David Markham
Efforts to restore prairie habitat in Johnson County is the focus of JCPRD’s second Art and Natural Resources Residency, which began in late February and will run through late summer.
Following a call to artists issued in November and a review of the resulting applications by an art selection committee consisting of artists and community members, the artist duo of Cydney Ross and Alix Daniel was selected for the new residency.
“With our shared interests and expertise in art and ecology, we pursued the residency to research local natural communities, create an ephemeral outdoor installation, and provide interpretive programming to the public,” Daniel said. “Through this experience we hope to bring our community closer to nature and empower them to protect and restore our natural areas."
“The first JCPRD residency in 2022 was all about bush honeysuckle, a destructive invasive species, and focused on Shawnee Mission Park,” added Superintendent of Culture Susan Mong. “This residency is highlighting prairie restoration at Kill Creek Park. We are inviting members of our community from across Johnson County to rediscover, and in some cases discover for the first time, the beauty of this park. What hasn’t changed about the residency is the invitation to learn something new through the medium of art; to walk away with a new appreciation for prairie restoration, and the role JPCRD plays in this important work.”
“Prairie is one of the most endangered ecosystems in the world,” said JCPRD Field Biologist Matt Garrett, who will be working with Ross and Daniel. “I’m hoping that art will tell the story of a decades-long effort to reestablish prairie across Johnson County. Almost 90% of the county was tallgrass prairie and JCPRD is working diligently to reestablish complex landscape-scale prairie plantings across our regional parks. The prairie restoration efforts at Kill Creek Park started in the late 1990s and are some of the earliest landscape-scale prairie restoration efforts in the KC region. Lessons learned there have improved our prairie restoration process for larger projects at Big Bull Creek Park in southern Johnson County.”
For Ross and Daniel, the residency will include an immersive experience with the JCPRD Natural Resources Team at Kill Creek Park, the creation of an ephemeral temporary art piece that will be placed at a site within the park, and an artist-led community engagement project. A companion exhibit will also be on display at the Johnson County Arts & Heritage Center to allow patrons to learn about the residency through this medium. More information about the residency and its outreach components can be found at JCPRD.com/1759.
"During our residency, we look forward to exploring trail systems, taking photographs, and keeping nature journals as we find inspiration to guide our project,” Ross said. “We welcome the opportunity to engage with natural resource experts and partners to better understand Kill Creek’s unique ecosystems and how they’ve shifted from pre-colonialism to present-day conditions. The residency experience will inform the final vision, but we intend to construct an ephemeral sculpture made from natural materials that eventually degrades with the changing seasons."
"We've aided in prescribed burns on prairies and been inspired by their diverse ecosystems but this will be the first time we create an art installation on the prairie,” Daniel added. “The opportunity to participate in this residency grants us the time, space, and resources to advocate for one of our favorite natural areas in the way we know best: with creativity and enthusiasm."
The two artists initially met at a native plant lecture several years ago and began working together at the Anita P. Gorman Conservation Discovery Center in Kansas City, Mo., during the summer of 2020.
“We are good at playing off each other's enthusiasm and are equally curious about the natural world,” Ross said. “As work and life partners, we have combined our passions and skills to make conservation accessible to our community through art and interpretation."
Cydney Ross was raised throughout the Greater Kansas City area and holds a bachelor’s degree in ceramics from the Kansas City Art Institute. She maintains a fine arts practice in ceramics and mixed media in the Crossroads Arts District. Ross has always had a naturalist spirit, with her earliest being memories of hiking, floating Missouri rivers, camping with her family, and gardening with her mom. Her endless curiosity, stewardship for the earth, and background in the arts encourages her to enthusiastically inspire folks to connect with nature. She proudly leads LGBTQ+ inclusive nature programs throughout the Kansas City area and is a self-proclaimed “native plant nerd.” Ross is a native landscape specialist at the Anita B. Gorman Conservation Discovery Center in Kansas City, a certified interpretive guide, and a Missouri Master Naturalist with the Osage Trails Chapter.
Daniel grew up on the tallgrass prairies of Kansas in a family of gardeners and teachers. She loves sharing her knowledge of native plants with the public in her role as a native landscape specialist at the Anita B. Gorman Conservation Discovery Center in Kansas City. In her position she combines her decades of landscaping experience with her love of nature. Her favorite flower (this year) is the spider lily
“The artists in residency team want to engage the public in this experience and we hope to see a strong response from the community to visit the temporary public art in early May and consider attending the engagement event that will be planned later this spring,” Mong said.
Along with Garrett, Ross and Daniel will also be featured during a virtual lunch event being planned by Deep Roots and the Missouri Conservation Department on May 4. For more information about this free event, visit deeproots.org.
JCPRD launched its Public Art Program in 2019 to activate park spaces in a new way. As one part of this program, the Art and Natural Resources Residency was established as a short-term endeavor that engages a local artist(s) to embed with the JCPRD Natural Resources Team to learn, respond artistically, and amplify the importance of this work. In August 2022, Kirsten Taylor was selected as the first artist in residence, focusing on land restoration; specifically, the removal of the invasive species bush honeysuckle from Shawnee Mission Park.
The Parks and Recreation Foundation of Johnson County plays a crucial role in the fulfillment of JCPRD’s Public Art Program through the procurement of grants and donations. The foundation continues to seek support for future projects through corporate and private funding. Those interested in supporting this program should contact Development Director Kelly Blandford by email [email protected] or by phone at 913-826-3448.