Click here to read the first installment of Julie Martin‘s essay looking at the roots of Robert Rauschenberg’s social and environmental activism, and those ties with the ongoing Marfa Dialogues/New York program sponsored in part by the Rauschenberg Foundation.
E.A.T. board member Theodore Kheel had long been an advocate for public transportation, and as early as 1965 was proposing that subways be free in New York City. One of his affinities with Rauschenberg and Klüver was their shared belief in the power of art to communicate new societal ideas and the importance of artists speaking out on issues. He began a decades-long collaboration with E.A.T. and Rauschenberg to provide ways for the artist to “speak out” on local and global environmental issues.
In 1970 Rauschenberg had created his first poster dealing with the environment. Inspired perhaps by the Vietnam War protestor teach-ins, Senator Gaylord Nelson from Wisconsin called for an environmental teach-in, which he called Earth Day, to be held on April 22, 1970. The response was huge, over 20 million people participated that year, and Earth Day is now an annual event celebrated by more than 500 million people and 175 national governments. Rauschenberg created the first Earth Day poster, published in an edition of 300 signed and 10,000 unsigned copies to support the American Environment Foundation.