Smile Politely

Conservation + art + fun = Conservartfun?

It is no coincidence that the upcoming butterfly event at the Virginia Theatre takes its real name from the classical composition that usually features bumblebees: akin to their fellow pollinators, butterflies are seeing drastic, sudden declines in population — 950 million monarchs have disappeared since 1996. Unlike the bees that are owned by companies which profit from them during crop season, the free-roaming butterflies haven’t been getting as much press. With thanks to some local conservationists, local filmmakers, and Champaign’s Park District, we’re all about to get the word. (psst — it’s not bird, it’s Monarch)

On Saturday from 2-4 p.m., Champaign Park District is hosting an interactive, educational event addressing the problems surrounding losing these important pollinators. There will be a photo wall so you can transform out of your own chrysalis into a butterfly, face painting, a limited supply of giveaways to start your own butterfly garden (so get there on time or early!) and two film screenings with question and answer panels. The movies are only 40 minutes and 20 minutes long, with the panels in between, so even the most distracted of us will be entertained. Randy Hauser, Horticulture Supervisor for CPD, will talk about the best plants to benefit butterflies, and David Hensleigh will show slides from his trips to Mexico to see the monarch migration. Best part? The whole day puts you back only $4 per person before snacks (if there are snacks, I have no official word).

The thing that caught my eye, however, and the reason this is in the Arts section, is because one of the films was created locally by Champaign-Urbana ex-pats Cindy and Kirby Pringle. Normally “Dog People” (literally, check out their studio), they also have a deep love of nature as a whole and butterflies in particular. Their website claims they make art primarily “to make people smile”, but I don’t buy it: this pair longs to teach and improve the world around them. Working in children’s books, I know the Pringles’ Earl and Pearl often teach and learn lessons in a way that is accessible and fun for adults and children. In addition, they started and maintain a Butterfly Nursery in Tuscola, not only to preserve the fragile eggs and ensure they are safe from the predators that would keep them from becoming butterflies, but the side-benefit is that it enriches the lives of the senior citizens who live in the apartments surrounding. Sounds like some Urbana-level do-gooderism if I’ve ever heard it.

The Pringles were working on their third children’s book, and the first one to merge their love of dogs with their care for the butterfly population, when they realized (according to Kirby), “we were getting a lot of great photographs, things that people don’t get to see very often. So we just sort of looked at each other and said, ‘We should be filming this.’ And so we did.” 

Cindy is an accomplished photographer, having won the Ernst Haas Award for Creative Photography by the American Society of Media Photographers, being named one of the nation’s top 100 photographers, and having her artwork featured at Café Kopi during the 2015 Boneyard Arts Festival. So using a Canon 60D and a macro lens, she got to work filming, but she wasn’t the only one. Kirby tells me:

“The most difficult part was just the waiting around. You can never predict when a monarch egg will hatch, or when it will emerge from its chrysalis, so we pulled a lot of all-nighters. I would stay up until 3 a.m., keeping a watch for something to happen, and then when my shift ended I would wake Cindy up, who took over until 6 a.m. Then we would alternate every 3 to 4 hours. We missed a few transforming into a chrysalis, either because we weren’t around or fell asleep at the wrong moment. It was probably the third or fourth one that we got the metamorphosis on video.”

With Kirby’s background in journalism, having worked at the News-Gazette for nearly a quarter-century, he was a natural at writing the script and providing the voiceover. They recruited friends Bruce Parker and Will DeSelms to write and perform the original music. The result, Plight of the Monarch, is an educational film that explains the life and struggles of the migrating monarch with beautiful images of places right around here. At just over 20 minutes, and available on YouTube, this necessary film can reach a wide audience, keep the attention of just about anyone, and leave them smarter for it.

Another reason I know they’re not just in it for art’s sake — as soon as they were done, the Pringles took their show on the road. They have traveled with their film all over Illinois and interstate, providing a Q&A panel along with the screening, and have even aired it on public access cable. They’re also developing a project to help people take more active steps toward preserving pollinator populations. The event at the Virginia started with Champaign Park District’s Director Joe DeLuce, extended to the Hensleighs, who found the Pringles on the internet and reached out. All parties involved did some brainstorming to create what promises to be a great way to spend a Saturday, and possibly could turn into an annual event.

get it?  you're greedy like this caterpillarSo now I hear you say “if I can watch it for free on YouTube, why would I pay four dollars to go to the most beautiful theatre in town to watch it on an amazingly large screen with awesome sound and meet other like-minded people and get free plants and learn how to start a butterfly garden my own self?”  If I didn’t already answer your question for you, consider it a donation to the arts. Or do-gooderism. Whichever floats your butterfly. 

The Virginia Theatre is at 203 W. Park Ave., Champaign, get your tickets at the door or online. The full schedule of events is as follows:

  • 2 p.m.: Plight of the Monarch (2013, 22 min.)
  • 2:25 p.m.: Slides and discussion on butterflies & plantings by Champaign Park District Horticulture Supervisor Randy Hauser
  • 2:45 p.m.: Flight of the Butterflies (2012, 40 min.)
  • 3:30 p.m.: Slides and discussion on the monarch in Mexico, David Hensleigh
  • 3:40 p.m.: Group Q&A featuring Kirby and Cindy Pringle, David Hensleigh, Randy Hauser
  • 4 p.m.: Event ends

Masthead image from event website. All other images© 2014 Cindy and Kirby Pringle/Dogtown Artworks, courtesy of Kirby Pringle.

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