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Can Balloons Save Butterflies? Pulitzer Exhibit Artist Wants To Find Out

Mockup of the milkweed balloons
Provided by the Pulitzer Arts Foundation

Activism can take unexpected forms. This past weekend, naked and nearly naked bicyclists took off from St. Louis’ Grove area to circle the city to encourage renewable energy use, positive body image and bike safety.

On Wednesday evening, a Chicago artist will hand out balloons in Grand Center in an effort to preserve the Monarch butterfly population. Milkweed seeds inside the balloons are the key.

Milkweed is essential for the survival of the Monarch butterfly because Monarch caterpillars thrive on eating its foliage. The dwindling presence of milkweed accompanies a dramatic decline in the Monarch population, according to scientists.

The "Milkweed Dispersal Balloons" project is part of the Pulitzer Art Foundation’s “Marfa Dialogues” exhibit, in which art and science pair up to address issues around climate change. It's named for the Marfa Ballroom contemporary arts center in West Texas.

Artist Jenny Kendler's "Marfa" project involves giving out the seed-filled balloons to passersby. You won’t have to look hard to find Kendler and her team as they make their way from the Pulitzer around Grand Center between 6 and 9 p.m. Wednesday.

Jenny Kendler
Credit Provided by Jenny Kendler
Jenny Kendler

“Keep your eyes open for a shiny silver food cart with a white umbrella," Kendler said. "We’re going to be walking around with these beautiful clear balloons with bright orange strings giving them out to anyone and everyone."

The balloons will also be handed out Saturday from 8 a.m. until noon at the Tower Grove Farmers’ Market. But it’s what you do with the balloons after you get them that’s important.

“We’re asking people to take these balloons home with them, stand on a balcony or in their front yard or on the street, and pop the balloons, which is going to release these fluffy floating seeds which will then plant themselves in alleys and parkways,” Kendler said.

Part of Larger Effort

Monarch butterfly
Credit Provided by Missouri Botanical Garden
Monarch butterfly

The milkweed balloon project dovetails with existing local efforts. This past April, on Earth Day, St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay launched an initiative to encourage milkweed cultivation called “Milkweeds for Monarchs: The St. Louis Butterfly Project.”

Slay said the city will plant 50 milkweed gardens to foster the proliferation of Monarchs and challenged residents to plant an additional 200 gardens.

A city map shows that, so far, 33 total “Milkweeds for Monarchs” gardens have been created in areas including Tower Grove, the Central West End and Clayton.

The St. Louis Zoo, Missouri Botanical Garden, Forest Park Forever and the Missouri Department of Conservation are all involved in the city’s “Milkweeds” project.


‘Milkweed Dispersal Balloons’

A milkweed plant grows in an alley.
Credit Provided by the Pulitzer Arts Foundation
A milkweed plant grows in an alley.

Where/When: 6-9 p.m. Wednesday, July 30 at The Pulitzer, 3716 Washington Blvd. 63108, and throughout Grand Center. 8 a.m.-noon Saturday, Aug. 2 at Tower Grove Park Farmers’ Market

Information: Marfa Dialogues website

Marfa Dialogues’ exhibit

Where: The Pulitzer, 3716 Washington Blvd. 63108

When: July 30-Aug. 3

How much: Free

Information: Marfa Dialogues website

Follow Nancy Fowler on Twitter: @NancyFowlerSTL

Nancy is a veteran journalist whose career spans television, radio, print and online media. Her passions include the arts and social justice, and she particularly delights in the stories of people living and working in that intersection.