Below is the full transcript from Ask Me Anything with Sharyn Main, a freeform Q & A with CEC’s Director of Climate Resilience and a Santa Barbara Arts and Culture figure.
Casey Caldwell, Santa Barbara Community Arts Workshop: All right. Welcome, everybody, to Ask Me Anything, the freeform Q & A with Santa Barbara Arts and Culture figures. I’m Casey Caldwell, the Managing Director of the Arts Collaborative and Community Arts Workshop.
This season of Ask Me Anything is sponsored by Sullivan Goss – An American Gallery. You can find out more about Sullivan Goss and their current exhibitions at sullivangoss.com. And I want to make sure to thank all of our sponsors and supporters. If you would like to support Ask Me Anything and the work of the Arts Collaborative, you can do so at sbca.org/ama, and we would be very grateful for any support.
So our guest today is Sharyn Main. Sharyn is a fourth generation Santa Barbara County resident and has been actively involved in environmental protection and the arts throughout her life. She is currently the Director of Climate Resilience at the CEC and before that was Senior Director of Community Investments at the Santa Barbara Foundation and has 35 years of experience in philanthropy and the nonprofit sector. And she’s also always had an active life in the arts, whether that was in dance theater, visual art, performing on stages and venues throughout Santa Barbara for over two decades. I’m really excited to talk to Sharyn, I’ve actually been looking forward to this for a while, about how her artistic practice has informed her leadership, about the interactions between creativity and problem solving, and just many other aspects of her work and her fascinating career.
So as always, I hope everybody following along will submit questions whenever they occur to you in the comments here on Facebook. And I’ll just pass them on to Sharyn as we go. So hi, Sharyn. Welcome.
Sharyn Main, Community Environmental Council: Hi thanks. Thanks.
Casey Caldwell, SBCAW: Great having you.
First Moment of Intense Curiosity
So I have a habit of starting all of these interviews now with some kind of a question. I’m always really interested in how people got curious about the things that they’re curious about, or the trajectory of someone’s professional effort. So I’m never really sure how to ask the question. But I usually say something like, what was the first moment of intense curiosity that you can remember, or the first moment of getting kind of captured by a subject?
Whether, you know, for an artist, sometimes that’s a piece of art. For you, that might be something in nature, it might be something…I don’t really know what it might be. So yeah, how do you respond to that question?
Sharyn Main, CEC: Hmm. Well, it’s kind of funny, because as you kind of described in my career trajectory, I have a lot of different interests. I think there’s a lot of different moments.
My mom was really great, because for Christmas or birthdays, she only gave us art supplies. From as young as I can remember, it was like a fresh pad of paper and markers and colored pencils as the gift. And that just that just goes to show that your creative parents can really instill that. So that was, actually, for me, a great way to be able to explore that creativity without being constrained by a toy that was already defining what you were going to think or do. Yeah, so that was one.
Certainly a lot of influence from my parents. My folks were art and antique dealers so I grew up with art. I had art around me all the time. So that was another wonderful way to really learn to appreciate the arts and love the arts, which I have always lived with. In terms of nature, I was a free range kid, you know, and I was really fortunate to be able to run the neighborhood and go and look for frogs and have tree forts and playing creeks. My love of nature was really from having that experience as a kid in nature. And I was really fortunate and fortunate to grow up here. Santa Barbara County in the 60s and 70s and 80s. There were places to run and it was a great time.
I think I related a story to you earlier. When I was quite young, I think I was four or five years old, my family was out at Point Fell, which is in Northern Santa Barbara County, near Guadalupe dunes. And my family had scurried down onto the beach, and my dad and I just I got real curious and I said let’s go around the next little cove. So we did that. And it was just so fun to be there with my dad exploring on the beach and looking at seashells and hearing the ocean and be just with my dad and the rest of family was the other side. And all of a sudden he said, grab on to me, and I did. And then he turned and he ran and he grabbed up and hung on to a rock on the side of a cliff and a huge wave came and washed over the top of us. Yeah. So at that moment, we could have been washed out to sea but it was fun. It was great.
It was so exciting. We just sort of shimmied up the cliff and I was all wet so I had to sit in the car. I felt like I was being punished. But you know, it was like that moment of the power of nature and being there with my dad. It was that was a moment for me for sure.
Casey Caldwell, SBCAW: That’s great. So for everybody watching along on Facebook right now, it looks like Facebook Live changed their settings for the live video. So I think we actually may have not gone Live. I think we started going Live about halfway through Sharyn’s interview.
So I’m really sorry for that, everybody. You missed the boring part where I was just kind of blabbering on introducing things. And I think you jumped right in on when Sharyn started talking about the interesting bits. To kind of catch us up once again, I guess, to Sharyn Main. We were just sort of talking about the origins of her curiosity and interaction with nature and how that work has led to her work at CEC today.
Your Work's Biggest Challenge
Casey Caldwell, SBCAW: So I think there’s a lot of directions we could go after what you just said, but maybe, maybe to kind of get us going: I’m curious what the biggest challenge in your work is right now?
Sharyn Main, CEC: Hmm well, I don’t choose easy subjects to work on. I always choose issues to work on or they find me. And they’re usually big, gnarly, collaborative efforts. I’m usually addressing issues where there is conflict, there’s decades of non-movement, and I just find myself drawn to finding how we can solve that issue. I tend to be a big picture kind of systems thinker. I’m just really attracted to these kind of big collaborative efforts in general. But it’s also really hard. And it takes a long time.
And the work I’m talking about are things like a county wide food action plan that took years in the making, or the conservation blueprint project to come up with a mapping tool that allows us to look at all the all the aspects of the community. This data tool that took years and years of work.
And my work now in climate resilience, and trying to find some strategies, it’s just as big gnarly work.
Casey Caldwell, SBCAW: So, wait, like, why? If it’s so hard, if it’s so complicated, if it’s so slow? Why do it that way?
Sharyn Main, CEC: You know, I don’t know, other than, I guess I’m always looking for that certain thrill of solving a problem. I think it’s just because I am so passionate about these issues. I mean, I care so much about this region.
I grew up, my family protested, you know, Diablo and nuclear power when I was a kid, and we spent a lot of time as a family going to protests concerned about nature and stopping war. That is just kind of in my DNA. And so, to me, it’s like fighting for these really big issues that are gonna make a difference. They’re just everything to me. Right. And right now, obviously, the biggest issue we’re confronted with is climate change. And that’s the work that I’m working on now.
We’re already at a point where the impacts are here, we’re seeing it now across the state. We have fires that are on the scale that we’ve never seen or experienced before. We have threats of sea level rise. We have the hottest year ever is what we’re looking at now for this year. And so this is big, gnarly stuff. And it’s challenging the state, not only on how humans and society are going to survive, but all of the species. Once we lose our pollinators, once we lose these important species that make the system work again, back to that systems thinking, we’re not looking good. It’s a really challenging time. This is not like, if we’re not successful we’ll just go on to something else. If we’re not successful it may be the end of things. We know it, right. I mean, it’s really important.
What is required to do effective climate resilience? What keeps you motivated?
Casey Caldwell, SBCAW: So how do you reckon with something like that? I mean, how do you reckon with an issue that is so complex and so large? And the stakes are so high. I mean, what keeps you motivated? What keeps you focused?
Sharyn Main, CEC: Well, there’s a lot of great people working in this area. I have a lot of energy and I’m surrounded by just the best and the brightest. There’s so much camaraderie and there’s so much energy and picking up on what other people are doing.
One of my skill sets, as well, is really being able to really glean the best, right? I can look at that landscape and say, ooh, there’s good, there’s good, there’s good. Can I pull all that together to make a better whole? That kind of keeps me going. It’s almost as if it’s a problem I’m trying to solve, right? It’s a chess game. I’m looking at it from a very kind of strategic 10,000 foot view where it becomes interesting. I become like a choreographer staging a piece, right? That’s like the choreography of saying, I might have put down little pieces on a piece of paper, and you’re just moving them around, like the hand of God, right? There’s something really interesting about being able to step back and look at it, but then also being able to pull yourself right back into it and deal with the details of it as well. So what keeps me going? I just feel like it’s a life’s work. It’s a calling. I just keep leaning in.
Casey Caldwell, SBCAW: Well, and it sounds like in the way that you’re describing it almost as choreography, you found, despite the seriousness of the issue, you found a pleasure in it, you’ve found kind of a craft in it. A choreography of these ideas, and the people that you’re collaborating with, it sounds like.
Sharyn Main, CEC: Yeah, I think that’s about right. There is a craft to it. And I would think after this many years of working in this field that I would have some craft I could bring to it. And it’s interesting where you kind of figure out what your skill set is, right?
Acting as a community connector
I think that I have an ability to be a connector and bring people together and actually see where those connections are possible. Even making a couple of them this week. It’s very exciting and thrilling, because all of a sudden, you see that spark happen, and that project, or that effort takes off, and I’m not part of it anymore. Just the fact that I was some sort of a spark, or I gave something, is just really satisfying.
Casey Caldwell, SBCAW: I would actually be curious, if you had, if you had a story or an anecdote about that. About being able to connect something and see it kind of take off and then ride away from you. Because I think it’s a really interesting skill. It can be a very powerful thing in a community or in a broader society to be able to connect one thing to the next thing and not really have a strong sense of ownership about it, just kind of let it go.
Sharyn Main, CEC: Um, you know, maybe one that comes that some people might be familiar with is the Food Action Plan. I was working at the Santa Barbara Foundation when that project came to us for funding, and it came from CEC and from the food bank, which was a new and unique partnership. And obviously, I could be a catalyst with the funding, but I actually became a partner in the project. I also became a thought leader and a part of the team. That part was really fantastic. We were in it – 18 months of gathering community data and bringing all the resources together and creating this really great plan and then launching it and stepping away.
Now that Food Action Plan has become the Food Action Network. And there’s a whole new set of players and a whole new group of people involved. And many of them don’t even know me or that I was involved. And that’s great. I mean, I love that. And I think another example I could give you would be the formation of the city’s Creeks Program, which happened when we were having high levels of bacteria in the ocean and beaches were being closed quite a bit. And a group I was involved with – the South Coast Watershed Alliance, really pushed for Measure B, which is a hotel bed tax to support a creek restoration and creek water quality programs.
I was instrumental in helping bring that together, along with our partners in the South Coast Watershed Alliance passing that measure. It became a fully funded program, and now is a Department of the City. Again, there’s people now serving on the Creeks Advisory Committee that don’t know that I was ever part of it. And I’m really happy with that. I’m glad.
I feel like you can stay in something so long, then it’s time to move on. It’s time to either leave or find a new area to work and kind of reenergize that creativity and just be happy those things are going forward.
Casey Caldwell, SBCAW: I mean, like, this isn’t a question but God bless you for doing that sort of thing. I think that is a very important leadership quality to be able to kind of set something up and then not care if you end up getting credit for it. Just kind of try to put it together and connected and all you really care about is that it succeeds and goes well. It almost sort of seems metaphorically like parenting a little bit that you kind of, like you want, you want it to grow. And then you just got to step back and let it do its thing.
Sharyn Main, CEC: Yeah and I think if I relate it back to the arts, it’s like being an ensemble. Everybody’s the star, but your being part of that ensemble is so important to the success of that show, or to that piece, right? Yeah, it’s the same. It’s the same for me. It’s just part of being a partner in a partnership or a collaboration.
Casey Caldwell, SBCAW: Yeah. Yeah.
Hoe do you deal with the weight of tackling climate change?
Well, so I want to. The next thing that I’m curious about, I mean, I think it’s really fascinating and inspiring how you talk about the sort of pleasure and delight of dealing with issues that are very difficult. Let me ask it from kind of the darker angle, if you will. How do you deal with despair or similar emotions? Or do you even feel that way about issues?
Sharyn Main, CEC: That’s difficult. I’m generally a pretty happy person and I surround myself with art and I find much joy in the world, in my friends, and on the planet. I mean, I’m looking here up out my window into my beautiful garden, and my native plants. I find joy in almost everything. I’m a very visual person, so I can just sit on my porch with a glass of wine and stare, you know, at a tree for a long period of time. I certainly can find that pleasure.
But I mean, it’s a difficult time and I carry my emotions on my sleeve. It’s not unusual for me, in the middle of a public comment, to get emotional, to well up. I have many times been on the diocese and speaking to community leaders and welled up with emotion about what I was working on. And on some level, it’s probably been a good thing and has helped benefit my cause. Because when people tap into that emotion, they appreciate it and it taps something in them. I’m hoping that I’m not just looking like a wimpy crybaby, but I just, I love it, it’s there. It comes to the forefront and I let it be there. It’s an important emotion. And I’m fine with being melancholic. You know, there are some days I just want to be mopey. I’m okay with that.
Casey Caldwell, SBCAW: Yeah, yeah. And it almost, it almost might be paradoxically necessary to feel, in issues like this, to feel fear and sadness, and even something as grim as despair. Because if you don’t feel it, then you probably aren’t going to be motivated to do anything. So being able to tolerate and channel in a productive way, feelings like that, does that resonate with you as a sort of a necessary part of this work? Does that seem right?
Sharyn Main, CEC: I think so. Because it’s not a job you turn off, right? I’m lying in bed on a Sunday with my coffee, reading my newspapers via the computer and I’m flagging all my climate change stories and sending things off, and getting thoughts and making notes. It’s with you all the time. So, yeah, I mean, I used to think I had a really terrible work life balance. But I think it’s, it’s more than that. Because I don’t have one. But I think I’m just more, just in it. 110% is all I can say, I don’t know. I don’t know how else to be in the world.
Does artistic practice make you a better leader?
Casey Caldwell, SBCAW: Yeah, yeah. Yeah. Yeah, that makes sense. Let me kind of change the subject slightly. One of the questions that I was curious about when I called and talked about the idea of being on the show – one of the things we talked about was your background in dance and your background in the arts and how that’s kind of interacted with your other work and with your leadership in general. So the way I’m kind of framing that question in a broad way is, do the arts make people better leaders?
I was kind of thinking about that for myself. I’m kind of curious how you answer it, because you might think given the job that I have that I would just say yes, that the answer is definitely yes. But I was actually thinking about it for myself and it’s not completely yes, it’s sort of both. I mean, I think my background in the theater set me up to sort of have a strong instinct for collaboration. It really kind of cultivated a sense in me of, you know, starting things and knowing that you don’t need a whole lot of resources. Just get up and do it. That’s the whole spirit, particularly the spirit of the theater program that I was a part of. So all of those things really set me up incredibly well, and other reasons, too, for the work that I’m doing right now. But on the flip side, I have realized over the last few years that a theater practice, maybe by default, or maybe this was just my experience, sets you up to be a little bit precious. It kind of sets you up to…What an actor does is go out and audition, and you’re trying to be the most unique, special flower so that someone will pick you, and it sort of made me struggle later in my life. Just kind of a sense of passivity. And so I really had to learn to stop doing that.
And so, in some ways, the arts were this incredibly vibrant and important and essential prep for me doing the work that I’m doing right now. And in some things, it sort of taught me some bad habits. I’m curious how you react to that question of how have the arts interacted with your leadership as a positive or negative? You know?
Sharyn Main, CEC: Well, there’s not a blanket. I wouldn’t say that everybody should be in the arts in order to propel their leadership skills.
And I don’t even know really what leadership means. I lead by following. I lead by seeking the best partners and collaborators, because I don’t know all the answers. And I’m the first to admit that. I think for me, I understand the presentation part of theater, I totally get it. I stage, I get ready, I prep, right? And it’s important, how it comes off. And that’s a useful skill in being able to get a point across. I mean, I think artists are very good at that. Whether you’re a performer or you’re writing or you’re providing a visual piece of art, you’re portraying a message or an emotion. And so I feel like that’s a good skill set to have in any job you would have and any leadership skill. You’re right, in terms of the practice as well. It does offer opportunities for learning how to collaborate, learning how to sometimes lead and how to sometimes follow.
But for me, I think with improv in particular, and what can happen in live theater, when something happens that you’re not expecting, you drop a line, or somebody doesn’t show up, or a line cue doesn’t come up, or you forget what you’re doing, and you’re running in circles for a minute. That’s just fabulous practice for life in general. You know, that’s cool. I think everybody should take improv classes, regardless of what you want to do in life, because at every moment, you’re going to have to do something not go the way you want it to go, or the way you anticipated. And you’re just going to have to jump in and do it. I was on an interview a couple of weeks ago, and I had my notes and we had prepared and the guy didn’t ask me anything in my notes that we had talked about. That’s why I’m like, yeah, let’s go.
I think I do see the balance and the parallel between theater and the theater practice and in my work. I think that it’s also a respite for me. So perhaps I’m not looking at it as a direct parallel.
Casey Caldwell, SBCAW: I mean, you kind of kept this up pretty much throughout your life, in some form or another – dance, visual art, various things. Clearly this habit has been important to you in some way.
Sharyn Main, CEC: And it’s a different friend set, it’s a different group of people. So it also opens up different ideas. Sometimes we are artists and then we’re not and then we’re this, you know, and I’m trying to straddle both.
I don’t perform anymore. Not that I wouldn’t want to but I’ve had a hip replacement. I still dance, I dance twice a week, and I’m still enjoying dancing and would still perform if I had the opportunity and I still may do that at some point.
But, yeah, I find it my touch point, my touchstone.
Casey Caldwell, SBCAW: Mm hmm. So it’s centering in some way?
Sharyn Main, CEC: Yeah, it kind of brings me back to a place of joy. And maybe this gets back to your original question about how do you deal with despair and all of the heaviness of your work. I go to dance class and I let go and I feel I’m in my body and joyful. Within moments I’m completely, fully, spirited and joyful. It’s that balance to a very difficult career path.
Casey Caldwell, SBCAW: And you work in the environment – in particular you’re thinking about all these things out there in the future or out in the world, all these complex systems and dance in all forms really. Dance maybe the most viscerally present. It’s right here, right now, in your body, in this room with these people.
Sharyn Main, CEC: Right? Right. Yeah, yeah. It’s like Zen or a yoga practice, right? It’s my peace.
Casey Caldwell, SBCAW: I love that.
All right, we got a question here.
My question: is there enough energy being placed on the short term remedial actions re: climate change? I agree that much needs to be done on a macro, longer-term level. But I wish there was more being done and discussed by the change makers and public regarding pragmatic short-term remedies. Thoughts?
Sharyn Main, CEC: Well, that’s a big question.
So I work for the Community Environmental Council. They’re working on the actual reduction of greenhouse gases – reducing our energy and changing our energy sources to renewable sources, and many of those greenhouse gas reduction efforts that we need to do to kind of balance our climate back out.
So the work I’m doing is really actually addressing this more immediate issue, which is, we have to deal with and face and become resilient. We need to become a resilient community, to be able to deal with the stuff that we’re going to be facing now and probably for another couple of generations or more, depending on how we’re able to bend that curve of climate change. So yeah, I agree.
There’s much work now happening within county and city governments, in particular, and many of the agencies that are the climate practitioners, I call them, they’re really starting to look at this kind of immediate issue of what can we do now to protect our community, our resources, but more important for community resilience, for our humans to survive here? We’re going to have to think about what happens when fires burn and sea level comes up? What does that do to the squeeze, to the middle, of our particular community? Where do we have to go? And how do we have to think about building or rebuilding and adjusting to this new normal? And how are we going to bring our entire community along?
I think what we saw it with our recent COVID crisis, as well as any other climate disaster that we have, is those folks that are generally impacted the hardest, or, or the last to recover, or sometimes never recover are usually those frontline communities. There are communities of color, there are communities that are most disadvantaged, they are the communities that are marginalized, for whatever reason, and we have to bring everybody along as a community. So much of the work now in climate resilience, or addressing these more immediate issues, is how can we actually, structurally, relook at our entire system of equity and justice and bring everybody along? We’re not going to have climate resilience, we’re not going to be a whole as a community until we’re whole as a community. And that means for everyone.
Community resilience is climate resilience
Casey Caldwell, SBCAW: So that seems like one of the advantages of thinking and working in the way that you do – sort of systemically and broadly and with all these communities. In some ways, it’s complex and difficult and has tendencies to be inefficient. But it also spills out into all these broader issues you can deal with as a whole. You notice how so many things feed together so that it sounds like what you just said is that you’re not interested only in climate resilience and climate change, but how it’s necessary to strengthen an entire community in order to deal with these kinds of issues.
Sharyn Main, CEC: Right. I mean, think about if you’re thinking about a dystopia, right, where the rich people behind the gates are protected from the floodwaters. And everyone else is scraping, trying to get up over the gates. Is that place we want to live? Is that where we want to be? I don’t think so. I think that we recognize and we call them heroes, we call our frontline workers, heroes, the folks that are out there continuing to work in the in the fields and pick our food and the people that are performing all the services for us, and yet, we don’t necessarily want to look at the systemic problems that are keeping them down, or keeping them from being also whole or resilient for the next disaster.
Casey Caldwell, SBCAW: That seems like a potentially very powerful legacy of COVID – that we have this term now “essential workers”, that is on the forefront of our consciousness. We have realized just how essential these basic functions of feeding people and caring for people are.
A lot of us folks, like people in my kind of job, I am not an essential worker, which really focuses the mind in a certain way. It gives you kind of a perspective on the work that you’re doing, which I think is very important. Do you feel like that is going to be a lasting shift in how we think about people in our country? This idea of essential workers – does it seem like something that’s gonna stick?
Inclusivity, equity, and justice in climate resilience
Sharyn Main, CEC: Well, beyond essential workers, I think, this issue of equity and justice in general, is going to stick. I’ve been working on a series of climate resilience roundtables as part of my work with CEC. And what we’re really gleaning out of this community process, what we’re hearing from the community, and the feedback we’re getting, is it’s so important for our communities, all of our communities, all of our members of the community, to have equal access, and be able to have inclusion in the planning for the future. It’s not, you know, why are people in certain agencies where one person is going to plan for everybody? Everybody wants to have a role or say when they’re talking about empowerment and cultural competency, and issues that are really important. Learning both ways, right? How are our community leaders going to actually address these issues that they maybe weren’t aware of or didn’t understand the power of them.
Now I think what we’re having and what we’re seeing is this really elevation, for the first time and more broadly than I’ve seen it before, of a real interest in understanding these needs, understanding what this broader sector of our community is actually asking for. I think there was always this assumption of “we’ll take care of you, we will provide a social safety net.” That’s not what people are asking for. They’re saying, we want to be part of the decisions. It’s our community, our culture, we want to help decide what the future of this looks like.
Casey Caldwell, SBCAW: That’s really interesting to me, because that kind of crosses, to my mind, our traditional political divides. There’s the idea that the people working on the environment are liberals and the stereotype of the other side, from liberals, they’re going to do everything for you, they have all the solutions, they have the system, they’re going to do it all. And what you’re talking about is, to my mind, what’s a little bit more of a traditional conservative perspective, of we want people to feel empowered and engaged and that they, as individuals, can make choices and be involved. So I’m really interested in that idea.
How do we create a more inclusive environmental movement?
The idea that your dialogue is kind of moving in that direction of how can we listen to people better? How can we provide greater, and correct me if I’m saying any of this in a way that seems off, sort of openings for people to engage and to make change themselves?
Sharyn Main, CEC: I believe that you touched on it too, with, as you mentioned, the environmental community. I think the movement has long had a face of a wealthy white leader. And the environmental movement, if you will, or sector has not traditionally been as diverse as you would think. Not that there’s not interest and passion by everybody of all creeds and colors.
But yeah, it’s just an assumption, you know that this is a kind of a movement for some and even some there is racial injustice in the environmental movement from really early on from the forebears of what it was. Lands were preserved, for who? For wealthy white owners.
Casey Caldwell, SBCAW: And so many people in the early environmental movement were concerned about overpopulation, and that had some kind of racist tones and not even tones – sometimes quite explicit.
Sharyn Main, CEC: It wasn’t being set aside for everyone or lands were actually being taken away from indigenous people, and then they weren’t given access to go do their practices. So those are issues that are coming to light. In these conversations that I’m involved with, it’s like, yes, the environmental movement and the face of the environmental sector really needs to shift and there’s needs to be much more conversation around diversity and equity and inclusion. And I’ve been part of those conversations. They’re starting to happen. And it’s necessary. The environment, everything, right, it’s all of us, it’s the most common of the commons that we have.
And so, again, those who have been most damaged, the environmental justice issues have always been around. Those power plants get put in the poor neighborhoods, the parks, the bigger parks and recreation opportunities are also always put in the white wealthy neighborhoods. These are systemic issues that need to be addressed.
Casey Caldwell, SBCAW: How are you starting to do that? How are you seeing examples of ways that people can get engaged, have a greater sense of capacity? Because as soon as you start talking about that, like my ears perked, because I feel overwhelmed by the issues, and not really sure what to do practically.
I’m curious, maybe if you have any examples of some of these conversations that you’re having, with community members, or programs or ideas that are being tried.
Conversations around justice in the nonprofit sector
Sharyn Main, CEC: There’s much going on, particularly, after our social unrest of this summer in the Black Lives Matter movement that really came to the forefront. And many in the nonprofit sector, in particular, and in the government sector, are actively doing diversity, equity, inclusion and justice training. And that goes very deep. I mean, that that is with not only staff, but on a board level, and really they’re deep dives. I mean they can take weeks, and it’s emotional and challenging. And very important. That’s happening quite a lot.
Just recently, Just Communities, which is an organization that does a lot of work in this area, has been mainly in school systems, but works with individual organizations and did a broad training, diversity, equity, inclusion and justice training for environmental oriented organizations and agencies. And it was powerful. I can’t remember the number but there were probably 35 different agencies, and then each one had a number of staff plus board members participating. So it was impressive.
Casey Caldwell, SBCAW: What’s a moment you remember from that that was that was particularly powerful or potent?
Sharyn Main, CEC: You know, there’s a lot of just realization. There were a couple of exercises we went through, but just that realization that you’ve been part of it, whether knowingly or unknowingly. It’s a painful thing to recognize, to think that you’ve been this liberal open person but there is racism in my sector. And I’m partly responsible, because it hasn’t affected me, right. I mean, and that’s the issue. And I think that’s the issue that every person of color needs to face right now: that we can’t be fragile. We have to recognize that the system has been unjust, and that we’ve benefited from that. And just because we haven’t been outright racist, that doesn’t mean that we’ve done enough to change the system. And so I think that there’s quite a bit of effort, and you’ll hear this a lot with Black Lives Matter and the local Center for Healing justice groups, you know, we need to be allies. We need to be more than just not racist. Step up.
Casey Caldwell, SBCAW: That seems to be one of the capacities that dealing with global warming requires of us – or helps us notice how we’re all connected. I think that these are very difficult and very troubling times. But there’s also on good days it’s a very refreshing time too, because there’s just, for me anyway, there’s a sense of: there have been a lot of issues for a while that I’ve just been like, “we can deal with that later” that we’re building this thing with this pollution is being created, and we can deal with that later. And that just is less and less the case.
And it’s a very invigorating time to be alive, I think, because there’s just a sense that something’s different here. And maybe we don’t know exactly know what it is. We have some idea. We’re trying to figure it out. But I find that very exciting. And I think that attitude is true, not only in global warming, but I sort of see that popping up in different areas.
Sharyn Main, CEC: I would agree. I think it’s an opportunity for all of us to challenge ourselves and our own beliefs and thoughts. And you can’t recognize it unless you step outside of it. We need to think, is this really working?
Re-defining resilience as building back better
There’s one definition of resilience, which is to bounce back after a disruption. And we at CEC have been challenging that, and I’ve been challenging that, that it’s not good enough to bounce back to where we were. Where we were wasn’t great, right? What we need to do is we need to bounce forward with a really new vision, a new way that’s inclusive, and that’s a vision that includes everyone, and that actually has the utopia that we’d like to see. We have to learn from every setback and make it a step forward, so that we’re not continually going back to this old paradigm, which I think we get stuck in politically and every other way, right? It’s time for big changes, and we have to be really bold.
Casey Caldwell, SBCAW: I was hearing someone talking about the idea of resilience just the other day and he talked about it as sort of personal resilience. And for whatever reason, he framed it as just, in order to be resilient, you have to work out. And I was like, I haven’t thought about it that way. But his basic point was like, you go through a hard time, your personal health is going to suffer. And so you have to be at a healthier place already. It’s going to take you down a little bit, but at least you know, you were starting from a place that was healthier.
I don’t know why he was talking about that way. But it reminds me of exactly what you’re saying – of this idea of resilience. It’s not just, how can we be more flexible? Or how can we bounce back? You have to be starting at a healthier place, so that, if something bad happens and it does take you down a little bit you’re ready. If not, you’re not gonna be as resilient as you need to be.
Sharyn Main, CEC: Right. And that’s the exact point regarding the equity issues, right? I mean, if you’re, if you’re, let’s say you’re a housekeeper and maybe you have a second job, and you do everything you can to support your family, and you’re barely getting by, and then disaster hits, and you don’t have that job anymore. Do you have a six month buffer of savings, or are you so close to the edge that you’re going to lose your house in six months. And that’s why we spend so much with rent forgiveness and rent control, because there’s so many people now who are at that edge. And so resilience means that, if we’re all at that edge, it’s not going to take a whole bunch, just a little puff, and we’re all going down. When you have compounded issues happening, it’s just bad.
It’s bad enough that we just had a big fire and a flood a few years ago. And then on top of that, then we have extreme heat, and we have COVID coming down. And and if you’re already a central worker, or frontline worker who doesn’t make very much money, or you’re already kind of pushed down in society, what are you supposed to do? I mean, that’s just compounding issue after issue after issue after issue. How do you get up after that?
Although I have to say, in hearing the stories of resilience from some of these folks, they are incredibly resilient. You know, I mean, stories that are just breathtaking, that just are so poignant, of how they’ve come back time and time and time again. Those are stories we can all learn from, and we should be learning from.
Casey Caldwell, SBCAW: Yeah. One way to gain resilience is you just practice. Yeah, so, I mean, that is part of it, too.
I think that is a really compelling way to think of issues. Issues of economic inequality and racial inequality is that it’s part of being resilient enough to handle environmental catastrophes. Because we never feel more all in it together than when you have these sort of broad, wide ranging environmental catastrophes that affect so many of us. So I think that’s a really important lens on the importance of relating to these issues.
Your greatest frustration in your work
We’ve been so positive, let’s, let’s see. What’s your greatest frustration right now? In your work?
Sharyn Main, CEC: I could use more resources, more money. Yeah. I mean, nonprofit profits work really hard to pull together the resources to make this work happen. And the only limiting factor really to move forward, faster and bigger, is having enough resources to do that, to hire enough people to, you know, spread the resources out. So, yeah, financially, it’s challenging, and especially when we see, you know, so much subsidy going to large corporations, and particularly those, like oil companies that are going in the wrong direction.
Well, it’d be nice if we could, you know, and when you see trillions of dollars as part of relief packages, you know, the money is there, if we valued and really saw the climate threat at the same level, so it’s a matter of how we shake those resources out. So that’s a really frustrating part for sure that I don’t think people are yet recognizing that this climate threat is, you know, this happened the other day at the gym at the gym, as a matter of fact, for me, when somebody asked what I did, and, and he went into Well, you know, it’s either environment or the economy. And I just thought, Oh, my gosh, really? I mean, you know, what, what is what do you think the economy is based off of, you know, it’s based off of extraction of resources, and it always has been and so, you know, at some point, you know, we have to recognize that if we, if we, if we use it all up, the economy goes to shit anyway, excuse my language.
So, yeah, I mean, so anyway, I don’t see how you can decouple those things like somehow, it’s only about the economy, but we, but it’s not about the environment. And it’s not about keeping it socially and economically whole. You know, I mean, they’re all right.
Casey Caldwell, SBCAW: Right. Right. Yeah, you know, all those systems are connected to the the, the economy is only sustainable to the extent that there’s still resources to use to sustain it. So how do you balance that?
Living with the effects of climate change
I mean, let me it would be interesting for actually, for me to try to imagine, you know, the reason behind that guy’s question in a way that it might be interesting for us to talk about, like, maybe, maybe the challenge is the difficulty between preservation and growth, or, um, you know, you were talking about the, the, you know, the challenge of wanting people to want people to feel empowered to engage with with these difficult issues. But I imagine there is also the importance of thinking systemically the importance of you know, we don’t we don’t want people to just kind of go off and do whatever their whims, desire, you know, there’s, there’s a role for expertise, there’s a role for that of strategic thinking.
Do you kind of wrestle with those with those dichotomies in your work?
Sharyn Main, CEC: Yeah as a matter of fact, a lot of my work is that I think the best example, tying those together would be the the tensions that are are related to wildfire in our region, and doing vegetation clearing or you know, creating those buffers, and that environmental damage that causes so those have been tensions for a long time, right? environmental
Casey Caldwell, SBCAW: the damage that doing a controlled burn would cause?
Sharyn Main, CEC: Well, I’m not going to use the control burn as an example because that’s another whole issue but that’s just a wholesale clearing like just scraping every Chaparral plan off the earth and saying, Okay, now we’re safe. You know, and there’s, there’s differences of opinion, and they each have their own science on it, but the reality is, we have millions of people living in what we call the wildland urban interface, and that’s where that’s where the most devastating parts of fires happen. It’s where the wildland fires start and then that’s how they get into community right and these communities are up in areas that are more forested in There’s no further apart and, and the roads are windy, you know? And all those things, right? What foothills look like, or any of the places that are burning right there. These are communities that are in this wildland urban interface. And and at some point, and we tend to send firefighters out into this to protect these places, right, and the resources are spread thin and more and more people are moving into these areas, we’re going to have to wrestle with should we actually begin to think about densifying, the cities having the cities go up and become where we live and actually using the moving out or pulling back from those buffer zones.
Casey Caldwell, SBCAW: That is, it is a very controversial idea for Santa Barbara, which is a place you know, we don’t want to grow up, we don’t want to be dense, you know.
Sharyn Main, CEC: So that’s what I’m talking about you we really have to have a bigger picture systemic. Because what we’re doing is we’re, as you said, we don’t want to upset people because it’s their home, and that’s where they’ve always lived. Granted, there’s ways of doing it, we just need to think creatively about how we go forward.
And then we can I think that you’re seeing a lot of younger people prefer to live in an urban environment downtown, they’d like to seek some high rises, and, you know, no cars, and just, and you just, that’s how you get around, you should buy for us public transportation, the idea of living off, you know, into a high fire zone, like my mom does, and I want her to be moving out of it. Right. Um, I think we need to think about what that responsibility means. And if we all as individuals can really do that for the good of the community. And what, you know.
Yeah, I agree that people are going to bristle at the idea of having to pull out, but sometimes it’s, you’ll be forced to, I mean, think about sea level rise. Another example like, how are you gonna hold the ocean back?
Casey Caldwell, SBCAW: Yeah, yeah, I mean, I think that’s one of the really interesting challenges facing humanity right now. And I think of it from an American perspective, because that’s where we live, like, you know, I think one of the most, one of the things that people are proudest of in their forebears in the history of this country is just kind of how stubborn people have been, you know, just this sense of like, I’m going to move there, even though it’s tough. And I’m going to figure out how to make a home and how to, you know, how to get water and how to, you know, do all these things, and it’s, you know, an incredible amount of effort and legacy involved there. And what may be demanded of us, as fires increase, and as sea levels rise is, is having a capacity to be a little more flexible, and to back off, which is a, I think, a difficult thing to learn psychologically for that, for that not to feel like a defeat in some way.
Sharyn Main, CEC: Yeah, well, I mean, again, if we go back to that idea, there’s a lot of environmentalists and conservationists and scientists refer to the landscape as a stage. And I love that terminology, because everything on it is just, you know, whether it’s plants, or animals or people and how we live in that environment, how we live on that stage. And when I think of a stage, I think, as you know, they’re flexible, right? You can move pieces around you, scrims you can, you know, bring pieces on and off stage, every time you start a new show is can be changed and be something different. So if we think of our landscape as a stage, you know, how, rather than thinking of as a defeat, it’s really just, it’s an evolution, right? It’s a change, show. It’s a different production.
And I think it’s just letting go of this traditionalism, that this is how we’ve always been, this is the only way to be I don’t know, if that’s the case. And at some point, it may just not be viable. It might be just too dangerous or too expensive to live in these really high risk areas.
Casey Caldwell, SBCAW: Thanks for the arts metaphor.
Sharyn Main, CEC: Bringing it back in.
Casey Caldwell, SBCAW: That’s good. Yeah, you brought it full circle for us.
This has been super interesting. Thanks, Sharon.
Maybe to kind of wrap things up and circle things around. You got any bird watching tips for people. I know that you enjoy some bird watching and we’re moving into the winter now and some migrating birds are coming back in. The white crowned sparrows are coming back into my backyard. Might be gone for several months.
Sharyn Main, CEC: Yep. And if you look up in the sky, I mean, people forget to do that. But you’ll see little birds starting to migrate, you know, moving south, and it’s really exciting. If you sit down on your deck, like I said, with a glass of wine and you look up and you start seeing migrating turkey vultures, I mean, you don’t think about that, but it’s a beautiful thing.
Casey Caldwell, SBCAW: I didn’t know vultures migrated.
Sharyn Main, CEC: Yes. around. They all move around. Right?
Yeah, there’s a few of them that stay here but yeah, they’ve been around. Yeah, there’s just a lot of interesting birds that are showing up. There’s a river that showed up with the Botanic Gardens and I can’t tell you what they are because my husband’s the birder and I just go along. They’re somewhere on the beach and the cliffs below. I love this stuff. So, there’s some rare birds that are starting to come in as part of this migration pattern.
Casey Caldwell, SBCAW: That’s fantastic.
You don’t know why the crows do that thing every night where they come from one part of town and gather all in trees at a certain part, like every evening. Do you know why they do that?
Sharyn Main, CEC: Yeah, that’s just what they do. They all run together. It’s a good thing. Yeah. Crows are corvids. Corvids, not COVID, but corvids, and they’re very smart. They’re very smart. And Scrub Jays. They’re very intelligent animals. They’re social.
Casey Caldwell, SBCAW: They like to sit down together every night. I wasn’t really expecting you to have the answer, it just occurred to me. I was curious about it.
Closing & Opportunities to support environmental work
Well, is there anything we haven’t talked about? Or any sort of things you haven’t had a chance to say yet?
Sharyn Main, CEC: I don’t know. I don’t think so. I really appreciate it. I appreciate you, Casey. I’ve really enjoyed talking and working with. I don’t know if our viewers know, but I met you as part of the Creative Communities Project. And you’re still called to that project. There’s another big county wide collaboration.
Casey Caldwell, SBCAW: Absolutely. Yeah. And it’s in kind of the final stages. So I look forward to seeing what comes of the Creative Communities Project. I think if folks are curious, there may be some updates on the Office of Arts and Cultures webpage. But they’ll probably be some announcements coming out soon.
Thanks for giving that plug for the need for greater resources for environmental and climate change work. Is there any particular place or activity that you would direct people towards if they’re wanting to support more climate related work?
Sharyn Main, CEC: Well, obviously, CEC needs work, needs support. But one of the areas that I think is really under-sourced is some of our social justice, environmental justice organizations like CAUSE and MICOP, and some of the others that work with these local communities, where we’re asking so much of them, to come to the table and participate, and they’re under-resourced. You know, I can go to a bunch of meetings on my salary. But to bring those voices to the table, we need to support that. And so I’m a big proponent of supporting those organizations, giving them the capacity to be able to show up at these meetings. To show up and have these voices as part of the conversation. I’m going to give a plug for those for those organizations working on the frontlines.
Casey Caldwell, SBCAW: Great. Yeah. Thanks so much, Sharon. This has been wonderful.
Sharyn Main, CEC: Thanks, Casey. So appreciate it.
Casey Caldwell, SBCAW: Thanks so much for everything you do and the community in the CEC and all the other efforts and it’s actually up while we were talking you, abd should check it out, when we’re done, but Rod Hare posted up a comment just sort of thanking you for being so instrumental in the early days of the arts collaborative. So, yeah, just on behalf of Santa Barbara, thanks a lot.
Sharyn Main, CEC: Thanks for your work at the CAUSE. It’s coming along and it’s lovely.
Casey Caldwell, SBCAW: Thank you, Sharon. Great. Signing off.