Climate Voices—Climate Action Art: Dusty Thune
Minnesota's Build Back Better Stories
Dusty Thune from House of Thune is an award-winning Minnesota artist specializing in snow and sand sculpting and climate activism. A teacher with St. Paul Public Schools and award-winning artist, Thune creates large-scale design projects with messages about conservation and the environment. “It’s important to get people drawn in, to at least start the conversation, and hopefully influence people to make decisions in their lives that affect climate change positively.”
Water and weather play a large role in many of Thune’s works. For the International Snow Sculpting Championship, he created one of his most powerful climate change pieces, The Deadliest Catch—a hand-carved snow sculpture of a 26th-foot tall whale on a wave filled with trash. With snow as an artistic medium, one or two degrees of temperature change makes a difference. “I can’t do snow sculpting if we have so much climate change—it gets too hot.”
He used a different medium—vegan butter—for his most recent piece, Build Back Butter. The “butter” is a nod to the Princess Kay butter sculpture tradition at the Minnesota State Fair—and the Build Back Butter event coincided with the 2021 return of the Fair. But for Thune, “it was an important decision to not use dairy butter because of all of the greenhouse gases it takes to make butter, and how hypocritical would that be.” Thune made sure the extra product was composted or donated."
These details make sense, as the 1300-pound, three-and-a-half-foot vegan butter globe displayed a banner reading, “Climate Action Now.” The sculpture supported Biden’s Build Back Better plan and its historic investment in climate solutions. Build Back Better is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for climate change mitigation efforts to meet the scale of the climate crisis. Using butter, snow, sand or any visual medium can call attention to tricky issues and sometimes tedious policy work.
And large-scale policy action is what we need to tackle the climate crisis. Climate change threatens to alter our snow, our seasons and how we enjoy Minnesota’s Great Outdoors, from shorter winters and less ice on our lakes to hotter summers with reduced air quality and more extreme weather events. The planet is feeling the heat and, in some places, quite literally melting.
Just like the butter sculpture did. Thune’s art became performative when the sculpture melted in the September heat. Another way Thune is teaching, “just through visuals.”