Our Planet Is in Danger: Arcadia Earth Wants to Help

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Our Planet Is in Danger: Arcadia Earth Wants to Help

The rainbow cave seen at the Arcadia Earth exhibit.

The rainbow cave seen at the Arcadia Earth exhibit.

LAUREN FICHTEN/THE OBSERVER

The rainbow cave seen at the Arcadia Earth exhibit.

LAUREN FICHTEN/THE OBSERVER

LAUREN FICHTEN/THE OBSERVER

The rainbow cave seen at the Arcadia Earth exhibit.

By LAUREN FICHTEN, Contributing Writer

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Hidden among the chaos of downtown Manhattan, tucked between a McDonald’s and a Foot Locker on East 4th Street, sits one of New York City’s newest pop-up experiences: Arcadia Earth. This 15-room exhibit combines art installations, projections and virtual reality to help promote climate change awareness and environmental sustainability. The result is nothing short of stunning. Entering Arcadia Earth is stepping into a colorful, eye-opening and informative world. The exhibit’s brilliant visuals combined with the abundance of environmental facts in each room make for an experience that is fun as well as educational.

The climate crisis has moved to the forefront of international attention, as scientists continue to uncover alarming statistics regarding the health of our planet. On Sept. 20, 16-year-old climate change activist Greta Thunberg of Sweden led thousands of New York City high schoolers in a climate strike in downtown Manhattan. A prediction released by scientists states that we have 12 years before the negative impacts on the Earth become irreversible. Another prediction says we have as little as 18 months, leading some countries to declare a “climate emergency.” Arcadia Earth wants to help.

Each room presents a different theme and accompanying message, informing participants of the effects of their actions on the planet and how people can be more mindful. Visitors journey through several augmented reality rooms and encounter multiple virtual reality “friends” along the way, including an orca whale that appears to swim around you when viewed on your phone screen. Some rooms are equipped with virtual reality headsets that simulate experiences such as scuba diving among schools of fish or, in the case of a room called the “Grotto,” allow you to get up close with lions and koalas. 

Arcadia Earth creates a sense of wonder as you push through each door not knowing what ethereal experience lies on the other side. Some of the most memorable installations include the Oxygen Oasis, a dark room with dazzling floor-to-ceiling wall projections; the breathtaking Rainbow Cave, made entirely from 44,000 plastic bags; and the slightly unsettling “Eat Less Meat” room, which displays an animal carcass that is made of cloth scraps, has a pungent smell and plays animal noises in the background.

Each room has a portion of a wall dedicated to explaining the specific installation within the room, facts relating to its theme and tips on how viewers can live more sustainably. In the Plastic Tsunami room, it says to “replace plastic coffee cups with reusable ones” and “say no to plastic water bottles.” In some areas of the exhibit, a voice repeats facts over a speaker as you observe the art around you.

Most of the time at Arcadia Earth, you’re absorbing information without even having to try. In the Rainbow Cave, a voice says, “Did you know in New York state over 23 billion plastic bags are used every year?” The phrase that follows is the familiar “you can help,” seen and heard throughout the exhibit. While Arcadia Earth is full of aesthetically pleasing art and Instagram-friendly photo opportunities, it does not lose sight of its central message: our planet is in danger, and we need to do something about it.

Arcadia Earth is open through Thursday, Oct. 31.