The first annual “EcoBon” ceremony was a great success. HarborLAB conceived, produced, and promoted this creative interpretation of an ancient rite called Obon to promote environmental awareness and bring a beautiful experience to a broader community. Hundreds of visitors to Gantry Plaza State Park and Hunters Point South Park enjoyed viewing our 100 floating lanterns on the East River with the Manhattan skyline and United Nations as a backdrop.
We received great media coverage, links to which we’ll continue to add..
Our lanterns were truly innovative, and were decorated with nontoxic, washable window crayons and markers so they can be reused. Images ranged from pictures of favorite plants and animals to direct messages. The materials were largely plastics that would have either gone into landfill or required energy to recycle. Half of the lanterns were made from used CD cases lightly painted on the inside using a Green Depot-sold product without volatile organic compounds or other toxins. From a distance they looked amazingly similar to rice paper lanterns. The other 50 lanterns were in fact rice paper. All were mounted with reused bamboo skewers that we’ll continue to use for years to come. Buoyant bases were polystyrene squares normally discarded by film distributors after serving as reel packing dividers, but instead were donated through NYC WasteMatch. The same bases have been used since 2002, when HarborLAB Founder Erik Baard and Dr. Rev. Toshikazu Kenjitsu “Rev. TK” Nakagaki, Vice Chair of the Interfaith Center of New York and President of the Buddhist Council of New York, began an annual 9/11 ceremony on the Hudson River. That tradition became decadal in 2011.
Japanese families seek reconciliation with their ancestors in the Obon season, and give an accounting of their lives to the spirits they believe have returned. Other Buddhist cultures have similar lantern ceremonies. HarborLAB has a purely secular focus on science, but we respect that spiritual traditions bind together and ethically inform many of the communities we serve. Engaging faith congregations in environmental action will be vital to future efforts, from habitat protection to CO2 reduction. This year LIC’s own New City Church Pastor Patrick Thompson spoke alongside Rev. Nakagaki, who invited musician KenYa Kawaguchi to accompany meditation on a bamboo shakuhachi flute, As EcoBon grows, we’ll invite scientists and clerics through research labs and the Interfaith Center of New York to speak about how we can account for our lives on this planet.
Making EcoBon happen was a very heavy lift. We had hoped to produce the ceremony this year, but by August had written off the chance. Then one week before the date key elements came together unexpectedly and we seized the opportunity! This event was hugely strengthened by 56 student Resident Advisers from Fairleigh Dickinson University’s Florham campus, coordinated by the Office of Campus Life. Even more heartfelt gratitude to our regular volunteers, especially Patricia Erickson, Phillip Borbon, Lidiya Kan, Zak Ahmed, Dorothy Morehead, and Lynne Serpe. Especially those who helped prepare and pack away this very involved and detail-saturated production. Thanks to Davis Janowski and Winnie Hu for sponsoring some of the art supplies! We’re thrilled to have met, and thankful to, new volunteers and teen siblings Johnell and Johnna Artis. They just moved into LIC, we owe them an amazing paddle tour with the FDU students for hopping in so helpfully! Columbia University graduate engineering student Josue Silvestre not only helped at this event, but each week samples and tests water at Gantry Plaza State Park for HarborLAB as part of the “citizen scientist” water quality project coordinated by the NYC Water Trail Association and The River Project.
Many thanks also to the New York Office for Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation, the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation, and the Waterfront Alliance for making the event possible, afloat and ashore. We thank all of our sponsors, and for western Queens events like this, especially TF Cornerstone and Con Ed. We also appreciate Hunters Point Parks Conservancy Vice President Mark Christie’s encouragement to have FDU cater student affordable and delicious meals with COFFEED LIC Landing.
Now that we know we can produce EcoBon across from the UN, we’ll make it an annual event (August 14, 2016!) and have a much longer time for preparation. To ease logistical strains and volunteer burdens, and avoid too much baking in the sun, we’ll have kids and families decorate the lanterns at community centers and youth programs in July and early August instead of the same day as the ceremony. We’ll invite special event sponsors and partner with Japanese and artistic foundations and groups. In short, we’ll always remember the volunteers who sweated through the hard work of the first EcoBon so that bigger, easier, and better ones might follow!