In May 2023, botanical artist Anne Blackwell Thompson traveled to Slovenia as part of an Art in Embassies Democracy Collection artist exchange, conducting several days of community outreach. Her exchange took her from the capital of Ljubljana to Triglav National Park, the country’s only national park. “Activities included interacting with primary school students, undergraduate and graduate students, national park visitors, Botanic Garden Directors, and other leaders in the Slovenian arts community,” Thompson described.
Her visit began during the International Wildflower Festival at Triglav National Park in Bohinj, where she was witness to the signing of the extension of the sister parks agreement between Triglav and Crater Lake National Park in Oregon by the heads of both parks. In the words of the Crater Lake National Park Trust, “both parks share the same deep commitment to protection and preservation of the natural environment and cultural heritage that earned them the status of two of the world’s most magnificent national parks.” U.S. Ambassador to Slovenia Jamie L. Harpootlian spoke at the signing event highlighting the importance of national parks in nature conservation and of art such as Anne’s that reflects the beauty of the natural world. The director of Triglav National Park, the Vice Mayor of Bohinj, and several other Slovenian dignitaries spoke before Thompson delivered a brief presentation about her work and the Art in Embassies program. Afterwards, a botanist from Triglav National Park took Thompson and others on a botanic walk through the park.
The next day, Thompson visited OŠ Bohinjska Bistrica, a primary school in Bohinj, where she conducted a hands-on workshop with students studying and creating herbarium specimens in their science class. She demonstrated her techniques both in the dissecting of her specimens and her technical approaches to mounting them for the nearly forty students in attendance. She returned to Triglav that afternoon to present a lecture and workshop as part of the International Wildflower Festival for a wide range of participants.
On her return to Ljubljana, Thompson had the opportunity to tour the Ljubljana Botanical Garden, the oldest botanical garden in southeastern Europe and a significant facility for scientific and educational research. “Meaningful conversations about the importance of historical and present-day connections between international botanical gardens is vital to engaging students, guests, and the public to nature,” Thompson said, and while at the botanical gardens she had the opportunity to have in-depth conversations with the head of the garden, Dr. Joze Bavcon, and assistant head, Dr. Blanka Ravnjak. That afternoon, she gave a lecture called “Turning Your Art Into a Business” to art, architecture, and design students and faculty hosted by the Faculty of Design in Ljubljana. “Dialogues and questions followed the lecture as we discussed unique ways to turn art and design skills into professional careers. The university students were open-minded, inquisitive, and engaging.”
The exchange concluded with a dinner hosted by Ambassador Harpootlian with a guest list consisting of members of the Ljubljana arts community, artists, and museum curators, all in deep conversation about their personal journeys in arts and the future of the field across disciplines. “The energy at the dinner was electric, and the guests helped expand my own understanding of the natural world and the wonders of nature through various other art mediums,” Thompson said.
Reflecting on the exchange, Ambassador Jamie Harpootlian said, “Art is about connection, and connection is diplomacy. Whether we find it heart to heart or by experiencing an alternate world through the eyes of another – it is the connections that create the threads that unite us. Art has tremendous power to transform – to influence behavior, thought and emotion. Art allows us to open doors and transcend national borders. That is why the State Department seeks opportunities like the ones we shared with Anne Blackwell Thompson in Slovenia.”