Pound Ridge Woman Combines Art With Social Issues

POUND RIDGE, N.Y. – All artists would like to make a statement with their work, and Pound Ridge commercial graphic artist Donna Simons is no different.

Simons, who has had a studio on Westchester Avenue in Scott’s Corner for nearly 19 years, has made her living mostly by helping companies to brand and advertise their products. She’s worked on TV commercials for products as diverse as Jaguar autos, Claritin, and Lysol where she says she had to “fake reality” by changing shadows and lighting to make things look “more real.”

Now Simons says the she has had her own reality check. Not too long ago, she went to a one-hour lecture on factory farming, where, she said, things got very real.

“It hit a nerve,” she said. ”Once I learned about it, I couldn’t eat anything. I didn’t become a vegan, but I am a vegetarian now.”

Simons says once she learned how factory farms, also known as concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFO), operate, she could no longer eat meat, chicken, pork and most dairy products.

“I buy almond milk – it tastes just the same and it works great in cooking,” she said.

She said CAFO livestock doesn’t graze in pastures. Instead, cows are kept indoors in close quarters, where they’re given antibiotics to keep disease at bay. CAFO's, she says, also result in in over-farming to meet the demands to grow enough feed (usually corn) to feed the cattle. That results in deforestation, which, she says, has a domino effect on the ecology of an environment – from the reduction of indigenous species to the destruction of vegetation needed to cleanse the air of carbon dioxide.

Simons realized the subject would be the perfect fodder for her artwork.

“I knew I had to use my skills to shine a light on the issues,” she said. “It was a way to combine social issues with art. What I’ve done is create editorial images that are hung in galleries like fine art.”

Those images are now part of a show Simons has dubbed, “Bon Freakin’ Appetit – Raising Hell about Factory Farming and Seeking Solutions for a Healthier Planet.” The first show will be at the Greenwich Audubon starting in August and another will be at Sprout Creek Farm and Educational Center in Poughkeepsie in October.

Simons said the project provides her with a creative outlet and a way of expressing her beliefs without getting preachy.

“I am not marching around saying don’t eat meat,” she said. “I try to compel with my images and tell a story.”

Supplementing the exhibits is a brochure that Simons created that tells the story of factory farming and features some her artwork – particularly “Mad Cow,” a bovine image that has become somewhat of the “spokescow” of the campaign.

“The narrative from the brochure is being use at environmental and educational centers to teach about the harmful effects of factory farming,” she said. “I was sort of my own client on this project.”

Simons said "Bon Freakin’ Appetit" has taken off.

“I’m getting more ideas all the time and creating more and more work,” she said. “Plus, Greenwich Audubon wants to use some of the images for things like T-shirts to sell in the gift shop.”

Simons said she doesn’t keep her family and friends from eating beef and dairy. Instead, she visits area farms, dairies and farmers markets to buy beef from cattle raised and fed organically.

In addition to the success of her "Bon Freakin’ Appetit" campaign, Simons recently won a LEAP award from the Women’s Enterprise Development Center and the Lanza Foundation, which is given to up-and-coming business women in Westchester County to help them grow their businesses.

“I received a cash award for $4,000,” Simons said. “To apply, I had to write out a business plan and show them my [art] work.”

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