Campus & Community

DU at 150: University celebrated first Earth Day in 1970

Editor’s note: This story first ran in 2008 and is being reprinted in honor of the University’s sesquicentennial

It looked like a spaceship moving down University Boulevard, students said.

The floating contraption – carried five blocks by 17 students – was a geodesic dome 30 feet in diameter and 17 feet high made in celebration of the first Earth Day at DU.

April 22, 1970, was a snowy day in Denver, recalls Dejan Georgevich (BA ’71), a DU Earth Day organizer and co-chairman of Citizens for Environmental Control (CEC), a coalition of student environmental organizations.

“The dome was a symbol to draw attention to the abatement of pollution, to better living, a clean environment, and energy preservation,” says Georgevich.

Throughout the day and the preceding evening, students braved the cold to jam out to live bands and listen to speeches by state representatives, local conservationists and ecologists.

Sen. Gaylord Nelson started Earth Day in 1970 during the height of protest against the Vietnam War. Earth Day demonstrations of the time were as much about the environment as they were about political activism.

“It was an exciting time. The campus was very political, very proactive,” says Georgevich. “People wanted to get involved, to make a difference.”

Some students believed that rallying around the environment would divert attention and resources from the anti-war effort; one student editorial in The Clarion called Earth Day “a waste of time.”

“But I thought they went hand-in-hand,” says Georgevich. Indeed, he was quoted defending environmental activism in the 1970 Earth Day issue of The Clarion: “It’s not a question of whether the communists will destroy the nation. It’s going to be pollution that destroys it.”

Everett Smith (BA ’71), one of the dome’s designers, was one of many students who supported the environmental movement in ways apart from direct activism.

“It didn’t have the charge of an anti-war or civil rights protest, but it was clear we were all … realizing that this was an important issue,” he says.

Smith and a group of art majors designed and built the dome as part of a conceptual art project in a woodworking class.

He and fellow art students were thinking up creative ways to make “environmental art,” Smith says.

“The dome was part of experimenting with conceptual art-an art experience or happening that would last a short time but that couldn’t be sold,” he says.

After the dome’s trip down University Boulevard, the steel, wood and canvas structure was used as a shelter for Earth Day events.

Georgevich now works as a professional cinematographer. He recently traveled around the world to shoot an environmental documentary, In Pursuit of Harmony, for the World Wildlife Fund.

“A lot of my documentary work stems directly from my involvement with the CEC and Earth Day,” says Georgevich. “There is definitely a correlation.”

And whatever happened to the giant Earth Day dome? “Someone must’ve run off with the thing,” says Smith.

 

 

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