Having a (Seed) Ball: An Interview with Tommy W. Wilson, Founder of Bomb the Blight

A Memphis community art group—armed with an air cannon—launches wildflower seeds and rejuvenation into blighted urban areas.

| May/June 2011

  • Wildflowers grow well with no maintenance, making them perfect for seed balls.
  • Artist and activist Tommy W. Wilson

Artist and activist Tommy W. Wilson founded his nonprofit, Bomb the Blight, hoping to “promote ecology, engage communities and beautify Memphis.” Bomb the Blight (bombtheblight.blogspot.com) members get together to launch seed “bombs”—with an air cannon!—into blighted areas of Memphis, Tennessee.

NH: So, Tommy the Seed Ball wizard, tell us how Bomb the Blight works.

It is a community organization that grew out of an art project. I have some sponsorship, won an arts grant from an awesome organization called Crosstown Arts, and the citizens are really getting behind it. I have an air cannon I take to different blighted spots around Memphis, mostly abandoned neighborhoods and former industrial sites. The cannon is loaded with biodegradable “bombs” made from food-based paint, natural fertilizer and wildflower seeds. We fire these into the lots, creating splashes of color where they land. With any luck, this spring these blighted areas will be replaced with wildflower gardens.

NH: Why seed balls?

Many children in urban Memphis only experience nature as weeds and roadside ditches. The birds, squirrels and bees have abandoned these areas. Introducing wildflowers is the first step to restoring the balance. I also look at it like this: In the history of art, plants have always been either the material mediums were made from, or the subject. Through this project, the plants themselves are the medium.

NH: Why such an aggressive name? Are you trying to bomb our communities?!

It originally came from Crosstown Arts. When I submitted the idea, it had no name. The guys over there started calling the project Bomb a Blight during preliminary judging. The name was later slightly modified to Bomb the Blight because blight is so ubiquitous in Memphis. I have totally embraced the military theme, naming the events “engagements” and the cannon the “B-52 Weapon of Mass Beautification.” Do I want to bomb communities? In a way … but to improve them.

NH: Quick, you can only choose one: Are you an artist or a community activist?

I am an artist. There are tons of community activists in Memphis, all of them doing great work. This project would not have been possible without those activists’ support. I come up with the ideas. It takes so many more people than myself to bring it to fruition.

NH: What’s on the horizon for Bomb the Blight?

As I said before, this takes community support. I would love for the project to spread, either by communities inviting me to come there, or by sharing the information I have learned.

For more on seed balls, read the article, "How to Make Seed Balls."



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