Ever since the publication of Little Red Riding Hood–and even long before–wolves have gotten a bad rap in pop culture (with the possible exception of wolf-themed indie band names). A new art campaign seeks to rebrand the Big Bad Wolf as a misunderstood hero, in an attempt to help build support for an endangered species that doesn’t get a lot of love.
“Art plays a role in how we as a society understand certain issues and ideas, and wolves are one case where art and culture have kind of done a misservice,” says Max Slavkin, CEO of the Creative Action Network, which partnered with the nonprofit Earthjustice on the new campaign. The #JoinThePack campaign will crowdsource new gray wolf art from a community of artists and designers, which will be turned into T-shirts and posters.
“The stories that we all kind of know, where wolves are the bad guy, seem innocuous enough, but have a real impact on how we view wolves in real life, where we want them to be, and how we treat them when we encounter them,” Slavkin says. “So much of that seems to have stemmed from stories and art over the last however-many hundred years. It feel like it’s our responsibility as a community of artists to try to set it right, especially now that wolves are maybe more threatened than they’ve ever been before.”
Twenty years ago, wolves were reintroduced to places like Yellowstone and parts of Idaho–both to help reset local ecosystems that had been thrown out of balance when wolves first disappeared and as actions taken to restore wolf populations under the Endangered Species Act. But though the population has grown, wolves have faced opposition ever since. When wolves accidentally crossed the border from Yellowstone into other parts of Wyoming, until last fall, they could be shot.
There’s also the ongoing possibility that the wolf could be taken off the endangered species list for politically motivated reasons. It’s been delisted in some areas, put back in others, and could easily be delisted elsewhere. This year, Congress slipped a rider into a government spending bill that would eliminate protections for wolves in several states, opening them up to hunters.
“When we started on this campaign, I was surprised to learn just how much is going on today in Congress and state legislatures that’s really bad for wolves,” Slavkin says.
He’s hoping the campaign can help start a bigger conversation, and do it in a fun way–one of the requirements of the designs is that they display some degree of kitsch. “We didn’t want it to be ‘wolves are awesome, end of story,'” Slavkin says. “We thought something fun and kitschy would make people smile, and make people interested in a way that other images couldn’t.”