Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Words of Wisdom from a 5th Grader

H2O: 2 hydrogen atoms and 1 oxygen atom.

Some places it also has 1 million atoms of gunk.

We are lucky in America to have just plain H2O with some chlorine.

We are willing to go in it. We use it in baths, meals, sports, and swimming.

We use it without thinking. We take it for granted. We share it.

We don’t have to carry it 4 miles in 5 gallon tanks.

We are lucky. We fear it. We use it for energy.

It envelopes our lives. It gives us food.

It’s our first memory, maybe our last.

We cry it. It’s used in religion. We embrace it.

We never tire of drinking it. It is the most abundant element in the universe.
It’s in everything: people, plants, buildings.

People fight, kill, but the problem is in front of them.

We must work together, that’s the only way to preserve us and our planet.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Environmental Education Redux

by Will Broussard

Rachel Lyon's seventh graders display their
contributions at Troy J-S High
On Thursday, February 16th, Art for Water visited Rachel Lyon's classroom at Troy Junior-Senior High School in Troy, Idaho, and talked to the entire seventh grade class (all 40 of them). Our visit capped almost 2 full weeks crisscrossing the southern Palouse, conducting workshops aimed at generating awareness of the global water crisis and building written contributions for our Stream of Conscience installation, due to be unveiled tomorrow (Feb. 22) at the Prichard Art Gallery in Moscow, Idaho. The class was respectful of our work and eager to contribute to the project. I was especially impressed with their level of understanding; both in regard to the global water crisis and through their local relationships to clean water. A great majority of these students were children of farmers or regular visitors of parks and natural areas. As my time in Idaho comes to the halfway point and I reflect on my time spent here, I find that I’ve become increasingly aware of the deep connection both students and adults have to the land.

Palouse hills outside Mrs. Lyons' classroom at Troy J-S High School
Conducting workshops with Art for Water has gotten me reacquainted with place-based environmental education. In the past, my experience in this field involved students coming to where I worked and learning the ecology and cultural history of the local landscape. Students typically came from suburban backgrounds or small towns located within an hours' drive of a major metropolitan center. As a naturalist, my job was to educate students about an unfamiliar environment in a very short period of time and hope they gain a sense of ecological awareness. In Idaho, I find myself in an unfamiliar environment myself, speaking in classrooms about water conservation, having no sense of local ecology or cultural history. After spending a couple weeks here I found that a majority of locals either live close to the land or know someone who does. Those that do farm or log have been the best source of environmental education. A surprising role reversal has taken place!

Asking students and adults simple, honest questions about their own backyard inspires a sense of local pride for the rolling hills and river valleys they call home. Everyone on the Palouse knows someone who grows wheat, hay, lentils, or “garbs” (garbanzo beans) for a living, and many know someone with a well. Every student knows instinctively that his or her electricity is generated by the flow of the Clearwater or Snake Rivers. Everyone also knows that Lewiston, Idaho is an inland seaport that guards the confluence of these historic waters. (Situated 30 miles south of Moscow, this important mill town facilitates movement of trade between Canada and international markets via the Columbia River to the Pacific Ocean further west.) Natural resources are a large industry in this part of the world; a fact reminiscent of northern New England, but often overlooked. In Idaho, every town is tied to the land in some way, and draws a unique identity from that relationship. Perhaps this is the case back east, but this is hard to say. Many paper mills and family farms have closed their doors in the past 50 years, and young people are becoming less dependent on the local landscape for their sustenance. Those that do remember a time when the land was central to daily life are growing old and passing.

Seventh grader Julianne shows off her written contribution
My time in Idaho has taught me to be thankful that large-scale, working landscapes still exist. Not only is this region vast and beautiful, it is also full of a generation of young people not yet detached from their ecological environment or cultural history. Students easily made connections between their personal water use and the global water crisis because their family's livelihood depends on having unrestricted access to fresh water. As we finish the workshop portion and move into the installation phase of the project, I will keep thinking about what I’ve learned while traveling and speaking in this compelling landscape; a place seemingly caught in a cultural, and environmental, time warp.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Our First Week in Moscow

Art for Water's first week in Moscow, Idaho was busy with paper tearing, school visits, a presentation to the Moscow Rotary Club, and typing in selected written contributions for the video portion of the Stream of Conscience installation. We visited three schools in Moscow – the high school and two elementary schools – as well as a junior high/high school in Potlatch, which was about a 40 minute drive through dramatic countryside. The responses from students have been thoughtful and heartfelt and will make this Stream of Conscience installation at the Prichard Art Gallery compelling and poignant.

A big hit in the presentation is the five gallon gas can that we have filled with water for the students to experience the weight of water. They learn that young girls, mostly in Africa, carry five gallons of water between four and eight miles every day for their families and as a result they are not able to go to school. The fact that it's the girls that have to do this usually gets a rise out of the group. Most of the students agree that this chore would not be a welcome one. Although there are always a couple in the crowd (usually in high school) who claim carrying 40 pounds of water eight miles every day would be easy!

We look forward to our school visits this week in Moscow and Troy, as well as  two presentations at the Prichard Gallery on Friday with Terra Graphics, an environmental engineering company.

Thank you to Mohawk Fine Papers for donating all of the beautiful, cover weight paper for this project in Moscow! All of the participants love working on such high-quality paper and relish the process of choosing from all of the exquisite colors. 

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Art for Water on the Palouse

by Will Broussard

Looking East, North Moscow
The Art for Water team has made it to Moscow, Idaho! On Friday, February 3rd we met an 8:35 am flight out of Boston’s Logan airport and successfully made connecting flights in Chicago and Seattle. The sun had already set when we landed in Spokane, secured our rental car, and pushed south into the jetlagged night for 2 more hours. When we arrived in Moscow, we were delighted to be stationary.

Bob Mahler, Rotary Club President
We are here for 3 weeks as guests of the University of Idaho, where we have been invited to spread the word about Art for Water and gather materials for another installation of Stream of Conscience at the Prichard Art Gallery in downtown Moscow. We will be visiting public and charter schools within the greater Moscow area, along with rotary clubs, university classrooms, and other community organizations interested in our work. As of Wednesday, 200 students and adults have contributed to Stream of Conscience with thoughts, memories, song lyrics, and poems all inspired by the concern for the global water crisis. We will continue to reach out to new groups within the community as the weeks progress.

Moscow Charter School students
Our temporary home away from home is the art studio/guest house of James Reid, classical guitarist and professor of music at the University of Idaho, and his wife, Jeanne Leffingwell, creator of the Million Bead Project. It is a cozy residence located in northeast Moscow, just a minute’s walk from open farm country and the rolling hills that characterize the Palouse Prairie region. Less than a week into our stay we are smitten with the small town atmosphere of Moscow; its friendly people and beautiful landscape. Stay tuned for updates from Idaho as the river of words steadily grows into Stream of Conscience.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Art for Water in New York

Last Sunday, I took the Stream of Conscience project to The Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine in New York. Joni Doherty of the New England Center for Civic Life at Franklin Pierce University joined me. Before the event, we attended High Mass, which was moving thanks to a professional choir, a children’s choir, an organist, pageantry, incense, candles, and more. Communion was received by many in a huge circle encompassing the altar. The sermon was about the hazards of allowing knowledge to make us overconfident. Great advice! The Cathedral itself upon entering will stop you in your tracks and elicit a gasp, so to experience this service within such a sacred and monumental space was awe-inspiring. It set the tone for a thoughtful exchange about water issues afterwards in the Cathedral House. Thanks to Catherine Skopic for organizing this event, which included lunch, stimulating conversation, an Art for Water slide presentation, and participants sharing their thoughts and feelings about water on torn pieces of paper, which will be used in future Stream of Conscience installations.

The night before, Joni and I discovered a musical event called RiverProject at the Abrons Art Center on the lower east side. Seeing we were in the city for a Stream of Conscience experience, we agreed this was the ticket for our evening. Composer and musician, Eve Beglarian kayaked down the Mississippi River and created an amazing musical tribute to her experience, the people she encountered, and the river itself. Three other musicians as well as another vocalist joined Eve on stage. This outstanding performance included poetry, lyrics and vocals on multi levels, soundscapes, video, and electronics. The majesty as well as the peaceableness of the Mississippi were evident throughout the evening thanks to Eve’s powerful creative skills and the multiple talents of everyone on stage. Joni and I floated away feeling that it wasn’t chance that led us to RiverProject, but that we were intended to experience another artist’s reverence and response to water.