Friday, March 23, 2012

World Water Day 2012

by Will Broussard

As many of you know, Art for Water promotes awareness for the global water crisis through the creation of public participation art installations. Today, 2.6 billion people live without basic sanitation, and 1.2 billion people lack access to clean drinking water. Fortunately, we are not alone in spreading the facts. Yesterday was the United Nation's World Water Day, a day of education and festivities focused on the global water crisis. Every year the UN chooses a theme for the special day, with this year being "Water and Food Security."

Italian roast to keep me going at 2pm
Right now, we share the planet with 7 billion people. By 2050 that number is expected to rise to 9 billion. An increasing demand for a decreasing resource highlights the importance of educating ourselves in how much water we use so that we may become better stewards of this resource in the future. Did you know that most of the water we ingest on a daily basis comes to us in the form of the foods we eat? Our meals, from the cereal we ate for breakfast to the hamburger we ate for dinner all require water to grow, ship, and prepare. Agriculture and livestock production are the most water intensive activities. According to, an average of 52 gallons of water are required to grow a single pound of cereal, and 1,018 gallons of water is needed for every pound of bovine meat produced. For a single cup of coffee, 37 gallons of water are necessary to grow the plant that produces the beans that are then roasted and seared with boiling water to be drunk hastily by you and I. Apart from just drinking it to quench our thirst, it is amazing to think about how much water is required to feed our world. As the UN puts it, "it takes one thousand times more water to feed the human population than it does to satisfy its thirst." What a revelation. 

So, knowing now how much water goes into producing the foods we eat, what can we do to curb our water use? In addition to the advice about reusable water bottles and attention to leaky faucets, we can begin chipping away at the global water crisis by thinking about what we eat and where it comes from. We can research what foods are the most water costly, and eat these more sparingly, or eliminate them from our diets completely. We may also want to think about growing some of our own food, or consider supporting a local CSA (community supported agriculture) program, which will reduce the amount of gasoline required to transport the produce from the ground to your stomach. Locally grown food decreases our water footprint and dependence on foreign oil, ultimately increasing our level of domestic food security for future generations. Speaking of food security, the city of Seattle, Washington may be ahead of the curve as it is in the developmental stages of an urban food forest to be built in the center of the city. If the test plots prove successful, the final 7-acre forest will be the "largest urban food forest on public land" in the entire country. Very cool!

As World Water Day wrapped up globally and another unseasonably warm afternoon in Harrisville came to an end, I wanted to leave us with a story of hope. For those of us, including myself, who are prone to pessimism over feelings of insignificance regarding our ability to influence the global water crisis, it is important to be mindful of how individual actions add up. Wendy Pabich, friend of Art for Water, environmental scientist, and creator of the blog Hydrophilia, tells a story of a Pakistani man's New Year's pledge to reduce his ecological footprint. In a landscape desperate for water, he determines that if he alone turns his faucet off while shaving, it saves the country 1,900 gallons of water annually. After doing some quick math he determines that if every clean-shaven man in his country were to do this, it would save 40 billion gallons of water every year, or "enough to grow 70,000 acres of wheat, 24,000 acres of rice." Very simple, very impressive. Small acts will add up, and we should not underestimate our collective power. Our future depends on it.

Happy World Water Day!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Why Should We Care?

Yesterday was World Water Day and while Art for Water had no official event to honor this day, we spent time reflecting upon our mission and how we can be most effective in raising awareness of the shrinking availability of clean water. One question we are frequently asked by high school students is why should we care, the water crisis has nothing to do with us. . .

This is not an easy question to answer. It's true that our day-to-day conveniences here in New England and most of the country are not immediately affected. Clean water comes out of our faucets every time we turn them on in spite of what is happening in China or Africa. So, why should we care about something that doesn't impact our daily routine?

Water is a human right. And as a human right everyone should be able to use it. But currently over a billion people do not have access to clean water. So just on a humanitarian level, maybe we should care about the millions of people who are dying from preventable diseases every year.

Water connects us to the actions of others. The world's waterways and oceans are being polluted by industry, carbon emissions, agriculture, and lack of basic sanitation for 2.6 billion people. Not that far away from us in Pennsylvania there are people who can no longer drink their tap water because chemicals used in hyrdrolic fracking have seeped into the ground water. In fact, some can light their tap water on fire. Why should we care about this? Maybe because water doesn't stay in one place or in one form–it keeps moving and changing. Water that is carrying Benzine in Pennsylvania can carry it to New York or Ohio or Maryland. The native populations of the Arctic Circle have dangerously high blood levels of flame retardants and PCBs thanks to the Gulf Stream. The fish in the pristine lake in front of my house have mercury in them from coal that is burned in the Midwest to generate electricity.

The world is getting smaller. As the population increases along with the demand for resources, we will have to learn to conserve and to be aware of our consumption habits. Using potable water to flush toilets and water golf courses is becoming obsolete. Some municipalities in drought areas have instituted common sense laws that are having a huge impact on water use. There are so many ways in which to reduce our water footprint. Maybe we should care enough now and start to make changes before there is an emergency.

Water could be a source of conflict. It is estimated that the demand for clean water could exceed the supply by 56% by 2025. That's only 13 years from now. The children who are now in elementary school could be called upon to defend the water rights of a foreign ally. Even in our own country there are heavily populated cities, such as Las Vegas and Atlanta, that are running dangerously low on water as their populations continue to increase. Most likely, their neighbors will be expected to come to the rescue. In our current political climate, can you imagine our congress and senate being able to constructively resolve a water shortage emergency? Maybe we should care now so that we can work to avoid conflict through planning, conservation, and diplomacy.

Water is magic. The water we use every day has been in existence for 4.5 billion years. It is the only element that exists in 3 forms. It is lighter in weight when it's solid than when it's liquid. It follows the path of least resistance. It reflects everything that is true. It smooths stones. Maybe if we took the time to ponder the mystery and beauty, there would be no question about caring.

We can't live without it. Water is not only a human right, it's a necessity. After oxygen, it's the most essential requirement in staying alive. So, perhaps right now our personal water supply is not in jeopardy, but maybe we should care because if it ever is, we won't be able to live.

When I'm confronted by an apathetic teenager, I try to say all of this succinctly with the understanding that my response most likely will have no immediate impact on his lack of concern. But because I care, I relish any opportunity to talk about water–always with hope that springs eternal that someday everyone will care.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Reflections on a River of Words

by Will Broussard

Stream of Conscience beginning
to flow into the main gallery space
Last we talked, Christine and I were busy taping and push-pinning almost one thousand written contributions to the walls of the Prichard Art Gallery. It took us 5 straight days of death-defying ladder work, puncture wounds, and paper cuts, but we did it! Uncommon River opened on Wednesday, February 22 featuring the work of Christo, Christine Destrempes, Raymond Ghirardo and Megan Roberts, Philip Govedare, c.s. Thayer, and Jen Torres. Three weeks of tearing paper, speaking in classrooms, conducting workshops, and installing led to Art for Water's big evening, which coincided with the opening of the Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival at the University of Idaho.

The creation of public-participatory installation art has many segments, and often takes on a life of its own. At some points the work was monotonous and anti-social, with time ebbing by slowly. Other moments were fleeting and bordered on the frenetic. Preparing the paper for workshops embodied repetitious, mind numbing data collection that was so common in my old life as a lab technician. Facilitating workshops and watching contributions take shape was much more interactive, and involved quick thinking, speaking, and acting. My classroom teaching experiences are limited, so our workshops felt more akin to working with diverse audiences in an environmental education setting. Once we stopped visiting school and civic groups, we engaged the written contributions directly and began an editing and classifying phase that was detail-oriented and reflective. When it was time to pin the paper to the gallery walls, the process transformed into an engineering project and aesthetic puzzle to be solved, with the content of each contribution weighed against the qualities of the paper it was printed on. Length, shape, color, and style of tearing was paramount to this process. Building the install involved an intense regimen of fitting, taping, staring, tearing, pinning, and hammering. The ultimate goal of finding the best piece of paper for the best spot on the wall (keeping in mind that it should also resemble a river!) is an involved activity. But all of those pieces of paper did end up looking like a river, and a powerful one at that because it spoke of the importance of water to all of those who participated.

Working in the skylight
Stream of Conscience in Moscow, Idaho took a lot of work, for sure, but was well worth everyone's great effort. This installation will have a lasting affect on those who continue to visit it and read the river of words for themselves. When participants read their contributions on the gallery walls, they will be reminded of Art for Water's visit and their own feelings about clean water. They might remember their attempt to carry the 5 gallon gerry can around their classroom, along with the images of the containers being carried on the backs of young children in Africa. When they see the memories, poems, and thoughts of hundreds of other local people, they can appreciate how vital clean water is to the entire Palouse region, and understand that everyone needs clean water, no matter where they live. 

Christine working upstairs
Christine and I left Moscow with many lasting friendships and future collaborators. We couldn't have come out in the first place without the invitation of guest curator, Gail Siegel, former director of the Prichard Art Gallery who contacted Christine back in May after seeing Art for Water's work on the web. Roger Rowley, current director of the Prichard Art Gallery made sure we had what we needed whenever we needed it, and it was the hard work of Dona Black, education coordinator for the gallery, who greatly facilitated our getting into the 36 classrooms to work with more than 900 students, teachers, and community members. It was always a treat to be in the presence of Nara Woodland's warm and welcoming smile, and Elizabeth Gibson's fearless leadership was beyond description on our road trip to Missoula. Thanks to Jen Torres for being such a great housemate, and Jeanne Leffingwell for letting us stay in your wonderful art studio/guest house. Final thanks to James Reid, for the music, laughter, and Valentine's Oreos. Until we meet again, Christine and I will miss the Palouse very much, and think of it often!

Partial view of Stream of Conscience at the Prichard Art Gallery