WaterWalks: Creative Action for Community Justice
Pittsburgh, PA (2018 - present)
WaterWalks: Creative Action for Community Justice is a collaboration among artists, community-based organizations, and students to elevate marginalized perspectives in Pittsburgh’s water crisis. The project is structured around participatory, place based experiences—what we’ve termed WaterWalks—that use art and other forms of creative intervention to advocate for water justice. As the co-founder and artistic director, I've organized four WaterWalks and one community workshop, documented below.
WaterWalks is supported with grants from the Frank-Ratchye STUDIO for Creative Inquiry, Carnegie Mellon University, and the Steinbrenner Institute for Environmental Education & Research.
WaterWalks Community Kickoff Luncheon
March 23, 2019
In collaboration with Pittsburgh-based community organizations and advocacy groups, the Kickoff Community Workshop invited local residents, artists, activists, and students to discuss the significance of water justice in Pittsburgh and lay groundwork for future WaterWalks events.
WaterWalk: Wahdo:Gwas Wetland
April 6, 2019
In collaboration with Echoes of the Four Directions, WaterWalk: Wahdo:Gwas Wetland centered Indigenous knowledge within discussions of water-related issues impacting Pittsburgh. Lenora “Lee” Dingus, who is Haudenosaunee (Seneca), shared stories of water and Earl Dingus, Aniyunwiyatsalagi (Cherokee), performed flute in Wahdo:Gwas wetland. The WaterWalk also included a guided wetland walk with Meg Scanlon, naturalist at the Latodami Nature Center.
"With great respect, gratitude and love with our body, mind and spirit, the WaterWalk honored the natural harmony of our planet as we explored Wahdo:Gwas wetland. We learned how all rise from the water and how we are all connected. We celebrated nature with Seneca stories. Cherokee flute provided insight into some of our other brothers’ and sisters’ worlds, such as the four-footed beaver and our winged brothers and sisters the eagles. We all share the natural world and it is our responsibility to be keepers of the Earth."
- Lee and Earl Dingus, Echoes of the Four Directions
WaterWalk: Negley Run Was Here!
May 4, 2019
Negley Run, like most streams in Pittsburgh, is invisible today. WaterWalk: Negley Run Was Here! was an effort to discover the traces of Negley Run and explore ongoing issues of combined sewer overflow (CSO) in the context of environmental racism. Guided by members of the community-based organization Living Waters of Larimer, the WaterWalk centered community-driven green infrastructure as the most just solution to chronic CSO.
WaterWalk: Mapping Pittsburgh's Watersheds
October 12, 2019
Watersheds are sites of interconnection: they link communities, supply our drinking water, and sustain ecosystems. In collaboration with artist Katy DeMent, we assessed the significance of Pittsburgh’s regional watershed system and created a handmade paper watershed map of Pittsburgh. We also engaged with a “Digital Sandbox” created by CivicMapper and 3 Rivers Wet Weather. This interactive augmented reality “sandbox” demonstrated Pittsburgh's unique topography in relation to the regional watershed ecosystem.
WaterWalk: Nine Mile Run
November 14, 2020
Nine Mile Run is almost entirely underground! If you’ve traveled through Wilkinsburg, Edgewood, Swissvale, or the east side of Squirrel Hill, you’ve likely driven over it. While most of NMR was piped into culverts at the turn of the 20th century, one-third was left above ground in Frick Park. WaterWalk: Nine Mile Run traced this daylighted portion of the stream, beginning at the trailhead near Braddock Avenue and flowing 2.2 miles toward the Monongahela River.
As we walked, our collaborators at the Nine Mile Run Watershed Association discussed their ongoing efforts to restore and protect NMR. Also during the walk, Becky Forgrave, a PhD Candidate in Geology and Environmental Studies at the University of Pittsburgh, shared her research testing the stream’s nitrogen levels and water quality. Once on the shore of the Monongahela River, artist Ginger Brooks Takahashi presented a tea ceremony for the protection of intimacy and immunity. We were also joined by Theresa Abalos, a flutist, teaching artist, and writer, who presented a flute performance in conjunction with the tea ceremony, responding to the sounds already present in Duck Hollow.