In the center of town we bumped into some friends. One of them said to me in all seriousness, "Are you happy now? Isn't this what you wanted?" I was flabbergasted. Did he think that because I make art about rivers, I would celebrate the Delaware's destructive force as it deluged communities, hurt local businesses, and displaced people from their homes? It has taken me months to digest what at first felt like an attack and gross misunderstanding of my work, revealing it instead as an insightful commentary on the impact of the situation.
In a way, Hurricane Irene and its ensuing flood did exactly what I hope my work will do - it brought the river into the public consciousness. In fact, because of its immediacy and devastation, the flood was much more effective than my work will ever be. I've never seen so many people present at a town meeting as I did at the September 12th special session of Mayor and Council when United Water discussed their storm-related dam operations. People were quick to point fingers and asked for guarantees against future storm damages as FEMA assistance applications were passed around the room. There was discussion about creek bed maintenance, storm drain capacity, upstream development and the increased area of impervious surfaces. The word "watershed" was uttered often. It seemed to me that this event might spur the energy to bring about change in how we manage development and think about our connection to each other and the natural world.
Last week I donated one of my sculptures (Delaware River Anatomy, 2008) to the Nurture Nature Center (NNC) in Easton, PA. Their work addresses the conflict between economic development and environmental conservation, with a primary focus on flooding through their public education initiative, Flood Project. After experiencing how the flood in my community galvanized water awareness, it became clear that my work could not have a more appropriate home. I'd like to thank my good friend Martin Suresh for helping me realize the similarities between my artistic goals and the Hurricane's more positive aftermath and for indirectly connecting me with the NNC. Long live the marriage of art and activism!