Thursday, June 18, 2015

Mixing Art and Water - A Natural Blend

By Sage Passi

Let the Creative Inspirations Flow!

I’m always amazed at the way art emerges and calls attention to whatever issues we are trying to address in our watershed. It provides a natural complement to our communication process while advocating for the protection of water. Visual creativity inevitably surfaces in the approaches we turn to engage people, whether young or old, in watershed stewardship.

This year a team of Harding High School Earth Club students spent many Friday afternoons creating tile designs for the Ups and Downs in the Watershed life-size board game for use at WaterFest. 

I have to say, there was nothing more relaxing than sitting down with a group of young people after a long week and putting marker to tile and letting the creative inspiration flow! We continue to build art into our efforts, big and small.

Seed Packet Art is a "Growing" Tradition  

 A few years ago we began collecting art from students each spring to showcase at WaterFest. Out of this has grown a tradition of an annual native seed packet art contest facilitated by our Nature Resources Program.

It begins during our schools’ indoor planting season in late February and early March and is on display in late May at WaterFest. Classes that grow native plants for Watershed projects are invited to create images that are chosen to be printed on the front of seed packets that are given away every year to visitors at WaterFest. Five winners are chosen across grades K, 2,3, 4 and 5. In addition, all the art designs for this contest are scanned and displayed in the Lake Phalen Pavilion during WaterFest.

Merging Art with the Watershed Mission

In 2010 we hired a resident artist, Christine Baeumler, a University of Minnesota art professor, to guide us in seeking ways to integrate art into our watershed projects, communications and messaging. During that time we began working with consultants to develop branding images to create a visual identity for our Watershed District. We are still in the midst of this process. 

Artistic rainwater features at the east entrance to Maplewood Mall
Photo credit: Sage Passi

We took the leap and incorporated a series of bold and artfully designed watershed features at the entrance to Maplewood Mall to call attention to our extensive Clean Water infiltration projects on that site. Situated next to a dramatic storm cloud surrounded cistern, the Rainy Day mural, at the Mall’s east entrance, compels visitors to explore this colorful, evocative interpretation of the natural and built environments that intersect at this shopping area. What an effective way to get people to contemplate the impacts of development on nature!

Upon finishing these art elements the Watershed District engaged an emerging Forecast public artist, Cecilia Schiller, who designed and installed the interactive Water is Life sculpture at the Kohl’s west entrance at the mall in 2014.

Schiller's sculpture at Maplewood Mall is activated by
rainwater from the roof that drains into a turbine, rotates the
branches and plays a melody on chimes inside the trunk.

Art emerges in unexpected ways

This year art has surfaced in our collaboration with the City of St. Paul for the Phalen Freeze Fest. A theater artist’s imagination harnessed the creative hearts of American Indian Magnet fourth graders who crafted a cast of 57 mergansers puppets for the Shingebiss pageant held at Lake Phalen in early February. The puppets, each with their own unique character, brought to life the tenacious personality of this water bird that frequents our backwaters and lakes in the spring and summer. Their creations helped engage the audience in this event that drew 300 people to Lake Phalen. Giant puppets designed by Urban Roots youth and the animal masks created by Harding Ojibwe students, Earth Club volunteers and Farnsworth after-school third graders, also charmed and warmed the audience at this winter celebration.

Two of the 57 merganser puppets

Watershed Excellence Award Artists Deadline Approaching

In 2013 the Watershed District initiated our Watershed Excellence Award program to recognize outstanding individuals and organizations that collaborate with us in our mission of Quality Water for Quality Life. The work of improving the quality of our surface waters engages many different community members including students, teachers, residents, faith-based organizations, businesses and non-profits. 

Eric Sommer, the glass artist who
designed the winning
2014 Watershed Excellence Awards
Each year we like to honor our final award winners with a unique and valued award. We want this to be an
award that is truly a piece of art that they will value and place in a prominent location in their home or office.
The Watershed District is currently seeking artists to develop a concept sketch for our 2015 award design. A stipend of $50 will be offered for artists who develop a design that could be produced and delivered to us by November 9, 2015. The award should be a manageable/normal size and weight. We will be selecting the award design winner by early September. We will be asking you to produce 4-6 awards within an approximate two month period. We will be able to tell you how many we need by early September and are willing to pay $100 to $150 each.

Proposals should include:
  • A sketch of the design
  • A description of the materials to be used
  • A way to incorporate a small engraved plate for the award winners name, award name and year or way to have the information engraved directly onto the award
  • The proposed cost of production for each award
The artist will be recognized at the award dinner and invited to attend.

If you are interested in submitting a proposal, send an e-mail to Sage Passi and let her know you intend to submit a proposal by August 8, 2015.  Actual proposals can be emailed to Sage at, or sent to Sage Passi, RWMWD, 2665 Noel Drive, Little Canada, MN, 55117. If you have questions, you may call Sage at 612-598-9163.  

We look forward to showcasing your art to honor and celebrate our Watershed heroes!

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