We All Share the Same Water is a permanent artwork located at Trinity Episcopal School, in Charlotte, North Carolina. It was developed as a storm-water mitigation project that would by of ongoing educational and cultural interest to the school students and would be engaging on an aesthetic level as well.
Precisely site-specific in both concept and form, this earthwork functions to protect the nearby Catawba River, which supplies the drinking water aquifer for the region. The ecological problem that needed to be solved involved the polluted stormwater that ran onto the school grounds/pocket park from the nearby asphalt parking lot during rain events. The existing stormwater retention pond was overwhelmed by an ugly and poorly-planned delivery. The cultural goals intended to engage the local densely-populated urban community in water-quality awareness, and to involve the students at this school in stewardship. Aesthetically, We All Share the Same Water was designed to complement the existing art, design, materials and infrastructure at the pocket park and pond, while creating new play opportunities.
Pindell’s design re-routed the stormwater and developed flow disruption and settling areas. Trees that had been threatened by erosion were now protected. Several tons of native stone and coir logs created a creek-like meander, stabilized by concrete pedestals and plantings. Slowing the flow of the stormwater allows some sediments and heavy metals to settle out, and pollutants to be filtered, before reaching the retention pond.
Seventh/eighth grade students from the school use the retention pond as an outdoor laboratory. Together, Pindell and the students chose five native species from their ecosystem research projects to be represented in We All Share the Same Water. (Mockingbird, bumblebee, willow-oak, duckweed, and minnow represent the different aspects of the eco-system.) The images of these species were engraved into recycled slabs of polished granite and mounted in the pillars, to invite sitting or play during the dry seasons. The phrase “We All Share the Same Water” crosses three pillars.
Community members and younger schoolchildren participated on work-parties, for pouring the concrete pillars and planting native grasses. The project is designed to require utterly minimal maintenance and should become even more effective as the grasses grow into the new terrain. Commissioned by the McColl Center for Visual Art EAIR, Charlotte, North Carolina, USA. 2012. The McColl Center for Visual Art granted this Environmental Artist-in-Residency to Deanna Pindell. Trinity Episcopal School is the collaborating school. The City of Charlotte owns the property.
We All Share the Same Water was site-specifically designed to be integrated into the existing park. Existing materials and textures were repeated in the artwork (polished granite, rubbly native stone). Typically, stormwater infrastructure is hidden or ugly (think black plastic pipe and chainlink fence). This project brings rainwater into the center of public life and invites people to touch, contemplate, and take ownership.
Involving the youthful students into the project, and making that inclusion permanent through the designs of the species from the student’s ecosystem research, was a key factor in the design. The beautiful, touchable etched granite slabs honor and draw awareness to the immediate ecosystem and can be used by parents to teach children while playing.
The functional mitigation performed by this work should improve the health of the stormwater retention pond, and ultimately, the drinking water aquifer. Through the decision to give the stormwater system a prominent place in the park, the stewards are supporting a cultural paradigm of cleanliness and caring for the watersystems.
We All Share the Same Water is a model for a low-budget project that can be repeated and adapted (in terms of site-specificity and relevant ecosystem concerns) by any community.
OUTCOMES AND IMPACTS
We All Share the Same Water successfully met all of its aims, on time and within budget. Evaluation was carried out by McColl Center staff and an independent evaluator, using interviews.
The McColl Center for Visual Art offered this commission as part of a well-supported artists’ residency. Although the artist stipend and funding for materials were minimal, relative to other public art projects, the MCVA staff offered plenty of support, along with studios, equipment, housing, transportation. Some of the community groundwork was established before the artist arrived in the state, including an arts plan and long-standing relationships with other agencies in the local area.
IMPACT OF ARTWORK PRODUCTION
The entire project was carried out with detailed attention to sustainability. The artist was housed within walking distance of the project, and most of the work was done by manual labor and low-tech community work- parties. The granite slabs were reclaimed from construction debris; the stone rubble came from nearby quarries. Coir logs were used instead of the more typical industrial plastics-based wattles, with the intention that they would decompose over time and transition into mulch for native grasses.
Deanna Pindell. 2013. www.deannapindell.net (accessed July 28, 2014).
McColl Center for Art and Innovation. “Artist in Residence: Deanna Pindell.” 2014. http://mccollcenter.org/artists-in-residence/deanna-pindell (accessed July 28, 2014).
Nanny, Mallory. “Q & A with Deanna Pindell for McColl Center for Visual Art.”Deanna Pindell, June 2012. http://www.deannapindell.net/#!mccoll-qa/c1xju (accessed July 28, 2014).