City as Living Laboratory’s artist-facilitated programmes, focused by the Sustainable Development Goals, help citizens connect local environmental challenges to personal experience and take action to make their communities more resilient and sustainable. CALL initiates collaborative programmes with artists, scientists, urban planners, community stakeholders, and government officials to educate, inspire, and motivate urban residents to address crises of environmental degradation, natural disasters, and crumbling infrastructure in urban neighbourhoods.
CALL’s projects develop over time through an iterative process. Projects typically begin with several public walks (known as CALL/WALKS) testing out ideas between teams of artists and scientists. These walks inform community workshops, where pressing local environmental concerns are explored in more depth. Out of these workshops, CALL invites proposals for both small scale and city-wide artist projects that address these challenges in a tangible way, revealing hidden ecologies and promoting sustainable, regenerative development.
Major projects and programmes include:
Rescuing Tibbetts Brook: one stitch at a time – This project, located in New York, is focused on the buried Tibbetts Brook stream, which has become the leading cause of pollution in the Harlem River due to sewer overflow. In addition to water pollution, flooding plagues the surrounding Marble Hill district and the neighbourhoods surrounding Van Cortlandt Park.
The project’s proposed solution is unearthing Tibbetts Brook and channelling it along an abandoned railroad line directly into the Harlem River, ‘daylighting’ the river to return it to the open air. This will allow the clean, fresh water of Tibbetts Brook to bypass the sewer system, collect excess rainwater, and create a linear park with a walking trail and bike path, which could join a new greenway that is planned to connect Van Cortlandt Park to the High Bridge.
Rescuing Tibbetts Brook creates a framework through which area residents can engage in seeing, learning, and developing environmental stewardship by inviting artists to create a multi-faceted corridor with places of engagement that reveal the rich ecology of the stream, its function, and its connection to the urban context.
This project will re-purpose as sites of activation the seven bridges that cross the proposed path for daylighting Tibbetts Brook as well as the adjacent motorway. Installations, visible both at street level on the bridge and from the motorway below, will call attention to the natural ecology of the area and the proposal for daylighting. Walks, workshops, and art projects will enable residents to take part in the planning process and explore their personal connections to the area.
While the larger installations have not yet been materialised as of autumn 2019, artist projects have begun. CALL commissioned three projects in 2018 and 2019, which have enabled local residents to engage with the daylighting project in different ways. Two such projects are:
- Artist Bob Braine’s project Estuary Tattoos draws out visceral connections between individuals and the landscape they inhabit, associating the way in which water flows through the landscape with the human body’s own circulatory system. Using tattoo ink as body paint, Braine maps the history of the Bronx Wetlands on participants’ bodies, while talking to them about the history of the landscape and their present experience of it. Thus far, CALL has organised five performances of this work on or adjacent to the original course of Tibbetts Brook. These intimate experiences helped participating residents understand their present ecological struggle – the persistent flooding of their neighbourhood – in its context, and helped create new advocates for the daylighting project.
- CALL commissioned SLO Architecture to develop a mobile model wetland that would help residents tangibly experience the potential future of Tibbetts Brook. Their research was informed by participation in CALL/WALKS (see below), having led walks along the stream and proposed new routes with ecologist and director of the Mannahatta Project Eric Sanderson and environmental engineer Theo Barbagianis. The wetland travelled to different points along the original course of the stream and the proposed daylighting route for public events, creating a focal point for conversations about the project as well as contributions by other artists and organisations, such as the Environmental Protection Agency.
Over the course of 2019-2022, CALL plans to continue to invite a wide range of local artists to create temporary and permanent installations, host workshops, and present performances and other live art events as a part of this project. The aim is for this artist-led research is to inform the City’s overall plan for Tibbetts Brook.
An artist’s impression of the daylighting plans for Tibbett’s Brook
Watermarks, An Atlas of Water for the City of Milwaukee – This project, located in Milwaukee, is designed to help citizens better understand their relationships to the water systems and infrastructure that support their lives. The centrepiece makes the 350-foot smokestack of the Jones Island sewage and storm water treatment plant a work of public art. The smokestack would typically be lit blue, changing to red when heavy rains are forecast, reminding residents to reduce their water use to help prevent the deep tunnel storage system from overflowing.
Additional installations of ‘WaterMarkers,’ large letters mounted on tall poles throughout the Harbour District and other neighbourhoods, will call attention to the different water resources unique to each area. These markers will be sites for activity; each one will be sponsored by a community group, school, and/or local agency, and activated with the help of artists and designers. Alongside the installation of the markers there are numerous projects by local artists being installed and performed throughout the area. Regular workshops, school programmes, walks, and other activities continually inform the development of the project and generate more artistic engagements.
National CALL/WALKS – this 2019 programme of artist and scientist led community walks in six US cities was funded by the National Endowment for the Arts. An artist and scientist paired up to host each walk in Baltimore, Milwaukee, New York City, Pittsburgh, Santa Fe, and Arlington. Each walk examined local environmental issues with both artistic vision and scientific knowledge. For these walks, CALL developed a toolkit that can be used by local communities to lead walks in their neighbourhoods to ignite conversations about how their city can best adapt to the contemporary environmental challenges it faces.