Helene Kouzoujian Rimer read her compelling and arresting poem, “When Water Was Trash,” at the Glen Arbor Arts Center’s “Words for Water” poetry throw-down on July 31. The outdoor event was a collaboration between the Arts Center and FLOW. Poets and performers were invited to read works that sought to answer the question: “Who owns the water? People? Communities? Corporations? Nobody?” Click here to watch a livestream recording of the poetry throw-down.
FLOW’s “Art Meets Water” initiative seeks to develop a deep sense of stewardship for our Great Lakes by celebrating the creativity and passion sparked by these magnificent freshwater resources. “Art Meets Water” is an ongoing series of collaborations with committed artists, inspired by the ability of art to amplify our critical connection to water. The Great Lakes Belong to All of Us. “All of Us” speaks to the many kinds of beautiful diversity in our Great Lakes community.
When Water was Trash
Last month I learned that water was trash.
It didn’t want to be.
A bottle of unopened water.
Its life-giving elixir
In a plastic cocoon
Never to emerge, never to unleash its magic:
To revive a parched mouth.
To make the plants in Mary Lee’s garden grow.
To shake the poplar leaves in a rainstorm frenzy.
Instead they caught it. Captured it. Capped it. Strangled it.
Owned it for free and sold it for gold. Water became cash.
And, then someone accidently dropped it in the Platte River.
For me to pick up, on a river clean-up day
in a plastic black bag with garbage.
Why didn’t I open it and pour it in the river? Because it was trash.
Now, doomed to live its million-year journey in the trash mountain, in Glen’s Landfill with millions of unopened bottles of water, from soccer games, yoga workouts, picnics, meetings; mountains of them, waiting to come, at Costco, Walmart, Meijer, gas stations, vending machines, every grocery store.
When I am old, I will tell of the day when water was sold for gold, and when water was trash.
Applications are available for the Glen Arbor Arts Center’s (GAAC) 2020 student exhibition, Who Owns The Water? This themed, juried exhibition takes place April 7-May 1, and is open to students in grades 9-12, attending schools in Benzie, Grand Traverse and Leelanau counties. The deadline for online submissions is March 4. Three cash prizes will be awarded.
Applicants are challenged to come up with a visual response to the exhibition’s titular question: Who owns the water? The exhibition is open to 2D and 3D media. A prospectus and application are both online, at the Glen Arbor Arts Center’s website.
“Student voices have been some of the most powerful, and the most articulate in the contemporary struggle to protect, conserve and preserve the natural world,” said GAAC gallery manager Sarah Bearup-Neal.
“Students often think fearlessly and presciently about issues that send adults into a state of slow-mo inaction. As a culture, we need to hear from these young citizens, and listen to their thoughts and ideas. That’s the driving belief behind the Who Owns The Water? exhibition. It’s an open invitation to all high school students to weigh in on that essential question, and really tell us—and, using the visual arts, show us—what they think and feel.”
FLOW is a collaborator on this exhibition. Our new “Art Meets Water” initiative highlights examples of the heart-felt creativity that inspires us to fight for our public waters. “We all know that water is the source of the future,” says Leelanau County poet, playwright and paddleboarder Anne-Marie Oomen. “But it’s also a part of our souls and our spirits.”
An opening reception for Who Owns the Water? will be held at the Glen Arbor Arts Center on April 8 from 4-6 p.m.
As part of the Who Owns The Water? exhibition, the GAAC will also host the Fresh Water Poetry Throwdown on April 19. Any high school student can participate by reading an original poem—free verse, conventional verse, slam verse or otherwise—about water.
Read more about this event at the GAAC website. There is no charge to participate in the Fresh Water Poetry Throwdown, but poets must pre-register by Friday, April 3, for one of the 20 available slots. To pre-register, call the GAAC at 231-334-6112.
Creative expression holds hands and swims with freshwater stewardship.
Breathtaking, life-sustaining water inspires art, and that art propels us to protect the Great Lakes.
The stillness, waves, clarity, and reflection of water give rise to poetry, music, paintings, dance, letters, and more. It’s a swirling, symbiotic, cyclical relationship that takes on many forms.
It’s poet, author, and avid standup paddleboarder Anne-Marie Oomen soliciting “Love Letters to the Lakes” from her community of writers across Michigan, and then presenting them in a live reading to the International Joint Commission, in hopes that heartfelt prose impacts public policy to protect the Great Lakes.
It’s “Mad Angler” poet Michael Delp and renowned cellist Crispin Campbell sitting together in an historic Michigan barn and performing an enchanting call and response about rivers flowing like veins through our bodies.
It’s artist Glenn Wolff painting a watershed, a town, a creek, and a bay, creating a tapestry to explain how groundwater beneath us is interconnected. It’s a dancer in a light blue chiffon dress delicately toeing the sand, always moving one step ahead of the lapping surf.
It’s Flint hip-hop artist and activist Amber Hasan rapping at Earthwork Harvest Gathering last month about the racism belying Flint’s lead water crisis. “Choppers keep flying ’round here / But people keep dyin’ I swear / I can’t drink the water, and I can’t afford the bills / If you’re sick of this s***, better pop another pill.” It’s music festival organizer and virtuoso Seth Bernard crooning a melodic ode to “Agua” in all its shapes, forms, and languages. “Clouds and rain and lakes it’s water / Mist and sleet and snow and vapor / Hail, hail it’s rising, falling / Flowing down down, ever lower / And up, up. Gathering together / Omnipresent life-maker / Two things bound together / Makes one life life force force giver”
It’s Higher Art Gallery in Traverse City inviting local artists to share water-inspired works for an “Artists for FLOW” showing that benefits our fight to protect that water. It’s an arts center in Glen Arbor inviting high school students next year to submit visual art that examines the question “who owns the water?”
“These waters are part of our DNA,” says FLOW executive director Liz Kirkwood. “We in the Great Lakes Basin are water people. The lakes, the rivers, and the groundwater inspire artists of every background. The water is what enlivens us and unites us.”
That is why FLOW is launching our “Art Meets Water” campaign this week highlighting the heart-felt creativity that inspires us to fight for our public waters and harness that for good. Check out our new “Art Meets Water” webpage to see Wolff’s groundwater tapestry, to read Oomen’s “Love Letters to the Lakes”, to watch Delp and Campbell perform “In Praise of Water,” and to learn more about the “Artists for FLOW” fundraiser at Higher Art Gallery, which continues until Nov. 5, with 10 percent of sales from the exhibit benefiting FLOW.
Embrace the water. Let it fill your creative spirit and fuel our shared fight for freshwater protection.
On these long, lazy September weekends when the forest hints of autumn but Lake Michigan clings to August, you’re reminded how water—and the myriad forms she takes—define your life as you float from chapter to chapter. She’s been with you on all the great journeys: from the brackish fjords of the old country, to the West African river that carries yam boats, to a volcanic lake in the Mayan highlands, even to the orifice-burning salt of the Dead Sea. She’s most forgiving here in these glacial freshwaters, the home to which you always return. She’s healing, too. Earlier this summer your friend scattered his mother’s ashes among these blue waves. She brings both joy and melancholy. If it’s true the eskimos have a hundred words for snow, perhaps we in Leelanau ought to have a hundred words for this lake…
Some seasons you frolic with her in new ways. You dance with her alone on night swims. When the lightning flashes, you dive into her waters, and then look up to see the sky alight. On a windless Thursday evening last you paddled across her glassy bay and chased a sailboat full of poets. You caught them and pirated their ship; they welcomed you with open arms, and prose, and beer and finger food. You learned, with some unease, that the hurricane ravaging the Carolinas had pushed this delightfully good weather north, to your benefit. (In another life, the odds will turn and you’ll be the one living on the low coast, battling tides and tropical storms— and they’ll have the inland serenity of the Great Lakes. So just enjoy it NOW, you reassure yourself!)
On the way back toward the harbor, when you’ve had a few drinks and your blood runs hot, her defense becomes your rally cry, your war call. Fight for her. Build a political manifesto around her. Turn candidates for office into foot soldiers who fight for her defense. Swear you’ll die for her. But also, live for her. Make love inside her depths. Write poetry with a stick along her shores. Do handstands and fall with abandon into her surf. Together with your child, document, day-by-day, how she (soon will) metamorphose into ice and back to water again. Gather wood and plan to stoke your hide in a lakeside sauna and take those screeching plunges into her frigid womb. Live to tell about it. Perhaps write a midnight poem about it. Above all, thank her every day.
Sarah Bearup-Neal is the Glen Arbor Arts Center’s Communications/Gallery Manager. She graduated from Michigan State University in 1978 with a BFA in Studio Art and has maintained an active studio practice focused on fiber art since 1999. Sarah lives in Benzie County.
Each year, the Glen Arbor Arts Center mounts a “New Views” exhibition in which we identify an issue of local and regional concern, and dig into it. This year we focused on water. Exhibitors were asked to look deeply at their relationship with the water around us, and create a work of 2D or 3D art that expressed a new view of that relationship. The exhibition “New Views: Water = Life = Art” showcased the work of 25 painters, sculptors, photographers, printmakers, and mixed media practitioners from June 1–August 4.
The GAAC’s “New Views: Water” show also offered four different companion programs that explored the exhibition’s theme from the platforms of the visual and performing arts, literature, poetry, and science; through panel discussion (FLOW Founder Jim Olson was one of three water activists who sat on this July 15 panel); question and answer sessions; and lectures. Each of the programs provided a different way into the subject, and made it possible for a wider array of people to partake of the exhibition.
It is one of the great delivered truths that the arts “matter”; that they elevate – almost through osmosis – the human spirit. But the one thing the arts do really well – and for which they are not often credited – is to provide us with powerful tools for looking at difficult issues. The arts allow us to consider even the most spirit-crushing realities in ways that pure fact cannot. Data have their place, but they are by no means unfailingly persuasive. To whit: Picasso’s Guernica. This mural-sized oil painting was created in response to the bombing of a Basque country village in Northern Spain by the Nazis and Italian Fascists at the request of the ruling Spanish Nationalists. Upon completion in 1937, Guernica was exhibited at the World’s Fair in Paris, and then at other world venues. The touring exhibition was used to raise funds for Spanish war relief, and focused the world’s attention on the Spanish Civil War.
Guernica mobilized the world in a way that data could not. Picasso synthesized the horror and gave it new, albeit fully recognizable, form. Viewers didn’t require the photographic realism of blood, guts, and dismemberment that follow a days-long bombing campaign to persuade them of its depravity. Instead, Picasso depicted the bombing through painted, abstracted figures of splayed cows and villagers, and left no doubt about what happened. Without watering down the facts, Picasso provided the viewer a way to begin to consider this shattering violence. This is the essence of the arts: They’re like a raft on top of which one lies and floats around the sometimes-challenging waters of ideas and events. The arts don’t provide operating instructions. Instead, the arts engage — the senses, the body and the mind — and make the world palpable. And this felt feeling may spur thinking, engagement, and even action.
Tacit and central to the GAAC’s “New Views: Water” exhibition is the fact that everyone in Glen Arbor has a relationship with the local lakes and rivers. These waters are definitive natural features, and form the community’s sense of self. That collective affection and relationship brings people to the gallery to view the exhibition. We use the artwork as a springboard to launch related discussions, to shift the focus to other aspects that are less pleasing, but no less a part of the water that is our world up here: about the conflict between a healthy lake and green, riparian lawns; about Line 5 leaking 200 miles north of Glen Arbor; and why bottled water is a violation of the public trust. The arts create ways to connect dots; but more than that, the arts are pack mules, capable of doing the heavy intellectual and emotional lifting that is change making.