Skip to Content

The Ways of Water: Art, Activism, and Ecologies Symposium

The Ways of Water Vertical

October 7 – 8, 2022


In-person Event

Stamps Gallery
201 South Division Street
Ann Arbor, Michigan 48104


Conference / Symposium
Open to the public
Free of charge
Watch Video

RSVP Required

Featuring Virtual Keynote by Winona LaDuke

Water is the lifeblood of civilizations, the center of cities, the foundation of creation stories and the connective tissue of culture. Water is a life force, without it humanity will cease to exist. Despite this fact, or perhaps because of it, water is highly politicized, used as a weapon, tool, inspiration, and muse. Water is a vital life source that holds (and generates) power. It is nourishing, quenching, and refreshing but has also been commodified, polluted, and politicized. From the Standing Rock, Leech Lake and Fond du Lac reservations, to the straits of Mackinac where oil pipelines threaten important waterways, to the polluted Mississippi River and drying Colorado River Basin, to water shutoffs in Detroit, PFAs in Ann Arbor, and the Flint Water crisis (to name just a few), ensuring access to clean water (and the sustainable ecologies it supports) is an ongoing struggle that requires intersectional, intergenerational, and collective knowledge sharing, discussion and action to protect. 

The symposium brings together a diverse group of practitioners, including artists, designers, activists, scholars, scientists, policy analysts, urban planners, and thinkers to discuss what may well be the most important issue of our time: access to clean water and the fight for environmental justice. Held in partnership with the University of Michigan Museum of Art and building on themes present in the UMMA exhibition Watershed and Stamps Gallery’s LaToya Ruby Frazier: Flint is Family in Three Acts, The Ways of Water symposium continues to unravel the story of water, its critical role, and the way it connects us all. 

Flint Is Family In Three Acts details the destructive forces of industry, lax regulation on the environment and aging infrastructure in the United States highlighting the environmental racism at work in a world further threatened by climate change. Watershed takes a more expansive view of water in the Great Lakes region by exploring four overlapping themes: Michigan Water in Crisis; Our Impact; Confronting Colonial Legacies; Water as a Life Force. This symposium will begin with an overview of treaties, laws, policies (and the movements that drove and upended them) and then takes us on a journey through the history of water, its cultural significance and how we have come to understand it today. Subsequent sessions explore the present and how uprisings, artworks, and community actions have further shaped the feel and use of water. To follow is a convening that asks participants to consider how we may imagine the future of water. In doing so, the symposium will create a call to action” and produce a white paper.”

Diverse practitioners have been invited in order to underscore the need for a multiplicity of voices needed to confront these issues. The Ways of Water symposium brings together perspectives of artists, activists, community members alongside those of scientists and policy makers. To understand the many facets of how humanity and the biosphere interacts and relies on water, it is not only important for us to understand the history and present tense of water (the politics, economies, and culture built around and with it) but how these understandings and reimaginings are vital to building a more just and equitable future that centers water and respects it for everything it provides.

Symposium events are free and open to all. Please contact Jennifer Junkermeier-Khan, Stamps Gallery at jenjkhan@​umich.​edu for additional information or with questions.


Day 1: Friday, October 7, 9:30 am – 8 pm

Morning Sessions at Stamps Gallery, 201 South Division Street, Ann Arbor MI 

9:30 am: Welcome Remarks / Stamps Gallery & UMMA

Welcome by Srimoyee Mitra, Director of Stamps Gallery & Jennifer Friess, Associate Curator, UMMA
Opening Remarks by Carlos Francisco Jackson, Dean of Stamps School of Art and Design

9:45 am: Honor Song by Angus Bush, Eagle Clan

10:00 am: Session 1 — Running Water: Contextualizing Current Understandings of Water

Panelists: Bonnie Devine, Osman Khan, Kate Levy, and Morgan P. Vickers
Moderator: Perrin Selcer

The opening session, Running Water, considers how narratives about water shape the role that water plays in our lives. Beginning with the question : How have our approaches to water and the dynamics of access contributed to our current relationship with water, panelists will explore how narratives, relationships, and experiences with water are affected by or have affected water use, policies, and infrastructure.

11:45 am: Exhibition tour: Flint Is Family In Three Acts, led by Stamps Gallery Director Srimoyee Mitra

12:30 – 2:00 pm: Lunch break (on your own)

Afternoon & Evening Sessions at University of Michigan Museum of Art (UMMA), 525 South State Street

2:00 – 3:00 pm: Virtual Keynote — Winona LaDuke
Location: UMMA, Helmut Stern Auditorium (Lower Level)
Watch the virtual keynote with fellow symposium participants streamed live at the Helmut Stern Auditorium. You can also watch this virtual keynote online.

Introduction by U‑M Professor Petra Kuppers
The Virtual Keynote will be followed by a Q&A with Srimoyee Mitra, Stamps Gallery

Winona LaDuke is an economist, environmental activist, author, hemp farmer, and former two-time Green Party vice presidential candidate.

LaDuke’s work focuses on rural development, economic, food and energy sovereignty, and environmental justice. She lives and works on the White Earth reservation in Minnesota and leads several organizations including Honor the Earth (co-founded with the Indigo Girls 28 years ago), the Anishinaabe Agriculture Institute, and Winona’s Hemp, which all work to develop and model cultural-based sustainable development strategies for renewable energy and sustainable food systems. She is known worldwide for her thoughts and lectures on climate justice and renewable energy and as an advocate protecting Indigenous plants and heritage foods from patenting and genetic engineering. 

LaDuke was named to the first Forbes 50 over 50 Women of Impact” list in 2021 and has been recognized by Time magazine, with the Thomas Merton Award and Reebok Human Rights Award, and was named the Woman of the Year by Ms. magazine in 1998. She has written a novel as well as several nonfiction books, including, most recently, To Be a Water Protector: Rise of the Wiindigoo Slayers. She graduated from Harvard University with a degree in rural economic development and devotes much of her time to farming on the White Earth reservation in Minnesota. LaDuke is an Anishinaabekwe (Ojibwe) enrolled member of the Mississippi Band Anishinaabeg.

3:00 – 3:30 pm: Break

3:30 – 5:00 pm: Session 2 — Intervention and Innovation in Water Infrastructure and Justice Movements
Location: UMMA, Helmut Stern Auditorium (lower level)

Panelists: Alice Jennings, Lisa Lapeyrouse, Senghor Reid, and Joe Trumpey
Moderator: Tony Kolenic

This panel features more recent interventions and innovations that have been developed, proposed, and enacted in a shifting water landscape. It examines how artwork, design, community actions (including protest, advocacy, and the development of new organizations), and recent court cases and new laws actively shape our use of and access (or lack thereof) to water. 

5:00 pm: Session 3 — Connections Across the Watershed

5:00 pm: Reception and refreshments
Location: UMMA, Lizzie & Jonathan Tisch Apse (1st floor)

5:30 pm: Performance by The Sister Tour
Location: UMMA, Lizzie & Jonathan Tisch Apse (1st floor

Performed by: Shea Cobb aka Phiresis, Zion Brown, Amber Hasan, Os’Zaria Terry-Dye, London Spearman, Ashlynn Spearman, Niecole Middleton aka Big Juicy, Oliser Terry-Dye, and DeShano Demps Jr.

6:30 pm: Exhibition tour of Watershed, led by UMMA curator Jennifer Friess
Location: UMMA, Alfred A. Taubman I (2nd floor)

Featuring exhibition artists Kate Levy, Doug Fogelson, Shanna Merola, Bonnie Devine, Rozalinda Borcilă, and Senghor Reid.

Day 2: Saturday, October 8, 1 – 5 pm

Day Sessions at Stamps Gallery, 201 South Division Street

1:00 pm: Session 4 — Breaking Waves: Research Around, Through, and With Water

Panelists: Heidi Kumao, Kelly Murdoch-Kitt + Denielle Emans, Mustafa Naseem, David Porter, and Cedric Taylor
Moderator: Jennifer Junkermeier-Khan

Breaking Waves surveys research and pedagogy across the University of Michigan at the intersection of water, world-building, and environmental justice. Panelists will discuss how water is used in teaching and storytelling to repair broken relationships with water and how water subjects are used as pedagogical tools. 

2:30 pm: Break

3:00 pm: Session 5 — Water Futures: Decolonization, Access, Systems, and Community

Panelists: Daniel Brown, Amber Hasan and Shea Cobb, Branko Kerkez, and Andrea Pierce
Moderator: María Arquero de Alarcón

Water Futures explores our understanding of water — as a vital resource for the life of a community, a reservoir of ecological memory, and a public trust or a fundamental human right — as we try to envision creative solutions that can change the course of water’s troubled history. Beyond the strict temporality of crisis and response that so often frames recent public narratives about environmental justice, how can artists, academics, and activists help recontextualize the urgency of ecological action to achieve an equitable water future?

4:30 pm: Closing Remarks — Symposium Planning Committee

The Ways of Water: Art, Activism, and Ecologies Symposium is organized by Lisa Borgsdorf, Jennifer Friess, Jennifer Junkermeier-Khan, and Srimoyee Mitra. The symposium is co-presented by Stamps Gallery and UMMA, in partnership with the University of Michigan Museum of Natural History and the University of Michigan Library, and is co-sponsored by U‑M Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum, U‑M Joseph A. Labadie Collection, and supported by the U‑M Office of the Vice President for Research and The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts.