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.
All panel discussions and presentations are free to attend and open to all. Panelists and complete symposium schedule to be announced. Please contact Jennifer Junkermeier-Khan, Stamps Gallery at firstname.lastname@example.org for additional information or with questions.
This event is co-presented by Stamps Gallery and UMMA.