THE WATER PROJECT
WATER IN IOWA: VOICING THE LEXICON
In the fall of 2015, as dialogue regarding Iowa's water quality garnered front page news in the Des Moines Register and dominated discussions at the Capitol, 60 students in the Bluestem Institute were invited to collaborate in small teams to develop a response to the driving question, "How can we, as students of the Bluestem Institute, compose informational artworks that will engage and inform the public about water quality issues in Iowa?"
Our quest led us into remnant prairies and marshes to learn how Iowa's rich soils were created, to working farms to see the challenges farmers face in controlling nutrient loss and erosion, and to the Des Moines Water Works to learn why their board of trustees voted to sue three northern drainage districts for violations of the Clean Water Act. Guided by photographer Douglas Gayeton, co-founder of Project Localize, students photographed and interviewed farmers, naturalists, and USDA soil scientists to understand the lexicon used to discuss water quality. They selected the most salient moments from interviews to compose definitions and narratives to accompany each image. Gayeton checked in periodically via Skype, offering critical feedback regarding the composition and style of the images.
This extended inquiry / STEAM project required students to employ 21st Century Skills - to collaborate and communicate in a variety of contexts, to be flexible and adaptable throughout the composition process, and to be accountable for producing museum-quality work for an authentic audience. In February 2015, students presented their work at the 10th Annual Iowa Water Conference, and were subsequently invited to show their images at a variety of venues throughout the state, including the Iowa State Capitol. Click the links below to see the information artworks and images that illuminate the process of composition.