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CASE STUDIES: Toolbox for Park and Resource Managers


This is part of the Toolbox for Managers
The following examples showcase a variety of artworks which relate specifically to the responsibilities of land stewardship. From the practical need to warn canoeists of hazards along a local river, to the large scale restoration of a degraded watershed, these projects reveal how flexible the idea of incorporating art into a park can be.

It is our hope that as creative Park and Resource Managers you may find inspiration in these examples, and seek to initiate your own projects with local artists. The other Toolbox sections for Educators, Communities and the one on Working Methods may also be of interest, given that an effective ecological art project can encompass elements of each.

Daniel McCormick
Location: San Anselmo Creek, CA
Artist: Daniel McCormick

Daniel McCormick,
Daniel McCormick, "Bank Restoration Installation II", willow and riparian material, San Anselmo Creek, California, 2000.
Using green willow branches, mud, rocks and natural materials found nearby, Daniel McCormick designs riparian restoration sculptures which help control erosion and enhance spawning grounds for fish. Within years these forms grow, settle and transform themselves into willow banks and healthy streams. As collaborations with the US Parks Service, City and even State parks systems, McCormick can tailor his interventions to respond to mixed cultural relationships such as ranching, agriculture, tourism and increasing development, which impact watersheds in adverse ways.

"I want my sculptures to have a part in influencing the eological balance of compromised environments. I am compelled by the idea of using sculpture in a way that will allow the damaged areas of the watershed to reestablish itself. As it has evolved, my art has become focused on strategically congregating sculptural components made from riparian materials back into the watershed system. They are intended to give advantage to the natural system, and after a period of time, as the restoration process is established, the artist's presence shall no longer be felt."

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Location: Xochimilco Ecological Zone, Mexico
Artist: Yolanda Gutiérrez

Yolanda Gutierrez,
Yolanda Gutierrez, "Santuario", Xochimilco Ecological Zone, Mexico, 1994.
"Santuario" (Sanctuary) was installed in May 1995, creating habitat for up to 70 water birds at a time in the Xochimilco Ecological Zone in Mexico. This preservation effort was led by the Xochimilco Ecological Park and the Ecological Sporting Center of Cuemanco.

The project began in December 1994 with a pilot study. Refuges were created to inventory the local bird population and later became the construction modules of the sculpture. "Santuario" was built at the edge of a pond using baskets of sedge placed over an armature and covered with grasses and tule from the area. It was designed with the help of local biologists to blend harmoniously with the landscape and be perceived as potential habitat for ducks and migratory water fowl. According to Gutiérrez, "Xochimilco is one of the last remnants of what was once a lake basin underlying what is now Mexico City." Due to the heavy impact of urbanization and its need for water, vast regions of the Zone's ecosystem were negatively affected.

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Public Art Dam Warnings
Location: Marble Mill Park, Swanton, VT
Artists: Evan W. Haynes, Stephen Dignazio, Ron Smith

Public Art Dam Warnings, Marble Mill Park, Swanton, VT, 2004
Public Art Dam Warnings, Marble Mill Park, Swanton, VT, 2004
Part of an interrelated series of sculptures along the Northern Forest Canoe Trail, the Swanton Dam Warnings are high visibility floating barrels with paddles that rotate in the river current. "The practical need for dam warnings and signage directing paddlers inspired the artists to create ten polystyrene cast orange barrels that were floated and strung across the Missisquoi River in July. On the barrels' paddles, the artists added colorful text that on the upstream side warned canoeists of the upcoming Swanton Dam. Viewed from downstream, the paddle text included written lines from a poem that would change as the paddles rotated in the river current. The poetry could be viewed by passersby on the nearby Route 78 bridge.

This is one of the notable Art & Community Landscapes environmental public art projects designed to "celebrate the rich human heritage and diverse natural environment of the Northern Forest by establishing and stewarding a water trail tracing historic Native American travel routes across New York, Vermont, Québec, New Hampshire, and Maine." The artists work as part of a team with the National Park Service, community partners, and local citizens to implement the project.

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Heart of Reeds Project
Location: Lewes, East Sussex, England
Artist: Chris Drury

Chris Drury,
Chris Drury, "Heart of Reeds Project", Lewes, East Sussex, England, 2004.
Located on the former railway sidings now reclaimed and designated as an important urban fringe Local Nature Reserve, this major project involved an extraordinary collaboration between the artist, Chris Drury, local communities, the Lewes District Council, Lewes Railway Land Wildlife Trust, East Sussex County Council, the Arts Council of England and Viridor Waste Management. It consists of sculpted hill mounds, pathways and a water filtration reed basin in the form of the double vortex shape of the inside of a human heart. "The "double vortex" will be divided down the middle by the board walk. A system of sluices will enable water levels to be raised or lowered so the flow of spring water is constantly flushed through the reeds and out into the water meadows."

"By increasing the borderlands between water and land it is hoped the work will provide a richer habitat and therefore a larger diversity of species in an area already rich in wetland wildlife and to extend the possibilities of this local nature reserve as a unique resource for study and education. Reedbeds are often found in flood prone areas as they can survive extremes of drought and flood even being completely submerged for many months of the year. They also have a role to play in the detoxification of water and land. The design of the Heart of Reeds includes significant water management considerations so that water levels can be carefully controlled at all times."

The project website includes an interview with the Park Ranger responsible for the district who was favorably impressed and described it as "an incredibly interesting and unusual project."

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Concrete Creek
Location: Beit Shemesh, Israel
Artist: Shai Zakai

Shai Zakai,
Shai Zakai, "Concrete Creek", 100 tons of cement, Beit Shemesh, Israel, 1999.
For years excess construction cement has been poured into a creek near Beit Shemesh, Israel. From 1999-2004, artist Shai Zakai, called attention to the problem through an unusual blend of advocacy, site restoration and public art installations using reclaimed cement.

This artist initiated project, eventually came to involve Government Ministers and agencies including the Yoav Regional Council, Israeli Nature and National Parks Protection Authority and led to the creation of Israel's first Eco-Tourism trail. Working with local quarry owners, the artist installed barrier flags made from cement collected in cookie cutter shapes set into the stream. The polluting cement was also used to create art objects and gallery installations which called attention to the ongoing pollution issue and helped raise money for clean up efforts to remove cement debris from the creek bed. The resulting cleanup effort transformed a 2 kilometer section of creek and provided a model for innovative multi-sector collaboration.

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Fair Park Lagoon
Location: Dallas, TX
Artist: Patricia Johanson

Patricia Johanson Fair Park Lagoon, Dallas, Texas, 1981.
Patricia Johanson Fair Park Lagoon, Dallas, Texas, 1981.
This popular large scale project emerged from a perceived need on the part of local museums and city planners to address a murky polluted lagoon which had become a danger and an obstruction to pedestrians. In the center of a five block area surrounded by museums, this project is an example of how an inspired idea can catalyze funding and support and dramatically transform a neglected liability into a community asset.

"Multi-million dollar commissions usually don't appear out of nowhere, yet Fair Park Lagoon illustrates both the complexity and the casual beginnings of many public art projects. In 1981, when I was first asked to redesign the lagoon, there was neither money nor community interest. Harry Parker, then Director of the Dallas Museum of Art, had seen my "Plant Drawings" in a New York art gallery. He reasoned that if I could produce a new design for the lagoon, the Dallas Museum could exhibit the drawings and raise the money. There was no program and no budget. He just said, "Do what you think needs to be done."

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Nine Mile Run
Location: Pittsburgh, PA
Artist: STUDIO for Creative Inquiry

Nine Mile Run, outside Frick Park, Pittsburgh, PA.
Nine Mile Run, outside Frick Park, Pittsburgh, PA.
Nine Mile Run, Pittsburgh, PA As part of a multi-year project, Artists from the STUDIO for Creative Inquiry at Carnegie Mellon University in partnership with Pittsburgh City Planning and local citizens, developed a conservation plan for the urban brownfields area surrounding the Nine Mile Run stream, the last flowing surface water within the contiguous land mass of the historic city of Pittsburgh. "With the development of "Sommerset at Frick Park" the stream will be surrounded by a contiguous public space from Frick Park to the Monongahela River. While the houses are built on the top of the slag plateau, Pittsburgh City Planning will be re-vegetating the lower slopes, and developing the Frick Park Extension."

In addition to various art events, educational activities and exhibitions, the project team conducted vegetation experiments on the lower slag slopes and helped shape the upper plateaus and slopes as part of the larger conservation plan. "The Frick Park extension and the restoration of the Nine Mile Run stream will provide a potential aesthetic and economic model of the benefits of open space development and ecological reclamation on brownfield properties occurring along streams and rivers."

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Living Water Garden
Location: City of Chengdu in Sichuan Province, China
Artist: Betsy Damon

Betsy Damon,
Betsy Damon, "Living Water Garden", City of Chengdu, Sichuan Province, China, 1998.
The Living Water Garden, is a 5.9-acre (2.4 ha) public park built by The Chengdu Fu & Nan Rivers Comprehensive Revitalization Project, as part of a five-year plan to rebuild Chengdu's infrastructure to support its growing population for the next 200 years. "The vision of environmental artist and founder of Keepers of the Waters Betsy Damon, this international award winning park is a fully functioning water treatment plant, a giant sculpture in the shape of a fish (symbol of regeneration in Chinese culture), a living environmental education center, a refuge for wildlife and plants, and a wonderful place for people."

"Since its completion in 1998, it has become the most popular park in the city and is on the national tourist registry. Each day, 200 cubic meters of polluted river water move through the natural treatment system and emerge clean enough to drink. This amount of water is not enough to affect the river water quality as a whole; its purpose is teaching and inspiration, which it does very successfully."

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Location: Tijuana River Estuary Visitor Center, Imperial Beach, CA
Artist: Ruth Wallen

Ruth Wallen,
Ruth Wallen, "Viewpoints", Installation view of first panel, Imperial Beach, CA, 1995.
"Viewpoints" is a temporary interactive nature walk at the Tijuana River Estuary Visitor Center (located near the U.S./Mexican border) that poses questions instead of providing answers. Beginning with a replica of a "Claude glass", which was used to view picturesque landscapes in the eighteenth century, each of the twelve viewpoints probes how nature is framed, including a viewing scope that may reveal or distort the landscape and a thought provoking question that relates to the human as well as natural environment.

"Instead of answers it offers a suggestion to think ecologically, to examine relationships. The viewing stations point to phenomena from all parts of the estuary. Viewing scopes both frame and deliberately distort the view. Do we, like the users of the Claude glass, turn our back on nature in search of preconceived or idealized views?" The Estuary is directed by a multi-agency management authority consisting of federal, state, county, city, and local agencies and organizations including the California Department of Parks and Recreation and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

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