Following the life of water: Center for Urban Ecology gets $257,000 grant

The sound of rain dripping from the gutter isn’t unfamiliar to residents of the area, which experienced the third wettest June on record. But where does the rain go after it falls?

Butler University’s Center for Urban Ecology (CUE) plans to solve this mystery with the development of its project titled ‘Following the Life of Water’ (FLOW).

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration gave a $257,000, three-year grant to CUE.

The grant will allow CUE to develop a smartphone application called “Raindrop” to exhibit the flow of water from the Indianapolis community into the White River.

CUE’s main goal is to show people how water is affected by the actions they take in their own backyards before running into the river.

“We want people to realize that what they do on a house and for their house [wherever they are] connects with the people and the river all the way in downtown Indianapolis,” said Tim Carter, director of CUE.

“Raindrop” will use templates to allow users to see how water flows and track the pollutants water picks up as it travels from their house to two different points on the White River, Carter said.

Users will be able to view three separate conditions—the water’s path in current conditions and weather, the path water has taken historically in the past and how the climate patterns will change with future conditions.

CUE will collaborate with Indianapolis Museum of Art (IMA) and New York City’s Mary Miss Studio, to pilot the FLOW project within the Indianapolis community.

Carter said artist Mary Miss will create a physical exhibit at the IMA involving “walkable river maps.”

There will be stopping points along the Central Canal Towpath that use mirrors to link visitors with the environment, Carter said.

“Using the mirrors will allow you to see yourself reflected within the river to connect that you are the one who can make a difference,” he said.

Carter said the idea is that the science behind the “Raindrop” application, in combination with the physical artworks, will display the urban ecological effects to a vast and diverse audience from the Indianapolis community.

“[The project uses] affective learning contrasted with cognitive learning so you are not just learning head knowledge, but you are connected with the material through environment, emotions, concerns and people,” Carter said.

IMA Director of Education and Visitor Experience Linda Duke said Mary Miss’ goal is that people will develop a better understanding of the importance of our local waterways in terms of our health and quality of life.

Duke said, “[Miss] seeks to make the river and canal and the whole complex water ecology more visible and to attract people and arouse their wonder and curiosity about these matters scientifically, aesthetically and even to raise an interest in policies and laws that affect the health of the waterways,” said Duke.

Duke said Miss has been talking with the IMA for a number of years to create a project to help raise environmental awareness in the new 100 Acres: The Virginia B. Fairbanks Art and Nature Park.

She said Miss’ idea for FLOW seemed like the perfect fit.

“She envisions the FLOW project here in Indianapolis as a kind of model for what other cities could do with public art that increases understanding and awareness of the environment,” Duke said.

The FLOW project will debut in September of 2011 with the opening of the IMA exhibit and the availability of the “Raindrop” application.

Carter said the chance to help pilot this project is a great opportunity for the university.

“For Butler, this is a nationally significant initiative,” Carter said. “We can be very proud to have started this national program here in Indianapolis and at Butler as this is locally, regionally and nationally important.”

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