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Can You Learn About the River?

This summer, the IMA hosted a group of educators for a special teacher workshop inspired by our newest addition to the artwork in 100 Acres, FLOW (Can You See the River?), a project by New York based artist Mary Miss. Our goal for the workshop was to help teachers think about ways to incorporate the project into their classes, with the aim of engaging students in conversations about environmental, social, and economic sustainability while increasing student’s awareness of the White River and its watershed. Being an “art person,” I realized that to engage with this project and truly see the river as Mary instructs, I would need to supplement my arty knowledge with a little bit of science and history. And when you are trying to learn something, I have discovered that the best way to do so is to be locked up with a room full of teachers. So what did I learn? Here are a few highlights:

  • Our friends at the Cell Motion BioBus, a 1974 San Francisco transit bus converted into a mobile science laboratory, showed us an awesome little creature called Daphnia,which is found in a range of aquatic (including the White River) environments and are visible to the naked eye (granted, they are still very small). Daphnia are tiny crustaceans with translucent exoskeletons, making them really interesting to view under microscopy.
  • The partnership between the IMA and USGS, that has been a crucial part of  Mary Miss’s project, began several years ago when the IMA commissioned artist Maya Lin to create a piece for our collection. Lin was interested in mapping the bottom of a Lost River in Bedford, IN. Lost Rivers get their name from the fact that they flow underground. The USGS helped to map the river bottom and the cavernous ceiling. To learn more about Lin’s piece, appropriately titled Above and Below, check out this Art Babble video.
  • There are a ton of similarities between the IMA and the Marian University Eco Lab. Both places benefited from wealthy individuals with ties to Indianapolis industry that also had country estates located along the White River. James Allison’s house (of Allison Transmission and co-founder of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway) and the surrounding land were donated to Marian University and became the northern part of the campus, while the IMA’s Oldfields, the home of J.K. Lilly Jr. (of Eli Lily and Company and Eagle Creek Park) was donated to the Art Association of Indianapolis (later becoming the Indianapolis Museum of Art). Behind each of the country estates was a patch of land that was used for various purposes. The land behind Allison’s home was once used as cattle pasture and a driving course (check out the picture below), eventually becoming a 55 acre nature preserve for the university known as the Marian University EcoLab. The backyard of the Lilly family was also used for many things, such as farmland, a stone quarry (helping to build nearby Interstate 65), and now as 100 Acres: The Virginia B. Fairbanks Art and Nature Park.

A great Aha! moment from this workshop was my realization of the genius of Mary Miss’s project title: FLOW (Can You See the River?). She is asking us to literally look at the river, but also to see the many ways in which it affects our lives. The teachers that attended the workshop helped me see the power of the word “flow.” Sure it refers to the movement of water,  but we also use it to describe the circulation of blood in the body or the way traffic moves (or doesn’t) during rush hour. To me it implies a Zen-like interconnectedness in the ways in which we share biological features with a creature like Daphnia or a shared history like that of EcoLab and 100 Acres.

Miss’s project opens September 22nd, which means you’ve got a little time to do some research to find out how you are connected to the river. So c’mon, learn something about the river. I dare you.

Filed under: Art, Art and Nature Park, Local, Public Programs

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