Arts

Getting Creative with Communications

By Christina Catanese

 During my time at EPA, I’ve learned so much about water protection, from permits to enforcement, from regulations to partnerships, from large national actions to things anyone can do to protect their waters.  Managing the Healthy Waters Blog, along with other digital communications, ­­I’ve also thought a lot about how best to communicate the work EPA does in water protection outside our agency’s boundaries.  I’ve found that, consistently, our most effective communications have been those that make visible the real impacts of our work, those that connect environmental actions to the things that are most important to all of us, and those that engage people on a deep emotional level, not necessarily a scientific one.  And often, it also takes a touch of creativity.

A view of Philadelphia from Camden

A view of Philadelphia from Camden

In a digital age, there are more ways than ever for us to reach out and connect with the many audiences interested in what EPA does, and more ways to have a presence in communities.  Social media and blogs are some of the newest tools in our communication toolboxes – we’re still honing our craft to figure out the best way to use these tools to build the most engagement with our work.

One of the best tools I know of to help make these meaningful connections is art.  How many times have you felt your spirit soar while watching a powerful performance, or your mind fill with awe gazing upon a work of art (or, for that matter, a work of nature)?   For many of us, just reading about science and large, sometimes overwhelming environmental problems doesn’t always inspire the same excitement.  But what if the complementary powers of art and science could be combined?  Can environmental science and art be integrated to educate and inspire people to change their perspective and behavior on environmental issues?  I think the answer is yes.  I think art has amazing potential to connect people with the natural world and their environments in a way that typical presentations of scientific information cannot.  From storm drain art to artfully managed stormwater and beyond, the possibilities are endless to use art as an avenue into environmental issues, and an inspiration to get involved.

With the challenges we face in water protection and other environmental issues, it’s more important than ever to communicate about these issues and engage everyone in the solutions.  What other creative ways can you think of to communicate about environmental challenges and the possibilities to address them?

About the Author: Christina Catanese has worked at EPA since 2010, managing the Healthy Waters Blog and other digital communications in the Mid Atlantic Region’s Water Protection Division.  She is parting ways from the agency this week to explore more deeply the connections of environmental science, art, and communication as the Director of Environmental Art at the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Exhibit Alert, DC Area! Reclaiming the Edge

By Christina Catanese

Spending the holidays in the Washington, DC area?  Already checked out the National Christmas Tree and not sure what else to do with those holiday guests?  There is one celebratory exhibit you don’t want to miss.

Recently opened at the Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum (ACM), Reclaiming the Edge: Urban Waterways and Civic Engagementisan exhibition on the history, use, and attitudes towards urban waterways.  It was created in partnership between EPA,  watershed partners, and the ACM.

The exhibition focuses on the Anacostia River and its watershed, and how humans interact with this natural resource in an urban setting.  There are also examinations of how people engage with urban waters in other cities – including Shanghai, China; Pittsburgh, PA; Charleston, SC; Louisville, KY; Los Angeles, CA; and London, England – so we can share experiences in diverse geographies.

The exhibition includes an art installation created from trash and found objects which often find their way into urban waterways, historic boats used by Native Americans and contemporary fishermen, large-scale historic photographs of the watershed as the District of Columbia developed, and life-size cutouts of residents, community activists, and leaders in the watershed that tell the story of their connection and stewardship of the river.  And interactive portions of the exhibit will engage watershed residents of all ages and backgrounds.

There are also exciting events related to the exhibition, including art and nature workshops for students and teachers, community forums on various uses of the river, monthly films, and even water-inspired dance workshops. The diversity of these programs themselves is a testament to the potential of safe and clean urban waters, and the communities and activities they can inspire.

Even if the Anacostia is not your local river, it’s a perfect opportunity to consider how to re-imagine this urban river for community access and use.  Don’t miss the chance to learn about the history and current state of this watershed and how you can participate in its restoration and protection.

Not able to check out the exhibit during the holiday rush?  Don’t fret – it’s on display through September 2013, so there’s plenty of time.  Here’s how to get to the Anacostia Community Museum.

Let us know what you think of the exhibit if you check it out!  And tell us how you engage with and celebrate your urban waterways all year long.

About the Author: Christina Catanese has worked at EPA since 2010, in the Water Protection Division’s Office of Program Support. Originally from Pittsburgh, Christina has lived in Philadelphia since attending the University of Pennsylvania, where she studied Environmental Studies, Political Science, and Hydrogeology. When not in the office, Christina enjoys performing, choreographing and teaching modern dance.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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On the way to wonderful…

By Maryann Helferty

Front of the Overbrook Environmental Education Center

Front of the Overbrook Environmental Education Center

During a summer drive along a busy commercial corridor in Philadelphia’s historic Overbrook section, I was transfixed by a vibrant mural lining the cinder block wall of a former cable manufacturing plant. The wall had been painted to show bees and flowers emerging over the cityscape just as the property’s new occupant, the Overbrook Environmental Education Center, has grown into a community asset from a former brownfields site.

Interpretive signs explained how stormwater systems in older cities are often routed in tandem with the sanitary sewer.  During heavy rainfall, raw sewage can be discharged into waterways, causing a health concern.   At this site, however, stormwater is managed with bio-retention basins, swales, green roof systems and pervious pavement.  These techniques allow an amazing 90 percent of rainwater to be harvested on the 45,000 square foot site.  Developers and contractors frequently visit to see these innovations in action.

The Center director, Mr. Jerome Shabazz, shared his vision for community-based urban outreach centers.  “We create a third place beyond home and work, where everyone can meet and feel welcome.”   How does creation like this happen?  First, one listens to the home-owners and businesses to understand what strengths make Overbrook stable and connected.  Then educational offerings build from the needs expressed by the community.

Overbrook Environmental Arts Orchard Planting

Overbrook Environmental Arts Orchard Planting

Today, like the bees on its mural, the former brownfields site hums with energy, offering environmental education initiatives, as well as nutrition, fitness, and literacy.   Rising over the parking lot was the Penn State Extension High Tunnel Greenhouse; children are climbing a gym set under the trees; and a vibrant tile mosaic shows the creativity of residents from a Summer Youth project who designed the entrance that says:  “On the way to wonderful find a place called alright.”

What are the strengths that make your neighborhood an alright place to be?  How do you work in your community to make it wonderful?  I’d love to hear from you.

About the Author: Maryann Helferty is a water quality scientist with the Mid-Atlantic Regional office of the EPA.  She has worked on groundwater and watershed protection in both the rural Pacific Northwest and the urban corridors of the Atlantic.  One of her passions is teaching urban youth about water through the poetry curriculum: River of Words.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.