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artsPlace water exhibit blends science and art to create change

“I hope people feel something when they see the artwork. I think it is one thing to read a scientific document that tells you about climate change and it is another thing to really feel what climate change is in your gut when you look at a painting. When people feel things, then that creates change in their life.”
Glacier Decline – Gennadiy Ivanov
Glacier Decline by Gennadiy Ivanov

CANMORE – Getting the message across on climate change can be a challenge, but the hope of the virtual water gallery is the blending of art and science can open the eyes of people to the natural world that is changing around us.

“It was an amazing collaboration between artists and scientists who worked together during the pandemic to make works of art that expressed feelings and reactions to climate change,” said program director Nicole Fougere. “They document landscapes that are in transition right now.”

The virtual water gallery launched in the summer of 2020 to bring together artists, water experts, knowledge keepers and the public to reflect on the challenges of climate change. Now, the Virtual Water Exhibit has transitioned into an in-person exhibition at artsPlace, running from May 21 to June 17.

The move from a virtual exhibit to an in-person one was relatively easy for the gallery.

“It is such a beautiful exhibit. It contains work by professional artists,” Fougere said. “It contains artwork by people who are scientists and artists, and it even has a section with artwork by children from the Bow Valley.”

The goal of the exhibit was to bring individuals from different disciplines together to find solutions to the problems the world is facing.

“The whole idea behind it is that it started as an online space in order to connect artists from across Canada, but also water experts from the Global Water Futures program,” said lead curator Louise Arnal, a postdoctoral fellow at the Centre for Hydrology. “The philosophy behind it is that we believe that sharing perspectives across communities of artists, Indigenous peoples, scientists and so on can really help us find solutions to the water challenges we are facing.”

While science and art may seem like two disciplines that wouldn’t go together, the blending of the two can have a big impact on the individuals who experience the result.

“People are more open to it now, and they are seeing the value of merging both worlds,” Arnal said. “It is at that interaction between the two worlds that new and creative and holistic ideas can emerge.”

The blending of science and art can create a unique perspective that changes how a person views a situation, especially one as complex as climate change.

“Scientists are sharing research using journal articles and participating in conferences, but these are for a portion of the population,” Arnal said. “Not everyone understands a scientific graph so being able to convey that through these collaborations and an artistic medium is a great way to bring this important information to a wider public.”

The goal of the exhibit is to change the perspective of people, especially in a place like Canmore where residents can see the environmental changes first hand. Residents can now come and see in the exhibit what they are witnessing in their lives and how scientists are sharing their own visions of it.

“I hope people feel something when they see the artwork. I think it is one thing to read a scientific document that tells you about climate change and it is another thing to really feel what climate change is in your gut when you look at a painting,” Fougere said. “When people feel things, then that creates change in their life.”

After the exhibit opened, there was an immediate response from residents according to Arnal.

“We are seeing the effects that this virtual water gallery is having on the local community,” Arnal said. “We got some fantastic feedback at the opening event, and this gives me hope that people living here are receptive to these events.”

Visitors to the exhibit are also encouraged to fill out surveys that are funded through a government grant at artsPlace or online. These surveys monitor the changes of perspective to water challenges and climate change that the exhibit is causing.

“Hopefully, that shows we are having a positive impact.”