The Wave as ‘Placemaker’

More Awesome News

Elena and I are very pleased to announce that we are recipients of a $10,000 2014 Arts Catalyze Placemaking Grant (ACP) from the Connecticut Office of the Arts, Department of Economic and Community Development!  The ACP grant program was created to  “invest in the state’s arts-based cultural activities and infrastructure in ways that will advance the attractiveness and competitiveness of Connecticut cities, towns, and villages as meaningful communities in which to live, work, learn and play.”

In partnership with The Connecticut Library Consortium, we will be conducting four installations of The Wave between January and June of 2014 in the Ferguson Library, Stamford, CT, the Public Library of New London (CT), the Willimantic (CT) Public Library and the New Haven (CT) Free Public Library. The installations will serve as a catalyst for the establishment of ‘Community Engagement Hubs’ or centers for on-going community dialogue, and will remain in the libraries as visual documentation of the project and a visual reminder of shared community responsibility.

By using The Wave in four urban libraries as an appealing, interactive art installation that will attract a wide variety of participants and become a catalyst for community conversations on the topic of water, the libraries will: (1) Create a trusted and safe venue for on-going public dialogue on community issues, with water being only the first topic of discussion; (2) Improve civic engagement among segments of the population who have been less involved; and (3) Improve social isolation among community members.

'Wave-Makers' at CT Office of the Arts Higher Order Thinking (HOT) Schools Teacher Institute, 2012


‘Wave-Makers’ at The CT Office of the Arts, Higher Order Thinking (HOT) Schools Teacher Institute, 2012

 Placemaking as Process and Philosophy

The term, “placemaking” began being used by writers such as William H. Whyte in the 1960s and by architects and planners in the 1970s to depict the process of creating public spaces that would take into consideration the needs of people and not just the physical design of buildings, shopping centers and roads.  The Project for Public Spaces (PPS), a nonprofit, international, planning, design and educational organization, founded in 1975 and dedicated to helping people create and sustain public spaces that build stronger communities, defines placemaking as follows:

Placemaking is the process through which we collectively shape our public realm to maximize shared value. Rooted in community-based participation, Placemaking involves the planning, design, management and programming of public spaces. More than just creating better urban design of public spaces, Placemaking facilitates creative patterns of activities and connections (cultural, economic, social, ecological) that define a place and support its ongoing evolution. Placemaking is how people are more collectively and intentionally shaping our world, and our future on this planet.  

These are lofty words for how we can become more connected to the places in which we live, work and play through creative activities and shared experiences.  We are very proud to be part of this process in Connecticut.

Why The Wave?

The Wave-Kennedy Greenway,Boston


The Wave Installation
Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway, Boston, MA, 2011
Photograph Courtesy of Lena Stein

A Water Event of Global Proportions

On March 11, 2011, a magnitude 9.03 earthquake, centered east of the Oshika Peninsula of Tohoku in Japan, triggered powerful tsunami waves that reached heights of up to 133 feet, moved portions of Japan by as much as 7.9 feet and shifted the Earth on its axis a distance estimated at between 4 and 10 inches.  Further magnifying the damage caused by the earthquake itself, the ensuing tsunami devastated the island country, leaving millions of people without homes, electricity and clean water and triggering nuclear meltdowns at three reactors in the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. In response to the tsunami, warnings were issued over the entire Pacific Ocean, including the coastal areas in most of California, Oregon, Washington, British Columbia and western Alaska. Infrastructure damage and destruction from waves caused by the tsunami totaled hundreds of millions of dollars in the Philippines, in Indonesia, in Papua, New Guinea and in Hawaii.  The impact from the 2011 tsunami is still being felt right now, in February of 2013, almost two years from the date of the original event. Recent aerial photographs taken along the coast of Alaska reveal evidence of widespread debris washing ashore from the Japanese tsunami and posing an environmental hazard of significant proportions.

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Debris Off the Coast of Alaska from Japanese Tsunami, 2013

Conceiving The Wave

Here, in Connecticut, my fellow artist, Elena, and I were literally ‘struck’ by our own visual images (a frequent occurrence for artists) of how that 2011 tsunami in Japan literally ‘connected’ us all to one another: this enormous wave originating across the world and traveling from continent to continent before washing up on own ‘front door.’ We talked about developing a project that would visually represent how dramatically we are all connected, regardless of our nationality, religious preferences, race or other artificial divisions, by our mutual dependence on water, one of the fundamental requirements for life on Earth.

During our conversations, we also discussed an appropriate medium for the project, which we eventually dubbed, The Wave. (Catchy, don’t you think?) Because we wanted to emphasize the universal nature of water, our individual and community responsibility to protect this vital resource and the theme of our ‘connectedness,’ we felt very strongly that it needed to be a community engagement, interactive, public art program.

The Function of Interactive Public Art

Public art is generally described as any work that is exhibited, and sometimes created, in public spaces so that it is accessible to the general public, not just those who frequent galleries and museums. We chose to create a public art project because, by it’s very purpose, public art is meant to enrich communities, provoke discussion and heighten awareness of significant public issues and events. An interactive, public art project enables members of the community, not just the artists, to participate in the creation of the work of art itself.  Interactive, public art inspires creativity among participants around a specific topic, generates community pride and fosters connections among the participants.

The Wave Design

We designed The Wave with these goals in mind. Because the material we use is especially unusual, enticing and beautiful and because it is so easy to simply cut a piece of it that evokes ‘wave’ according to the visitor’s interpretation, each individual coming to a Wave site can feel successful.  Children as young as five, entire school communities including parents, staff, teachers and students of all abilities and ages, adults who are normally intimidated by making art and seniors have all embraced the opportunity to ‘connect’ their pieces to the growing, glowing and undulating Wave that we hope will ‘roll’ right across the country and beyond. Since September of 2011, we have created seven installations in Connecticut, Massachusetts and New York museums/galleries, parks and schools in the vicinity of water. People have asked us why we join the pieces with black parachute cord that shows so prominently as an integral part of the installation.  Why not use transparent fishing wire or some other invisible material? And, of course, that is the point. We are using the black cord to emphasize how this Wave is being created, piece by piece, connecting individuals, communities, states and hopefully, an entire nation, to one another.

The Wave, Kennedy Greenway, Boston2


Participants at The Wave Installation
Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway, Boston, MA, 2011
Photograph Courtesy of Lena Stein

The Wave Blog: On Water and Public Art

Now that the project is gaining momentum and many new sites are being planned as we speak, we are taking this opportunity to initiate a blog on water and public art.  We’ll be posting stories, information and news that we find interesting and provocative on water issues and events, on other public art projects, on our experiences as we engage communities at Wave sites and on the progress of The Wave itself.  We welcome your comments, your personal water stories and your participation.