In June of 2010, 6 artists, 7 scientists and a science journalist came together to collaborate on an environmental education project. Their focus was to illustrate future scenarios for the North Temperate Lakes Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) in northern Wisconsin, sharing scientific research with the public through the arts. This project is part of LTEArts: Engagement of Arts and Humanities with LTER Studies of Future Scenarios of Landscape Change. The project builds on a previous University of Wisconsin art/science collaboration on climate change which was seen by over 100,000 people in WI, MI, MN and IL. The audience for the North Temperate Lakes project was lakeshore landowners and lake users, with a goal to engender a stronger sense of stewardship for lakes in northern Wisconsin.
The project began with a three day field workshop, after which the exhibition, “Drawing Water: Artists and Scientists Explore Northern Lakes”, was created. The artwork and accompanying science text was exhibited at 9 northern Wisconsin locations during May-Oct of 2011. A web and Face book page were created. A partnership between the LTER and local state forest created 5 large wayside signs which were installed at boat landings and lakeside picnic areas.
Environmental education pedagogy encourages a multi-disciplinary approach to communicating science. The arts often express societal responses to scientific/technological change, in either direct commentary or more subtle references. However, intentional collaboration between arts and sciences in environmental education is less common.
The Drawing Water exhibit was seen by over 3,200 people. 1272 people attended opening events/discussions on the science and collaborative process. Two locations hosted programs for youth (30 attendees). Web based, print media, and wayside exhibits reached additional audiences. Many visitors to the exhibit were observed reading for over 15 minutes and comments in visitor logs were largely very positive. Environmental issues addressed in the exhibit included climate change, invasive species, aquatic habitat quality, and shoreline development. LTER scientists at North Temperate Lakes are currently considering longer term commitments to arts/humanities collaborations. In a region where the future of lakes will be dramatically influenced by human activities, these types of collaborations offer new tools in communication.