Environmental outreach is often based on the communication of scientific or technical information through print or Web-based outreach material, physical engagement through demonstration projects and river clean-ups, or citizen science watershed monitoring. While these traditional strategies are important, in an urban watershed it is important to explore the widest range of possibility for engagement with the general public due to the diverse nature of urban populations. In this project, we describe how combining three domains (science, art, and technology) produced synergistic opportunities for both affective and cognitive learning to engage citizens with their urban watersheds.
The target area is the White River watershed, which is entirely contained within the state of Indiana and encompasses nearly 30,000 km2 in the central and southern portions of the state including the metropolitan region of Indianapolis. We developed a mobile device application called “Raindrop” that uses geographic information systems (GIS) and mobile device GPS technology to map a raindrop’s path from a user’s home to the White River. Artistic physical markers designed by the Mary Miss Studio were installed along the White River to connect the virtual features of the application with physical space. Installations at the Indianapolis Museum of Art and an annual White River Festival were also part of the broader project activities entitled “FLOW: Can you see the river?”
The combination of science, art, and technology to connect users with their urban watershed is shown to have significant promise for environmental outreach. A number of key advantages of using this approach over traditional forms of outreach are enumerated below. First, by collaborating with a nationally renowned artist both in the design of the application and for physical markers, the audience for Raindrop was greatly expanded and interesting dynamics between the scientific and artist members of the general public have been developed. Second, in urban areas where the use of mobile devices and handheld Web technology are ubiquitous, the information can be conveyed to an audience in a form that is familiar and relevant. Finally, the leveraging opportunities once the installations were completed have extended the project life far beyond the original installation through public programming, formal education programs, and new spin-off projects in city neighborhoods.