‘Be River SmART’ campaign gets creative to keep communities clean and green.
PITTSFIELD — Can a community arts campaign help reduce the amount of pollutants and toxins flowing into local waterways?
A new collaborative of arts, environmental and education agencies believes it can, and will, make the necessary difference to improve the environment.
Their proposal incorporates public arts projects, educational workshops, and digital applications to be used to rally people around the cause. The ultimate goal is for residents to take personal measures to prevent the spread of runoff in a number of ways, such as being more efficient at cleaning up pet waste or planting rain gardens to help absorb stormwater before it transports gunk and junk into our sewer systems.
This “Be River SmART” campaign is one of 70 finalists selected among 987 applications being considered for a 2017 award through the National Creative Placemaking Fund. According to a call for applications, awards can range from $50,000 to $500,000, depending on a project’s proposed scale, scope and budget.
On Wednesday evening, representatives from ArtPlace America, the national collective which oversees the fund, visited Pittsfield to learn more about the Be River SmART proposal and see the areas in which it could potentially make a difference.
Convening and co-directing the flow of the proposed initiative are Lisa Donovan, an arts management program professor for the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, and Alison Dixon, the Berkshire outreach manager for the Housatonic Valley Association.
“We are very excited about this … in that it exemplifies how the arts can grow in rural areas through cross sector collaboration,” Donovan told The Eagle in a meeting with project partners earlier this month.
The Be River SmART initiative stemmed from work arts management students have done with the Housatonic Valley Association staff through a course called “Community Engagement in the Arts.”
Under a mandate of the federal Clean Water Act, enforced by the Environmental Protection Agency, Massachusetts has been working to initiate a permitting process to develop a stormwater management program in compliance with the federal law and the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System for regulating where and how pollutants are discharged into national waterways.
Dave Turocy, commissioner of public services, and Robert Van Der Kar, the conservation agent, said this year brings new and updated regulations on how municipalities must monitor infiltration and inflow into sewer systems from surface water and stormwater runoff.
Because of their reservoirs and proximity to the upper Housatonic River watershed, the municipalities of Pittsfield, Lanesborough and Dalton have been collectively looking at ways to clean up their respective portions of the river. Stormwater runoff in particular is identified as a key contributor of pollutants and a factor that communities can have better control over, should residents make more conscious efforts to do so.
In their ArtPlace grant application, the authors wrote: “The beauty of our natural environment is a top reason people live and vacation in the Berkshires. Yet, the rivers are threatened by the pollution of stormwater runoff. Stormwater picks up oil, pet waste, road salt, heat (thermal pollution), and other pollutants as it runs off impervious surfaces such as parking lots, roads and roofs … No one person is responsible; everyone in the community contributes to stormwater runoff, which is channeled to the closest river or lake via the storm drain.”
Wednesday’s site visits with ArtPlace representatives included places in Pittsfield that highlight the interactions between neighborhoods, people and the watershed, from the city’s new rain gardens on North Street designed to absorb and purify pollutants, to river cleanup sites like Fred Garner Park on Pomeroy Avenue.
Nicole Hall, a Pittsfield resident and rising senior at MCLA who is involved with the project, said creating visual art and augmented reality programs to experience at sites like these can help “to promote a sense of stewardship and action” around protecting the river. The Berkshire Film and Media Collaborative and SculptureNow organizations already have signed on as partners to help develop these visuals.
Dixon said the Be River SmART initiative “would provide a unique opportunity to engage people in the process of fostering appreciation, awareness and change,” around the watershed.
“Stormwater is kind of its own hidden infrastructure,” Turocy said. “You don’t necessarily see what’s going on and you don’t see how it affects people and how people affect it.”
Of the Be River SmART campaign, he says, “I think it’s a creative way to get the message out. After all, arts and culture are what we’re known for in the Berkshires. But to marry those two ideas with stormwater — I certainly can’t figure out how to do that. But these [partners] can.”