Telling the story of the Chesapeake through art and science

By Rebecca Kirkman on January 30, 2020

Interdisciplinary exhibition “Collected Watershed” by eco-artist Stacy Levy brings together students and faculty from the arts and sciences

For the past two weeks, the floor of Towson University’s Center for the Arts Gallery has been slowly and methodically filling up with thousands of glass jars as part of the exhibit “Collected Watershed.”

For hours at a time, collaborators have been carefully placing the jars along blue masking tape on the floor, outlining the shape of the many waterways surrounding Towson, from Gunpowder Falls in the north to Stoney Creek in the south. Eventually, the jars will be filled with upwards of 1,000 gallons of water collected from the waterways they represent.

“We are creating a watershed map,” says environmental artist Stacy Levy, who has been working with the university for two years to bring this exhibition to life. “It’s a live map, filled with water collected from every tributary in and around Towson. We’ve gone out to find the water and brought it back in 5-gallon buckets, very carefully labeled.”

Last week, 160 of those buckets sat stacked in the gallery storage closet waiting to be poured into the jars. Even then, Levy was preparing to head out and collect more water.

From gallery design to developing related programming and the collection and analysis of water, the “Collected Watershed” exhibit has been embraced throughout the university as an interdisciplinary project telling the story of the Chesapeake Bay from many angles.

“As we got going, our little tributary became a bigger stream, became bigger and bigger in terms of collaboration all across campus,” says Erin Lehman, lecturer and director of the Holtzman MFA and Center for the Arts Galleries. “What was really wonderful is that everybody was in. They said, ‘Oh, that’s an incredible idea, how can I play a part in it?’”

When people come to the gallery, they will see something they didn’t expect to see. It’s not art on the wall. ”

Erin Lehman

Biology and art history students joined the artist when she collected water. A music student captured the sounds of the waterways. The Office of Sustainability donated supplies and students helped set up the exhibit. Biology faculty and students are testing the water quality and studying algae. The interdisciplinary focus will be reflected in programming and events held throughout the exhibition.

“We feel that the galleries are living classrooms, they are opportunities for our students to learn and grow on so many levels,” says Susan Isaacs, professor and curator of the Holtzman MFA and Center for the Arts Galleries. “One is looking at the work and learning from the work itself, attending the lectures, talking to the artist and other presenters, and finally doing. They have an opportunity to do.”

You Wu, an MFA student working a graduate assistantship with the gallery, has been in the gallery since 7:30 a.m., using funnels and watering cans to transfer the water from the buckets to the jars. By the end of the day, Wu will have filled about 200 jars.

“I don’t control what’s coming out of the bucket,” Wu says. “Since the water is collected from outside, not from a water fountain, there are definitely substances in there. There is some plastic floating in some of the jars. And I didn’t want to take it out, because that’s a natural part of the water now.”

Environmentalism is just one of the issues the show raises. “This project felt really germane to our gallery and the Baltimore area in general, because water is so important here, and so much of it is underground,” says Lehman, pointing to issues like water justice, paying water bills, storm runoff, and crumbling infrastructure causing pollution in local creeks and tributaries.

But on an even more basic level, the exhibition aims to bring to the forefront waterways that are often hidden and forgotten.

“When people come to the gallery, they will see something they didn’t expect to see,” Lehman says. “It’s not art on the wall. What they will see is unexpected lyrical beauty. It’s so many jars, and it’s so beautifully laid out. It shows the beauty of what’s in the gallery, but also a representation of what’s underfoot all the time.”

Visit “Collected Watershed” at the Center for the Arts Gallery from Jan. 31 - April 25.

Exhibition Programming

Environmental Artist Stacy Levy

Thurs., Jan. 30, 6:30 p.m.
Center for the Arts, Art Lecture Hall, CA 2032

From rivers to runoff, the nationally renowned environmental sculptor Stacy Levy has explored the many facets of water. Here she considers the interconnectedness of the Chesapeake watershed.

TU Biologists Susan Gresens and Sarah Haines

Thurs., Feb. 13, 6:30 p.m.
Center for the Arts, Art Lecture Hall, CA 2032
Free

Susan Gresens, an aquatic biologist, will speak about the local watershed, its response to urbanization, and how we can help save the bay. Sarah Haines, a professor of science education, will take a project-based “citizen science” approach and discuss how water quality and stream sampling techniques can get educators excited about teaching outdoors and interested in the health of their local watershed.

Faculty Chamber Concert | Arts without Boundaries

Sun., Feb. 16, 3 p.m. (Special Gallery Hours: Sun., Feb. 16, 2–6 p.m.)
Center for the Arts, Recital Hall, CA 3066
Ticketed

TU faculty will perform musical compositions on the theme of water, considering the topic from both a historical and contemporary perspective, and through a variety of lenses. Performers include violinist Emmanuel Browosky, cellist Frances Borowsky, pianist Daniel Weiser, saxophonist John Thomas and members of the quinTUs faculty vocal quintet.

Tom Pelton, Environmental Journalist and Host of WYPR’s “The Environment in Focus”

Thurs., March 5, 6:30 p.m.
Center for the Arts, Art Lecture Hall, CA 2032
Free

Pelton, an award-winning environmental journalist and Chesapeake Bay author will lecture on the environmental well-being of the Chesapeake Bay region. He is the director of communications for the Environmental Integrity Project in Washington, D.C.

Family Arts Day

Sat., March 28, Noon – 4 p.m.
Center for the Arts, Atrium
Free

Join TU Community Arts and drop in for a day of interactive art-making, dance workshops and interactive gallery tours focused on environmental education through the arts. All ages welcome.

Mr. Trash Wheel and the Baltimore Inner Harbor

Thurs., April 23, 6:30 p.m.
Center for the Arts, Art Lecture Hall, CA 2032
Free

Mr. Trash Wheel, part of the Waterfront Partnership’s “Healthy Harbor Plan,” is a beloved Baltimore icon and star of Twitter. The googly-eyed trash inceptor removes debris from the Jones Falls as it empties into the Inner Harbor. In the last five years, it has removed over 1,200 tons of garbage.

TU Environmental Conference | H2OPE: Access, Security and Equity

Fri., April 17, 7:45 a.m. - 4 p.m.
West Village Commons, West Village Ballroom
Keynote Lecture | April 16, Harold J. Kaplan Concert Hall, CA 3042
Registration Required

The Environmental Conference at TU brings together students, faculty, staff and the community to highlight career, research, leadership and advocacy opportunities around the theme of water. Keynote speaker Mona Hanna-Attisha, author of “What the Eyes Don’t See,” speaks about the Flint, Michigan, water crisis.

This story is one of several related to President Kim Schatzel’s priorities for Towson University: TU Matters to Maryland.