When the River Becomes a Cloud / Cuando el río se transforma en nube

2021-Now [this work is in progress]
Collaborative, interdisciplinarypublic artwork
Co-Authored with Tia Kramer (as part of DeepTime Collective)
Collaboration with students, staff, and families of Prescott School District, Prescott, WA

Image Left: Route the permanent, public artwork will eventually take through the school’s campus  Image Right: Logo designed by first grade students in the spring of 2022

When the River Becomes a Cloud / Cuando el río se transforma en nube is a multi-year, collaborative public artwork that my collaborator, Tia Kramer, and I are developing in partnership with students, teachers, and staff at a preK-12 public school in rural Eastern Washington. Since December 2021, we have been long-term artists-in-residence at Prescott School. We are creating a multi-media, permanent public artwork in the form of a river that winds throughout the entire indoor and outdoor school campus. The project utilizes artistic and scientific inquiry to examine local ecology and watersheds, agriculture, migration and belonging and social-emotional learning.

This ongoing work is commissioned by Carnegie Picture Lab as part of their Rural Art Initiative. This long-term artist residency was co-initiated by Prescott School District and Carnegie Picture Lab as a mutually beneficial, reciprocal relationship that addresses the unique opportunities and challenges of rural art education and rural contemporary art practices.

How is this funded?
The 2022 6-month pilot was funded by a grant from Sherwood Trust and Blue Mountain Community Foundation. The 2022-23 school year was funded by an SEL in Action grant from Education First. The 2023-24 school year is funded by an Arts WA AIE Grant. We continue to write grants to support this  project.
Project Press:Massive, immersive art project incorporated every student in Prescott School District” by Shelia Hagar, Walla Walla Union Bulletin, June 2022

A Collaborative, Co-Authored Rural Contemporary Artwork

A majority of Prescott School families work in Washington's agricultural industries. Approximately 80% of the students are of Latin American heritage and live in a singular farmworker housing community for one of Washington's largest apple orchards. The remaining 20% of students live in the small town of Prescott, which has a population of 377 and consists mainly of white, working class families who are connected to the region’s dryland wheat economy.

Rural students, especially rural students of color, deserve equitable access to innovative, context-responsive contemporary art education. This value has led to the development of this unique rural artist residency model. Students collaborate with us and co-author projects that are made by/with/for our community.

As part of this unique partnership, we work with Prescott School's burgeoning agriculture program to develop site-responsive, experiential learning projects that connect culturally-relevant sustainable agriculture and local ecology with contemporary art practices.

When the River Becomes a Cloud uses social-emotional learning and trauma-informed design to develop contemporary public artworks that are present throughout the school’s campus. Through collaboration and co-authorship, the project challenges notions of who is considered an expert by blurring the boundaries between authors, producers, and audience members. This approach rejects the traditionally individualistic, singular-author approach to artmaking and instead presents a model for responsive contemporary art in a rural context. Additionally, the project operates from an antiracist framework, prioritizing visiting artists whose identities reflect students’ lived experiences.

Visiting Lecture Series
Throughout the course of the project, in addition to large-scale artworks, we have hosted artist/research lectures by Zoemiel Henderson, Joel Gaytan, Juventino Aranda, Fanny Julissa Garcia, the PSU Art + Social Practice MFA Program, and Tessa Hulls

Project Learning Outcomes
  • Creative Risk Taking: Students learn to embrace risk-taking as an integral part of the creative process.
  • Collaboration with Peers: Students develop collaborative skills by actively participating in group projects that have public outcomes.
  • Self Empowerment: Students cultivate leadership abilities by making artistic decisions that directly influence project outcomes.
  • Social-Emotional Growth: Students engage in creative practices that encourage attunement to their full selves, lives, and stories.
  • Antiracist Research: Students study and emulate a diverse canon of historical and contemporary interdisciplinary artists.

Part 1: Embodying The River

All-School Performance and Interactive Installation
Developed through embodied research with high school ASB students and their teachers Bob Young and Tiffany Hedman
Performed: June 2022

Photos by Allyn Griffin (drone pilot), Kyle Peets and Tara J Graves

When The River Becomes A Cloud officially launched in June 2022 following a six month exploratory pilot period. For the launch event, we collaborated with high school students from the Prescott School Associated Student Body (ASB) to create an all-school performance.

During the performance, more than 300 students, teachers, and staff moved across the school's campus as an embodied river. The river's path included indoor and outdoor immersive art experiences, all designed by the students to conceptually engage water. Participants wore a rainbow of monochromatic shirts featuring a logo created by first-grade students. The walk concluded with the entire school sitting in the shape of a cloud on a baseball field.
Map of the performanceMap of the performance

A line-by-line poem was printed as wayfinding signage for the launch event

An image of the performance was later installed on a baseball dugout at the field where the performance took place.

Part 2: Mapping our Watershed

WHAT Large-Scale Wall Drawing on Prescott’s Agriculture Science Building
Developed in collaboration with first grade students and their art instructor, Jessica Johnson, and high school art students and their teacher Mark Grimm
Started: March 2022
Completed: November 2022

In September 2022, we moved into the second phase of the project, which is to create permanent, collaborative public artworks that connect like a river throughout the school’s campus. The first permanent artwork was a large-scale drawing on three sides of the Ag Science building, which depicted the school's metaphorical watershed.

In the water cycle, rain falls onto the hills and trickles into streams, rivers and lakes before eventually evaporating into clouds. Similarly, each morning, students walk out their front doors, ride the bus to school, and gather in the school hallways and classrooms before returning home at the end of the day. The cycles are mirrors. When you enter the Ag building, you enter our collective watershed.

Over the course of four months, we met weekly with first grade and high school students to develop a design. The black and white drawings, made by first-grade students, reference the disparate but connected communities that make up our school: Prescott (town), Prescott (school), Eureka, Vista Hermosa, the apple orchards, and the wheat fields. When the first grade students completed the drawings, the high school art class chose images they felt best represented the school’s metaphorical watershed. The drawings were then scanned and arranged as a digital design before being projected and traced with permanent paint pens onto the walls of the building. The drawing incorporates color block aerial tracings of significant landmarks along the Touchet River, which flows through the school’s campus. 

This project was installed with the support of local artists Zoemiel Henderson and Joel Gaytan.

Part 3: Collective Weather

Large-Scale Outdoor Ceramic Sculptures
Participatory artwork with ceramic contributions from each student at Prescott School (all PreK-12th grade students)
Started: December 2022
May 2024

Image above is a tiny model mockup of the final object, which will be completed In the summer of 2023

Each student at Prescott School (PreK - 12th grade) created a fist-sized singular cloud with high fire stoneware clay. The cloud expressed the emotional weather the student experienced that morning on their way to school.

We used the small clouds as collage material to build two enormous ceramic clouds that will live permanently outdoors and will perform simultaneously as sculptures and benches. The once ephemeral internal weather, like a cloud, becomes eternal, like a stone, through its translation into a ceramic material. 

This work is in progress. Updates on this project will be posted in Spring 2024.

Part 4: The Cosmic Swamp

Digitally-Printed Building Façade for Middle School Portable Buildings
Design collaboratively co-authored with 6th grade students and their teacher Ryan Anderson
Started: December 2022
Completed: May 2024

Draft mockup of the mixed-media building façade.

From December 2022 to June 2023, we met each Thursday morning with 6th grade students. Our meetings cumulatively worked toward developing a design for a hybrid painted and digitally-printed building façade that covers the middle school portable buildings.

Students selected an aspect of the watershed that best referenced their middle school experience. The students decided the concept of swamp was the perfect representation of the in-between, murky unknown of middle school. 

As we developed this project, we presented weekly artistic research prompts alongside field trips to local wetlands, swamp-related contemporary artworks, and texts like Mary Oliver’s poem Crossing the Swamp. This work will be completed in Spring 2024.

Part 5: A Celestial Game

Digital photo collage printed on UV-resistant vinyl and mounted on Dibond panels
Participatory artwork involving parents, teachers, and staff through the school’s communication app
Completed: October 2023

Using the school’s communication app, we sent a community-wide message to parents, staff and teachers to solicit sunrise and sunset photos from the Prescott area. We used their photos to create digital collages for the backboards of two basketball hoops facing east (sunrise) and west (sunset). 

The Mesoamerican ballgame, a similar but ancient game of balls and hoops, has been symbolically linked to the movement of celestial bodies. Historically, Mesoamerican ballgame hoops were oriented in opposition to each other, either on a north-south or east-west axis.

Part 6: La Misma Canción (The Same Song) and Migratory BirdFest

Exhibition of drawings on tracing paper with alcohol marker and prismacolor pencil and large-scale printed banner of scanned drawings.
Visiting artist Mark Menjívar with 4th Grade students and their teacher Laura Chabre, 8th Grade students with their teacher Ryan Anderson, and High School Art students with their teacher Mark Grimm
Started: February 2024
April 2024

Mockup of banner to be installed in April 2024

La Misma Canción (The Same Song) is an ongoing project by San Antonio-based artist Mark Menjívar that works with primarily Latinx communities by making connections with birds that migrate from their home countries to where they are living now. The project started when Mark Menjívar imagined if the bird songs he was hearing near his home in Texas were the same bird songs his family in El Salvador could have heard. The drawings on this banner are of ten birds that migrate annually between Eastern WA and places to which our students have connections across the Americas. The drawings on Prescott’s banner include 10 birds that migrate annually between Eastern Washington and places to which our students have connections across the Americas.

The banner is supported by grants from Cornell’s Lab of Ornithology, Community Engagement Org, and ArtsWA AIE. Mark’s visit to Eastern WA and corresponding lecture at Whitman College was sponsored by Whitman College CELRI, the Whitman College Archives, the Walla Walla Immigrant Rights Coaliton, and The Listener’s Project: Queremos Escucharte.

Migratory BirdFest
A school-wide festival to welcome migrating birds created in collaboration with Prescott School students, teachers and staff, Walla Walla Immigrant Rights Coalition, Blue Mountain Audubon Society, and the Pioneer Park Aviary. The event will take place on April 11, 2024.