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

2021-Current [this work is in progress]
Collaborative, interdisciplinary permanent public artwork
Co-Authored with Tia Kramer
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. The 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.

Project Support
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 the project.
Project Press:Massive, immersive art project incorporated every student in Prescott School District” by Shelia Hagar, Walla Walla Union Bulletin, June 2022

Collaborative, Co-Authored Public Artwork

A majority of Prescott School families work in Washington's agricultural industries. Approximately 80% of the students are of Mexican descent 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.

In this coming school year, we hope to work with Prescott School's burgeoning agriculture program to develop site-responsive, experiential learning projects that connect culturally-relevant sustainable agriculture with contemporary art practices.

When the River Becomes a Cloud uses social-emotional learning and trauma-informed design to develop 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. 

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
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.

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 Ag Science Building
Developed in collaboration with first grade students and their teacher Jessica Johnson, and high school art students and their teacher Mark Grimm
March 2022 - 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.

Our first permanent artwork was a large-scale drawing on the Ag Science buildng of 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 the 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. This large-scale wall drawing spans three sides of the building. The drawing incorporates color blocks from aerial tracings of significant landmarks along the Touchet River, which flows through the school’s campus. This large-scale wall drawing spans three sides of the Ag Science building.

This project was developed with support from visiting 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)
December 2022 - September 2023 *currently in progress*

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
December 2022 - September 2023 *currently in progress*


Draft mockup of the mixed-media building façade. The final design will be completed in early 2024.

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 digitally-printed building façade that will cover the middle school portable buildings.

We asked the students to choose an aspect of the watershed that best represented 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 develop this project, we present weekly artistic research prompts such as field trips to local wetlands, swamp-related contemporary artworks, and texts like Mary Oliver’s poem Crossing the Swamp. Our plan is to install the spring of 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
May 2023- 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.